Friday, December 28, 2012

The Holy Innocents

Today the Church remembers with a feast the massacre of children in Bethlehem shortly after the birth of Jesus.  According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who lived shortly after the time of Jesus, King Herod was a “man of great barbarity.” King Herod was the puppet king of Israel when Jesus was born. Afraid of losing his power when he heard from three mysterious visitors from the East that a new king had been born, he “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under” (Matthew 2: 16). Jesus escaped when His parents fled with Him to Egypt. Thus the Son of God began His earthly life under the threat of murder and as a refugee.

These innocent boys are honored today as martyrs; the vestments at Mass are red in their memory. The word "martyr" means "witness" and so the question naturally arises, how can the victims of King Herod's fear and jealousy be venerated as martyrs? How can they be considered witnesses to Christ? They had not reached the age of reason. Moreover, they died at the beginning of the earthly life of Jesus; how could they have given witness to and died for the faith?

St. Quodvultus answers those questions in the second reading in the Office of Readings today:

"The children die for Christ, though they do not know it.  The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The [Christ] child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation. ... To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory." 
The children died for Christ.  They died in place of Christ.  Surely the One whose life was saved as their lives were taken blesses their short lives with the gift of eternal life which He won for all through His death and resurrection.  Here's how the British author Frank Sheed put it in his book To Know Christ Jesus:

"There is anguish for us, twenty centuries later, in thinking of the slain babies and their parents. For the babies the agony was soon over; in the next world they would come to know the one they had died to save and for all eternity they would have that glory. For the parents, the pain would have lasted longer; but at death they too must have found that there was a special sense in which God was in their debt, as he had never been indebted to any. They and their children were the only ones who ever agonized in order to save God’s life."

The violent deaths of innocent children have not ended in what many think is a more civilized time.  Families are grieving in Connecticut because a man shot their children.  People speculate on the reasons, but the ultimate reason can be found in our culture. Blessed John Paul II called the culture of the contemporary world a "culture of death."  People are treated as objects and the "virtual reality" of our media and games encourages us to see them as such.  Fear still drives people, as it drove King Herod, to kill children who are seen as threats to our freedom, our life style, our happiness.  Growing and developing outside or inside the womb, children are viewed as property that can be discarded for convenience or in anger.  I am praying for the families of the Innocents of Connecticut today and offering Mass for an end to abortion. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St. Stephen and Forgiveness

I've been praying the Divine Office of the Church or Breviary since I was a Jesuit scholastic in formation.  My parents bought me a copy of it as a graduation present when I finished my Masters in English at St. Louis University.  I've never grown tired of it, nor have I found it repetitious.  In fact, there are certain readings to which I look forward every year.  Today's Second Reading in the Office of Readings is one of these.  It comes from St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, a North African bishop who died around the year 530.  His sermon on this feast of St. Stephen speaks of love and forgiveness.

St. Stephen's martyrdom is described in Acts of the Apostles chapter 6.  As he was being stoned to death, people "were piling their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul."  The account goes on: "As Stephen was being stoned he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' He fell to his knees and cried in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' And with that he died. Saul, for his part concurred in the act of killing."

In his death Stephen clearly imitates his Master, Jesus.  He surrenders his soul into the hands of Jesus and prays for those who are killing him.  One answer to his prayers is Saul to whom Jesus appeared and who, as a result, experienced a complete change.  We can imagine Stephen, from heaven, continuing to pray for Saul throughout his life.  Prayer, united to love that desires the good of one's enemy and to forgiveness that opens a way for God's mercy to enter into the heart of one's persecutor, is the greatest force the world has ever known. 

Here are excerpts from St. Fulgentius' sermon that have moved me over the years:

"The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven. Love was Stephen's weapon by which he gained every battle.... His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.  Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven.  In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

"Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exults, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen's death, and Stephen delights in Paul's companionship, for love fills them both with joy."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"God Became Poor"

The symbol for the evangelist John is an eagle.  The theology of his gospel is soaringly high.  He begins his gospel writing about the Word or "Logos" which in the Greek world stood for Wisdom.  The early Fathers of the Church said that John found the wisdom about which he wrote at the breast of Jesus during the Last Supper.  When he drew near to the Heart of Jesus he drank from the source of wisdom and was able to soar into the heights that his gospel takes us. 

Every year, during the Mass of Christmas Day, we hear the beginning of John's gospel.  We hear: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God, and the Word was God."  As the Word, Jesus is the perfect communication of God the Father.  According to the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews, before Jesus came, "God spoke in partial and various ways...."  In Jesus, the Word, God did not speak partially but in the fullest way possible.  Jesus is the complete revelation of who God is. 

As the saying goes, "actions speak louder than words."  So "the Word became flesh."  God took flesh so that humanity would not only hear about or hear from God, but would see and touch and experience God in the flesh. 

St. Ignatius Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, invites people to not only read about Jesus, nor to simply think about the scenes in the gospels, but to use the imagination to experience them.  Jesus is the Living Word whom we encounter in the gospels. 

I don't think St. Ignatius' insight is original.  It was this same motivation--to not only read about the birth of Jesus but to experience it as though one were actually present--that led St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 to create what many have called the first Nativity scene.  In Greccio, Italy he brought together an ox and an ass, a manger and hay, so that people would experience for themselves what it must have been like for Jesus to be born.  He wanted them to not only hear the gospel but to see the baby Jesus with the eyes of their hearts. 

At Midnight Mass in 2011 Pope Benedict said the following about this: 

"Francis discovered Jesus' humanity in an entirely new depth. ... This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. ... For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. ... In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God.

"This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love."

God came to save the world not with a purifying and destroying flood, not with legions of soldiers nor armies of angels, not with thunderbolts.  God did not come with violence to impose His will on humanity nor to force people to be good.  God came as a poor, weak baby to attract our attention and our love. 

This is completely contrary to human or worldly wisdom.  Yet, whose birthday is remembered annually throughout the world?  Is it Nebuchadnezzar's?  Is it Alexander the Great's?  Is it the birthday of Caesar, Julius or Tiberius or one of the others?  Is it Napolean's?  Or Adolph Hitler's?  Or Stalin, who once asked, "The Pope? How many divisions does he have?" 

It is the birthday of Jesus that the world remembers every year.  It is His example that inspired St. Francis that great lover of the humanity of Jesus, of the Christ Child.  It is their example--Jesus and His close follower Francis--that continues to inspire people today.

Love is the only power capable of changing hearts and changing the world.  In his First Letter, John wrote "God is love."  Jesus is love in word, in action, in the flesh.  Now we, as members of His Body, make Him present today.  Let us draw near with our imaginations to the Baby Jesus and show Him our love by promising to love those for whom He became a baby and suffered and died.  Let us commit ourselves to be peace-makers as we read these words from Pope Benedict's 2011 homily at Midnight Mass:

"God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and
brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The First Tabernacle

Today and last Friday the Gospel at Mass was the story of the Visitation, how, after Mary heard that her kinswoman Elizabeth was pregnant, she raced off from Galilee to Judea to help her.  As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb leaped and she, filled with the Holy Spirit, made an act of faith in the fruit of Mary's womb.  She recognized that Mary was "the mother of my Lord," that she carried within her the Son of God. 

As the celebration of the birth of Jesus draws closer, I often think about a book that George Peate wrote called Unborn Jesus Our Hope.  It is a beautiful meditation on the first nine months of Jesus' life when Mary carried Him in her womb.  Recently the Unborn Word Alliance published on their blog, Unborn Word of the Day, a series of pictures of shrines and art that show the Christ Child in Mary's womb. 

As we believe that Jesus was truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, within the womb of Mary s
o we believe that He is present in the tabernacles of our churches.  This is the "Hidden Jesus," an expression that the Fatima seer Francisco Marto used when he spent hours adoring Jesus in the tabernacle of his parish church. 

In his encyclical on the Eucharist #55, Blessed John Paul II made thisame connection between Mary's womb and the tabernacle:  "When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary."

The Annunciation, the Visitation, and Christmas are Eucharistic mysteries, for Jesus was only able to give His Body and Blood to us because He first took flesh in Mary's womb, was carried there for nine months, and was born.  May the coming celebration of Christmas during this Year of Faith increase our faith in the Christ Child's hidden presence in Mary's womb and in the Holy Eucharist.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Spiritual Road Building

I began a parish mission at St. Mary's in East Dubuque, IL today.  Here's part of what I said in my homily for Sunday Mass.

From 1989 to 1995 I lived in western South Dakota at a place that was 13 miles off a paved road where mail delivery came 3 days a week to a mailbox that was a mile and a half from the house.  The paved road was Highway 34 which runs between Pierre and Sturgis, site of an annual bike rally that swells the town's population from less than 7,000 to 250,000. It was a dangerous road because of its hills and valleys and curves.  It was common to come over a hill and almost run into cattle that had gotten out of their pasture. The state decided to upgrade the road by leveling the hills and valleys and softening and straightening the curves. 

Our first reading from the prophet Baruch contains a road building promise.  God promised not to forget the people who had been taken into exile when Israel fell to an invading army.  God promised to bring them home and even make the return easier: "God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground." 

The gospel also speaks of road building.  St. John the Baptist fulfills Isaiah's promise: "Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight...." This was done to prepare a way for the Messiah to come to his people. 

Advent is our time for spiritual road building.  We are to prepare a way for Christ to come at the end of time or at the end of our lives. 

The hills and mountains that we level are our ego and pride.  We often build ourselves up, trying to look good in front of others.  How is this pride brought low?  By humility.  That doesn't mean putting ourselves down or beating ourselves up over our failures.  Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.  It means not being so concerned about "ME" but turning our attention toward God and our brothers and sisters.  Humility also involves gratitude by which we realize that all we are and have accomplished is a gift.  We can take no credit for our success because our life and health and talents by which we have accomplished all we've done are all gifts from God.  We could do nothing without those prior gifts, so all praise goes to God.

What are the valleys to be filled in?  Discouragement.  Discouragement never comes from God.  God never uses it to motivate us.  It always comes from the devil who would have us wallow in the depths of discouragement and give up.  How do we fill in this valley?  By living with gratitude in the present.  When we look at the past and our weaknesses and failures, we get discouraged.  When we look to the future and wonder how we will ever be able to stay on the good path we are on or do what we are called to do, we get discouraged.  The past is over and there is no guarantee we will be here tomorrow, so it's best to live one day at a time.  When we see the blessings of the present we can better overcome discouragement.

What are the curves in our life?  Blessed John Paul II, in a reflection on Psalm 51, said that one of the Hebrew words for "sin" in that prayer has the connotation of "twisting" and turning and getting off track.  How do we get back on track?  We begin by celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.  In doing so we leave the way that points us in a different direction than the one God has laid out for us and we return to the path that leads straight to God.  Reconciliation gets us back on track. 

This year's Advent is special because we are celebrating it in the Year of Faith which, Pope Benedict said, "is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord."  Through conversion we turn away from pride, discouragement, temptation, and sin.  We turn to God. We do so with confidence because, as St. Paul wrote in our second reading: "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus."  God will complete the road building that will lead to our heavenly home, if we but let Him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

St. John of Damascus

Every day the newspaper has stories about the conflict in Syria.  Today the Church honors a native of Syria, St. John of Damascus also known as St. John Damascene.  He was born around the year 645 and worked as a treasury official for the Muslim caliph of Damascus.  In time he quit his job and migrated to Jerusalem where he became a monk in St. Sabbas Monastery.  He's important to us today because he defended the use of holy images at a time when many, known as iconoclasts, declared that it was blasphemous to make an image of Christ or the saints.  The following quote of his defending the use of images for prayer can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1159:

"Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image.  But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God ... and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled."

When we pray with holy images we don't worship or venerate the material from which they were made but the reality they portray.  They are like windows that open our hearts and minds to the reality beyond them. 

Each of us, in turn, is called to be an image of Christ.  As members of the Body of Christ, we are to reveal him to the world.  With this in mind let's pray that Advent may help us get rid of anything that distorts the image of Christ in us.  And, on this feast of a native Syrian saint, let's pray for all the Syrian people but especially our Christian brothers and sisters who find themselves in an increasingly hostile environment. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Caritas for Children

I had one of those "coincidences" that is really a "God-incident" today. 

The Second Reading in the Divine Office today was from a sermon of St. Leo the Great, one of my favorite contributors to the Church's prayer book.  Here are some excerpts that particularly:

"What the Lord says is very true: Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. What is a man's treasure but the heaping up of profits and the fruit of his toil. For whatever a man sows this too will he reap.... Now there are many kinds of wealth and a variety of grounds for rejoicing; every man's treasure is that which he desires. If it is based on earthly ambitions, its acquisition makes men not blessed but wretched. 

"But those who enjoy the things that are above and eternal rather than earthly and perishable, possess an incorruptible, hidden store of which the prophet speaks: Our treasure and salvation have come, wisdom and instruction and piety from the Lord: these are the treasures of justice. Through these, with the help of God's grace, even earthly possessions are transformed into heavenly blessings; it is a fact that many people use the wealth which is either rightfully left to them or otherwise acquired, as a tool of devotion.  By distributing what might be superfluous to support the poor, they are amassing imperishable riches, so that what they have discreetly given cannot be subject to loss.  They have properly placed those riches where their heart is; it is a most blessed thing to work to increase such riches rather than to fear that they may pass away."

In other words, true wealth is in heaven.  We cannot take material possessions with us when we die, but we can take all that we have given away to those in need.  In that way, wealth becomes, in the words of St. Leo, "a tool of devotion."  It is a means by which we show our love for God by loving the neighbor in need with whom Christ identified himself (see Matthew 25). 

After this morning prayer I had breakfast with Christopher Hoar, the president of Caritas for Children, an organization that helps children in poor countries by lining up benefactors who support their education.  But in giving to these children, the benefactors receive so much more.  Their material contributions become eternal wealth. They also come to realize that they are doing their part in the Church's work of evangelization.  My breakfast meeting was a confirmation of St. Leo's words that I'd read when I prayed .

Further confirmation came at Mass when I read today's Gospel--Luke 21:1-4, the story of the Widow's Mite.  Jesus praised the poor widow who gave not from her "surplus wealth" but from her poverty.  In material terms it was less than all the offerings of the wealthy, but in spiritual terms it resembled more closely the offering of Jesus himself.  Jesus held nothing back but gave all.  And so did the poor widow. 

We need prudence and balance when it comes to the use of our resources, but the temptation is to be so careful that we end up trusting in our wealth rather than in God.  Words like today's Gospel and St. Leo's sermon remind us that we need to always ask: Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?

The "God-incidences" of daily life remind us that we have a God who cares and who will use every event of our lives to show that care. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Sacred Heart in the East

In 1995 Blessed Pope John II wrote an Apostolic Letter entitled Orientale Lumen or The Light of the East. In it he said: "Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each." Unfortunately many Roman Catholics are not only not "familiar with that tradition" but don't even know that there are over 20 Eastern Catholic Churches, all in union with the Roman Catholic Church.  When they hear "Catholic" they immediately think of "Roman" or the "Latin Rite."  Pope John Paul II knew that in order for the Body of Christ to be healthy it needed to breathe with its two lungs--East and West.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to breathe with the Eastern lung of the Church.  The Apostleship of Prayer group at St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Parma, Ohio invited me for a retreat day.  I had the opportunity to affirm their existence and to encourage them to share the heart-centered spirituality of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches.  The Western Church tends to be very rationalistic, focused on the head.  The East has traditionally be focused more on the heart.  Where the Western Church tended to try to understand everything in a rational
 way, the Eastern Church has been more comfortable with mystery.  In the 13th Century, when many in the West began to doubt the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Christ appeared asking for a feast in honor of His Body and Blood--Corpus Christi.  The Eastern Church, holding fast to tradition and its faith in the Eucharist, didn't need such a feast.  Similarly, in the 17th Century Christ appeared in the West and revealed His Heart, calling for a feast of reparation for the irreverence shown Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  Again, the East did not need such a feast.  In its Liturgy it addressed Jesus in the very intimate words, "Lover of Mankind." 

Eastern Catholics have often been viewed and treated as second-class Catholics.  They were even encouraged and forced in some cases to let go of their venerable traditions and to replace them with practices from the Roman Church.  The question naturally arises, is Sacred Heart devotion such a practice, foreign to the Eastern Church and its spirituality? 

One of the great heroes of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Servant of God Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944), who was the Metropolitan Archbishop of his Church from 1901 until his death in 1944--a very difficult period in Ukrainian history--didn't think so.  At the Archeparchial Synod in Lviv in 1940, he proposed a special decree on the Love of Jesus.  He wrote: "By employing the term 'the Heart of Jesus' as a symbol of all the rich interior life of Christ, we ascribe it all to his love. All this we worship. In that symbol we have an excellent synthesis and a concrete sign of the infinite treasures of Christ's soul and the inexhaustible source of God's priceless gifts to us."

He also wrote about the great spiritual advantages that people would find through this devotion, using words that remind us of the Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart:  "In the parish where the faithful venerate Christ the Savior under that form, or in that manner, the whole spiritual life begins to flourish, people flock to church, the number of those who receive the Holy Eucharist is increased, vices begin slowly to disappear from among the people, concord and love reign in families, parents come to learn what a treasure children are to them, children learn to respect and love their parents.  With the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all things begin to change in the parish--just as when spring arrives, all nature awakens to new life. Hence, it is the unquestionable obligation of every pastor to foster this cult in his family, in other Christian families, and in the whole parish."

For Metropolitan Sheptytsky, devotion to Jesus under the symbol of His Heart, would help deepen the spiritual life of every individual Catholic, every family, and every parish. 

And so, the Archeparchial Synod of Lviv, in a directive dated December 20, 1940, told its priests to read an act of consecration to the Heart of Jesus after the Divine Liturgy every year on the third Sunday following the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  It also approved the Apostleship of Prayer and recommended that it be introduced throughout the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

This is the origin of the Apostleship of Prayer group that meets at the Eparchy of Parma's St. Josaphat's Cathedral.  My weekend of retreat and then the celebration of a feast day dinner with Bishop John Bura and the parish, was an example of how the Heart of Jesus can be the source of unity.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Saints: Witnesses of Faith

Crystal Cathedral on Friday before Magnificat Day of Faith
 On Saturday I had the privilege of participa-ting in the Magnificat Day of Faith event at the Crystal Cathedral in the Orange Diocese of southern California.  Next spring, when this building will be consecrated for Catholic worship and become the new cathedral for the diocese, it will be named Christ Cathedral.  I gave the following homily as part of the Morning Prayer.

Over ten years ago Blessed John Paul II, in his apostolic letter at the end of the Jubilee Year and the beginning of the new millennium, wrote: "The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone the high standard of ordinary Christian living."  He issued a "call for a genuine 'training in holiness'" and said that "this training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer."

Just last month, Pope Benedict, in his homily at the opening of the Synod of Bishops which met to discuss the New Evangelization, said that holiness is "the language of truth and love."

How do we learn to understand and to speak this language?  From those who have spoken it.  From the saints, the witnesses of faith.

When Pope Benedict announced the Year of Faith in his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, "The Door of Faith," he presented the saints to us.  First and foremost he spoke of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model of faith, saying: "By faith, Mary accepted the Angel's word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in obedience of her devotion. Visiting Elizabeth, she raised her hymn of praise [the Magnificat] to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him."  He went on to say that Mary trusted the dream that her husband St. Joseph received and "took Jesus to Egypt to save him from Herod's persecution."  And, "with the same faith, she followed the Lord in his preaching and remained with him all the way to Golgotha." 

Then the Holy Father presented to us the apostles and the first disciples of the early Church and the martyrs, about whom he said: "By faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors." 

And then he wrote about all the saints of every time and place, saying: "By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life, have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called."

We too are called to be holy witnesses as they were.  As Pope Benedict wrote: "By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history."

"Living recognition."  This is what St. John wrote about in the reading we have just heard (1 John 1:1-4)--"what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands." We are not able to see and to touch Jesus the way John did, but we can still see and touch him in a deeper way.  We can see him with the eyes of faith.  We can touch him with the eyes of our heart. And Jesus says that we are more blessed in seeing and touching him this way than in the way the apostles did.

Do you remember the scene in the Gospel when Jesus appeared to the apostles and Thomas did not believe until he actually touched the wounds of Jesus?  Do you remember what Jesus said to him?  "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (John 20:29). We are blessed because, though we have not seen Jesus physically, we have seen and touched him through faith and with our hearts.  Or rather, the Heart of Jesus, which was pierced open on the cross, has reached out to us.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus has seen and touched us and so we have come to believe in the deep love he has for us. 

We believe but we always need to go deeper in our faith.  Our belief in his love for us can grow and deepen.  How? 

Pope Benedict gives us the answer in Porta Fidei: "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy." 

Faith is a matter of the heart.  Our faith is "an experience of love received," the love of God's Heart which was made flesh in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through faith our hearts respond to the One who loved us first and loved us totally, even to death.

The saints knew this love.  They believed in it and they lived in union with its source--Jesus.  We have their example and witness to inspire us.  This is why Blessed John Paul II beatified and canonized more people than any previous pope.  He wanted us to have examples of holiness to follow.

But there is more.  We have not only their example and witness to inspire us.  We have their help.

Have you ever been asked, "Why do you Catholics pray to saints?"  The answer is very simple.  People don't think twice about asking others to pray for them when they are faced with a crisis or difficulty. They turn to their family and friends to ask for prayers. This is what we do when we turn to the saints.  Though they are dead they are not dead and gone.  Though they are separated from us physically, in time and space, they are united to us spiritually in the Church, the Communion of Saints.  So it is natural that we ask for their help.

The Letter to the Hebrews 12: 1-2 has a beautiful image of this: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith."  Whenever I read that passage I think of watching the marathon in the Twin Cities. 

For four years I lived at our Jesuit novitiate which was located on the route of the marathon at about mile 21.  Each year, on a Sunday in October, we would watch the runners: the first ones racing by and then over the next few hours the others chugging along, some simply walking.  We would cheer them on and pass water to them, encouraging them to not give up.  That's the image presented in Hebrews.  We are all in a marathon and the saints are on the sidelines cheering us on, encouraging us, and offering us refreshment with their prayers. 

We are part of a great Communion of Saints.  We who are on earth are saints-in-the-making.  Others have finished the race but they aren't resting.  Rather, they pray for us and encourage us.

So don't give up! Have faith! Persevere!  And may we all meet again in the Heavenly Jerusalem which, according to the Book of Revelation 21:11 gleams "with the splendor of God, ... its radiance like that of a precious stone, ... clear as crystal."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Travels and Travails

My silence in the blogosphere is due to two things--travels and travails.  First, the travails because they are more important and they are not mine.  Stephanie Schmude, the Apostleship of Prayer's receptionist, Spanish-speaker, webmaster, leaflet designed, and order-taker and filler, is sick.  Three weeks ago she was diagnosed with acute leukemia and she has been in the hospital ever since undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments to build up her blood and immune system.  In her absence the Apostleship of Prayer office has been somewhat chaotic as we try to stay on top of all the things she does.  That's especially difficult because this is our busy time of year when people around the country and in other parts of the world are ordering our leaflets with the 2013 papal intentions.  While we could use prayer support now, Stephanie needs it even more.  Please pray for her healing.

From October 12 to 14 I was at Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, California giving a retreat for 75 women. 
Then last weekend I was at a Marian conference in Rolling Meadows, Illinois that was sponsored by Totally Yours Pilgrimages.  It was a tremendous weekend in which many people stopped at my table to talk, to tell me that they hear me on Relevant Radio, and to get some of our materials.  On Sunday night I was honored to be given the 24th annual Msgr. Popek award at a banquet sponsored by the St. Gregory VII Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith in Milwaukee.  The title of my talk was "The Sacred Heart and the Year of Faith" and I hope to present it here in parts. 

Tomorrow I leave for southern California again where I'll be giving a retreat to the leaders of "Magnificat, A Ministry to Catholic Women."  I'll be on the West coast all week and preach on Saturday, November 3 at "The Magnficat Day of Faith."  This is different from the other Magnificat group.  It's being sponsored by "Magnificat," the prayer book and missal people and it is being held at the Crystal Cathedral, soon to be consecrated as Christ Cathedral for the Diocese of Orange.  I hope to get pictures, but without Stephanie's expert help I may have trouble figuring out how to post them. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Happy Anniversary

Today is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council.  Pope Benedict XVI chose this anniversary as the day on which the Year of Faith would begin.  In his letter announcing the Year of Faith, the Holy Father spoke of these themes:  "a profound crisis of faith" in the world; the necessity of the "profession of the truth faith and its correct interpretation;" "authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord;" and the need "to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith."  It's no accident that Pope Benedict chose this date for the beginning of the Year of Faith because those are themes that appeared in Blessed Pope John XXIII's address at the opening of the Council on October 11, 1962.  Here are some brief excerpts from that address which are as timely today as they were 50 years ago.

Pope John XXIII's reason for calling the Council

"And now the Church must once more reaffirm that teaching authority of hers which never fails, but will endure until the end of time.  For that was Our reason for calling this most authoritative assembly...."

"The major interest of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with greater efficacy.  That doctrine embraces the whole man, body and soul. It bids us live as pilgrims here on earth as we journey onwards towards our heavenly homeland. It demonstrates how we must conduct this mortal life of ours.  If we are to achieve God's purpose in our regard we have a twofold obligation: as citizens of earth, and as citizens of heaven.  That is to say, all men without exception, both individually and in society, have a life-long obligation to strive after heavenly values through the right use of things of this earth.  These temporal good must be used in such a way as not to jeopardize eternal happiness." 

"And our duty is not just to guard this treasure [of the truth of the Church's doctrine], as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators, but earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries." 

What is needed is to turn to Christ and to share the faith with enthusiasm

"Certain it is that the critical issues, the thorny problems that wait upon men's solution, have remained the same for almost twenty centuries. And why? Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war."

"What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men's moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else."

In these words of Blessed John XXIII there are clear echoes of what has come to be known as the "New Evangelization."  Christ is not new.  The contents of the faith are not new.  What is new is the enthusiasm with which the faithful ought to believe and to share their faith.  What is new is the method with which the Church communicates its knowledge to a world in desperate need of the faith that leads to love of God and neighbor.  May this anniversary and the Year of Faith inspire us all!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Play and Work

These have been busy weeks as I try to learn how to use a smart phone.  I got one because I thought it would make it easier to access emails on the road and to use an app for my Breviary, thus saving my suit case some space and weight.  But not being technologically savy, I'm finding myself spending extra time learning how to use it.  Is there a manual "Smart Phone for Dummies"?  But another advantage to the phone is being able to take pictures more easily as I travel and I'm hoping to share those more frequently.

Last weekend I went to Door County, Wisconsin where I spent an absolutely perfect weekend weather-wise with my sister and brother-in-law.  Besides having my first ever "fish boil" I saw some of Peninsula State Park.

I returned on Sunday to give a talk at Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee.  It was scheduled before the end of the Packer game but quite a few people showed up,
including Confirmation candidates and their parents.

And now, this weekend, I'm in St. Louis at the White House Jesuit Retreat House giving a retreat to 70 men.  I've never seen the Mississippi River, which is just below the bluff on which the retreat house is situated, as low as it is because of this summer's drought. It rained all day today, keeping the retreatants inside, but providing the earth and its growth and rivers with some much needed moisture.  God is good!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Benjamins of Providence"

This morning I celebrated Mass at Mount St. Joseph, the care center run by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Lake Zurich, Illinois for people with developmental disabilities.  My retreat with a dozen of the Sisters ends today and I celebrated Mass not only with them but with the residents, some of their families, and some of the staff.  As Providence would have it, the readings were perfect.

In the Gospel (Mark 9: 30-37), Jesus is on the road with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them for what is going to happen--that he is going to be handed over and killed and then will rise from the dead.  They are confused.  How could this man, so successful that crowds follow him to hear his every word, come to such a bitter end?  How could this man who has healed so many be rejected in such a way?  They are afraid to ask him for an explanation.  Better to let it pass.

Jesus knows their lack of comprehension and he walks ahead of them.  They begin a discussion that turns into an argument over which of them is the best, which is the greatest apostle, which of them is Number One.  When they arrive at the house in Capernaum, Jesus asks them what they were arguing about.  They fall silent, ashamed.  They know Jesus doesn't approve of such talk.

So once again Jesus begins to teach them about greatness.  He tells them that God sees things in a very different way.  God turns worldly values upside down so that the least are the greatest, the last are the first.  He tells them to be servants like he is.  Because he is the servant of all and because he will be despised and rejected and discarded, he will be raised up to be the greatest and the source of salvation for all. 

Then Jesus hugged a small child, one who in that world was considered unimportant, and said: "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."  These words echo another Gospel--the judgment scene in Matthew 25, where Jesus says that whatever we do for one of his least brothers and sisters, we do for him. 

This is true wisdom.  Wisdom is not knowing a lot of things, knowing how to make a lot of money, becoming wealthy and powerful.  The Second Reading from the Letter of Saint James (3:16-4:3) says that this worldly wisdom leads to envy and conflicts.  True wisdom "from above" is, according to James, "pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits."  True wisdom is knowing what's most important--God and the heaven he has prepared for us.  In the Gospel Jesus shows us true wisdom, the way that leads to our ultimate goal of heaven.  It is to care for one another.  It is to care for God's "good children."  It is to serve all those who are in need and whom God places in our lives. 

That's what I told the congregation this morning.  The expression "good children" is what St. Louis Guanella, the founder of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, used when speaking about those who had developmental disabilities.  There they were in front of me.  The world thinks of them as the least and the last, as people lacking wisdom because they cannot read or write or care very well for themselves.  Many were in wheelchairs and movable beds.  Fr. Guanella had another expression for them--"the Benjamins of Providence."  Remember: Benjamin was the last son of Jacob.  After the disappearance of the second youngest son, Joseph, Benjamin became Jacob's favorite.  It is a mystery of Providence that some people are born with disabilities.  They are seen by the world as the last, but in God's eyes they are the first and the favorites.  They are given to us so that we may have the opportunity to love God by loving them.  What a privilege it was for me to celebrate Mass with them today.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fr. Guanella and the Daughters

On December 15, 1912, Fr. Luigi Guanella boarded a ship to take him across the Atlantic to the United States.  He was 70 and the winter seas were rough.  He spent most of the time sick  in his cabin and as the ship was tossed around he probably thought about another ship named "Titanic" that tried to make this same journey only eight months earlier.  He was on his way to Chicago where the archbishop had asked for the help of a community of Sisters which he had founded.  He carried a letter from his friend, Pope Pius X, which read:

"Fr. Guanella undertakes this journey to explore the possibility of beginning a foundation directed by his Sisters to assist the mentally and physically disabled of every age and social background in order to care for them and look after their needs.  We bear witness that these dear Sisters here in Rome and anywhere else are very appreciated because of their committed ministry and obedience to the holy charism of their institute.  They perform miracles of true charity."

On December 23 the ship carrying Fr. Guanella docked in New York.  Over the next one and a half months he visited Boston, Providence, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Utica, New Haven, Baltimore, and Washington, as well as Chicago where he laid the groundwork for the first Sisters to follow him.  He would have liked to have gone to Genoa City, Wisconsin where some of his relatives had lived and died, but he did not have time to make that trip.  He left the U.S. in early February and arrived back in Naples on February 22, 1913.

Who are these Sisters about whom Pope St. Pius X spoke so highly?  In 1871 two sets of siblings, the Bosatta sisters and the Minatta sisters, came together with the encouragement of their pastor to care for the orphans and the sick in their village.  They were called the "Pious Union of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate."  In 1881 Fr. Guanella was sent to take the place of their deceased pastor and in time they changed their name to what it is today--the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence.  From this small beginning they have spread throughout the world in order to create, in their words, a "culture of charity," by caring for the poor and abandoned, the elderly, and especially the developmentally disabled. 

One of the original four, Clare Bosatta (1858-1887), was beatified in 1991.  Fr. Luigi Guanella, who was himself beatified in 1964 and canonized in 2011, was amazed at her deep spirituality and took it upon himself to read St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite mystics and doctors of the Church, in order to be a better spiritual director for her.  He wrote the following about her.  His words are a reminder to us that because the Son of God united in himself a divine nature and a human nature, and because he said that whatever we do for the least of his children we do for him, our own longing for God is partially satisfied on earth not only in prayer but in our service of our least brothers and sisters.

"Clare wanted God; she wanted to be able to hug Him physically and see His face if she could, but not being able to do that, she extended her hugs to the creatures who could attract her to Him and from whom she could draw a drop of water that could quench her heart which was always thirsty for God."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mount St. Joseph

I'm in Lake Zurich, Illinois these days, at a place called Mount St. Joseph.  It's a care facility for developmentally disabled adults that is run by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence.  I've written about them and their recently (October 23, 2011) canonized founder St. Louis Guanella in other blog posts.  I'm giving a retreat to a dozen Sisters from various parts of the U.S., using their small community chapel where we meet for Mass, adoration, prayers, and my talks.  I was happy to find that they include the Daily Offering in their morning prayers and even explicitly recite together the pope's monthly intentions. 

On Tuesday afternoon I took a walk around their spacious grounds and entered the large church that serves the care center.  I didn't go beyond the vestibule because I didn't want to distract or disturb the residents who were praying the rosary together.  I couldn't help thinking how pleasing to God are the prayers of these people whom St. Louis Guanella called "good children." And how powerful they are!

The world doesn't understand the developmentally disabled.  Through testing and abortion it wants to rid itself of any "imperfect" human beings.  But I have found--through my high school classmate's Down Syndrome sister, through my work as a Jesuit novice at Cambridge State Hospital in Minnesota, and through Andy, the son of one of our volunteers--that the disabled, the mentally and physically challenged, are gifts from God.  All life is a gift and these particular gifts are given to us so that we may have the opportunity to love God by loving them in their weakness.  As God told St. Paul when he asked that his particular weakness might be removed so that he would be a better and more effective apostle: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."  (see 2 Corinthians 12:9.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Holy Name of Mary

Today's feast of the Holy Name of Mary was first celebrated in Spain in 1513 but was extended to the whole Church as an act of thanksgiving by Pope Innocent XI. What was he thankful for? The victory of Christians forces over the Turkish army which had besieged the city of Vienna for two months. Pope Innocent XI had appealed to the leaders of Europe to come to the aid of Vienna and on August 15, 1683, King Jan Sobieski of Poland, answered the call and brought together their armies. On the way to Vienna, he and the army that began to gather, stopped in Czestochowa and prayed before the image of Our Lady that is there. Marching toward Vienna, the army prayed the rosary and the king gave them for their battle cry "In the Name of Mary: Lord God, help!"

Here is a description of the Battle of Vienna from Adam Zamoyski's book The Polish Way.

They reached the heights of the Kahlenberg just before nightfall. From this vantage-point the king and his generals surveyed the great plain stretching into the distance, cut across by the winding course of the Danube. At their feet lay the city of Vienna. Only the occasional flash of a cannon from its battered ramparts and the distress-rockets rising periodically into the evening sky from the tower of St. Stephen's Cathedral confirmed that after sixty days of siege the garrison was still holding out.

The proud Habsburg capital was dwarfed by a larger city, a sprawling encampment of many thousand tents which pullulated with a quarter of a million soldiers, slaves, camp-followers and houris; with horses, camels and buffalo. ...

"He's badly camped--we shall beat him!" said the king, turning to his generals. Few of them shared his confidence, but they trusted his experience, his reputation, and the renown of the strange-looking regiments he had brought with him. A beacon was lit on the heights to inform the defenders of the dying city that help was at hand. This signal did not unduly worry Kara Mustafa. He had over a hundred thousand fighting men securely entrenched with plenty of artillery, and he was convinced that no serious threat could come from the Kahlenberg: a large army would have chosen a longer route through the plain. His own army did not fear the solid but slow-moving Austrian and German troops, their unadventurous generals or their pusillanimous emperor, who had abandoned his capital. The only Christian general they held in awe was Jan Sobieski, the King of Poland. But he, Kara Mustafa believed, was still hundreds of miles away in Krakow.

Just before dawn on the following day, 12 September 1683, the King of Poland attended Mass in the ruins of an old convent on the Kahlenberg. ... Only about one third of the 68,000 troops were Polish--the rest were Germans, Italians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Scots and Irishmen. ... The king felt tempted to put off the decisive battle to the following day, even though this would give the Turks time to turn the heavy guns bombarding Vienna to face his army. ... Instinct made the king change his mind....

Zamoyski goes on to describe the battle in which the Polish cavalry or Husaria, with eagle feathers on their backs rising above their heads, cut through the Turkish encampment and sent the Turkish army .

Then, he continues:

This battle, which was crucial to the future of the whole of Europe, had not been hard-fought, and the casualties on both sides were light. It had been won principally by the prestige of Jan Sobieski and his army. In 1683 Poland was the largest state in Europe....

As Pope Innocent XI recognized, there was another reason for the victory. Grace came to the aid of nature and that grace came through the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our secularized world tends not to see it that way and so today we tend to rely more on human than heavenly means in the battles we face. Today's feast is a reminder to seek and to trust in heavenly help, especially the help of her whom the first book of the Bible prophesied would crush the serpent (see Genesis 3:15).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Spirituality of Work

Since today is the day after Labor Day, I thought that a good topic for discussion on Relevant Radio's "Inner Life" show would be "The Spirituality of Work." 

The pain and frustration associated with work is the result of sin.  These are often the result of our own sins and those of others, but also because of Original Sin, which resulted in difficulties and pain in work, for God said: "Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat..." (Genesis 3:17-19).  But this pain was not part of God's original plan.  Made in the image and likeness of God, humanity was created to work with God in caring for creation.  A chapter earlier in Genesis we read: "The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it" (2:15). 

Jesus, the model human, shows us the beauty of work.  We often think of his work of redeeming humanity only in terms of his three years of active ministry when he taught, healed, raised the dead, and then suffered, died, and rose.  But each of the years and minutes of his "Hidden Life" was redemptive.  When he worked as a boy and adolescent side by side with Joseph, he was saving the world.  When he did his chores around the house, he was saving the world.  All this was done in obedience to the will of the Father and as an act of love for the Father, thus undoing the rebellious sin of Adam and Eve. 

Jesus declared that through work we imitate God the Father.  He said: "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work" (John 5:17).  He made it clear that he worked in union with God the Father when he said: "I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me" (John 5:36).  If, as Jesus says, he can do nothing on his own but does everything in union with the Father, how much more is it true that we can do nothing on our own.  After telling his disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches, Jesus says: "Whoever remains in me
and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). 

With this in mind, everything we do can play a part in the ongoing conversion and salvation of the world.  When we pray a Daily Offering prayer at the beginning of the day, we ask that everything we do may be done in union with God's will and may give glory to God.  Chuck Neff, the host of the "Inner Life" show, shared that one work he particularly dislikes is mowing his lawn.  He said that as he mows he thinks about various people that he wants to pray for or has promised his prayers to and he offers his work for them.  I
added that praying a version of the Jesus Prayer--"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me"--can be another way of uniting prayer with our breath and our work. 

We can also see work as an opportunity to practice and grow in the virtues.  Take the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.  We can make our work an act of faith by surrendering it to God and trying to see how it can give glory to God.  We can acknowledge that God is always present and we can ask, "what are you trying to teach me through this work, through this event?"  When our work becomes especially burdensome and we are tempted to get down and to despair, we can exercise the virtue of hope, recognizing that our true home is heaven and that this--whatever it is that causes us pain or struggle--this too shall pass.  We exercise hope by substituting positive thoughts for the negative ones.  And we can exercise the virtue of love, telling God that the work in which we are engaged is being done as an act of love for him.  Especially when we are dealing with people who frustrate or upset us, we exercise love by praying for them, willing their good, and expressing that love in the way we treat them.  In this way work becomes a very practical way in which we grow in holiness.

One of the last questions we addressed involved rest, balance, and overwork.  In Genesis God rested from the work of creation to show us the importance of balance.  We too must rest, for in doing so we practice good stewardship of ourselves, our bodies.  But it is also a way of exercising trust.  When I am tempted by overwork it is usually not only because I want to give glory to God.  There is often a good bit of ego involved in the temptation to work too much or too hard.  It involves the fear of saying "no" and displeasing others.  It involves the desire to look good and to be successful.  God wants us to do good work and to follow St. Paul's advice to the Colossians: "Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others..." (3:23).  In that way we can seek God's glory at all times and not our own. 

An audio of the program can be found here, on the Relevant Radio website.  Just go to the calendar and click on September 4. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mother Mary Teresa Tallon

The woman who founded the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate with whom I've been on retreat this week is Mother Mary Teresa Tallon.  She was born on a farm near Utica, NY in 1867, the seventh of eight children of her Irish immigrant parents.  At 19 she entered the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul but left after a few months.  Shortly thereafter she entered the Holy Cross Sisters in South Bend, IN where she stayed for 33 years.  She felt a strong call to start a new congregation that would go into the streets and homes and, like the Good Shepherd, find those who were drifting away or had left the faith.  The Parish Visitors were founded on August 15, 1920 and Mother Mary Teresa died on March 10, 1954.

She gave many talks to her Sisters which were taken down in short-hand, typed, and published in a series of books.  During this week, I've found myself resonating with her words and quoting her frequently.

In the Sisters' Constitutions, describing the spirituality of the congregation we read: "Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate are to be contemplatives for the street.  They are to have cloistered hearts, safeguarding a faithfilled contemplative spirit in the midst of the world, and bringing to the people they serve the fruits of their contemplation."  This sounds very much like the Jesuit ideal of being "contemplatives in action."  The Parish Visitors do not live in a cloister away from the world.  In fact, Mother Mary Teresa said to her Sisters: "Your cloister is the Sacred Heart."

In my work with the Apostleship of Prayer I often speak about Pope Benedict's Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis where he calls the Eucharist a mystery to be believed, celebrated, and lived.  Mother Mary Teresa's spirituality was very Eucharistic.  She said:

"In the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, every morning, we offer Jesus, the Divine Victim, to His Father, in union with the priest, and as we do so we offer ourselves with Him and our poor, needy people as well.  The best prayer is the liturgy of Holy Mass, therein we ask that all may be saved--through the power of Christ in His Holy Church.  This thought strengthens our faith, sustains our hope, augments our love.  We pray the Mass; we live the Mass...."

In every Mass we offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father.  But we need to be conscious of this, as Mother Mary Teresa said:

"Offer yourself in sacrifice during Holy Mass, every day; ... lift and offer yourself up to God with Jesus at the Elevation--a complete holocaust."

Though this offering is made with Jesus at Mass, it is then lived throughout the day.  I was pleased to find Mother quoting a version of the Child's Daily Offering Prayer that we use in the Apostleship of Prayer and telling her Sisters to renew their offering throughout the day with this simple prayer.  She said:

"She may unite her heart, a seemingly small offering, to the infinite offering of Christ, by frequently saying the following simple verse that she may have learned as a child:

My God, I offer Thee this day
       All that I do, or think, or say,
Uniting it with what was done
       On earth by Jesus Christ, Thy Son."

What inspired Mother Mary Teresa to found a new congregation and what continues to inspire her Sisters is the love the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  It is what inspires the daily offering of all Apostles of Prayer as well.  Mother wrote:

"The Sacred Heart's inspiration of charity caused this Community to be established, and it will be the same inspiration that will perpetuate it successfully."

The fire of love within the Heart of Jesus set Mother Mary Teresa's heart on fire with love for all those who were at risk of not knowing or rejecting the love of God.  She encouraged her Sisters:

"Rise to the height of the true spiritual standard: the very Heart of the Good Shepherd."  And she said that "the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate ... take the message from the Heart of Jesus, that was lit at His Heart's flame and fostering the grace, they ignite other souls, that these may be brought to share in the favors that they themselves possess. ... Through all their activity they carry with them the light and heart of divine love."

The Sisters publish a quarterly magazine called The Parish Visitor which contains many more of Mother Mary Teresa Tallon's writings.  An annual subscription is only $5 and it can be obtained at:

The Parish Visitor Magazine
P O Box 658
Monroe, NY   10949

Monday, August 20, 2012


In the Gospel at Mass today (Matthew 19: 16-22), a young man approached Jesus and asked what "good" he must do to "gain eternal life."  Jesus responded that "there is only One who is good"--God.  Then he told him the minimum requirements for eternal life: to follow the commandments which were given for humanity's spiritual health and ultimate well-being.  When the young man responded that he followed these commandments, yet felt that something was missing, Jesus challenged him to give everything away and to follow Him.  The young man "went away sad, for he had many possessions." 

Jesus told the young man that God is the only good, the greatest good.  No created good should come before Him.  If we choose a lesser good as more important that the greatest good, we've got our priorities wrong, we will be unhappy, and we will risk losing eternal life.  The young man was too attached to material things which were more important to him than following Jesus.  He could not let go of earthly treasures and his hands, full of these lesser goods, were not open to receiving "treasure in heaven."  He needed detachment.

Mother Mary Teresa Tallon, the foundress of the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, to whom I am giving a retreat this week, wrote an article dated July 30, 1926 and entitled "On Poverty and Detachment."  She points out that true wisdom means having one's priorities right:

"But the Gift of Wisdom or spiritual detachment ... means freedom from all earthly things in order to reach an entire attachment to God and to the Will of God.  Detachment brings every virtue, or it presupposes the possession of every virtue.  True humility, which is the foundation of detachment ... means freedom from self with its aspirations toward egotism....  The possessor of the gift of detachment has every theological and Christian virtue.  Why?  Because the great obstacle SELF is eliminated, the spirit rises to Heaven, and the good God is brought into full possession."

Possessions or honors or relationships--any good that is less than God--can weigh us down.  They can distract us from the "one thing necessary" (see Luke 10: 42) and can lead us to lose track of our priorities and what is most important--eternal life.  The focus on self, egotism accompanied by selfishness or self-pity, is especially burdensome.   But detachment frees us to fly:

"So detachment means freedom from self, freedom from the earth, to rise like a great eagle--like a great angel, rather--up to God."

We can let go of all and surrender ourselves completely because God has done this.  Jesus gave completely of Himself, offering Himself for the salvation of every human being at the Last Supper and on the Cross.  He continues to offer Himself for us and to us in the Eucharist.  Having received all--our life, our talents, God Himself--we can give all in return.  We don't do this grudgingly but with joy.

The saint whom the Church honors today--St. Bernard--had a deep personal relationship with God.  His commentary on the Song of Songs addresses the spousal relationship that God desires to have with every human person.  Love cannot be forced or imposed, so God has continually proposed to humanity and to each individual.  In the Gospel Jesus reached out in love to the young man who could not return love for love.  He wanted to know what was the minimum he had to do in his relationship with God.  A marriage based on minimum requirements won't last.  Love doesn't ask "What can I get away with in our relationship?" or "What's the least I have to do to keep you satisfied?"  Love always asks "What more can I do to show you I love you?" 

God has shown us the vastness and depths of His love for us.  What is our response? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Parish Visitors

I'm in Monroe, NY these days, giving a retreat to the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate.  This group of consecrated women was founded in 1920 in New York City by Mother Mary Teresa Tallon.  They call themselves "contemplative-missionaries in the midst of parish life."  They are dedicated to family ministry through prayer, the visitation of homes, and religious education and they serve in the U.S., Nigeria, and the Philippines.  Here is something their foundress wrote about their charism in 1930.  Her words and the goal of the Parish Visitors are as important today as they were then.

"The trend of the day is toward materialism, overindulgence, luxury, amusement.  Many families, caught up in the whirl of the times, or through poverty, change of residence, or some unfortunate mistake, have let slip the precious heritage of the True Faith which once was theirs.  Many, caught up in the mad seeking for pleasure or the blind battle for the almighty dollar, have forgotten their Creator or, entangled by spurious reading, have denied Him entirely.  All these cases cry loudly for help--for some apostle of holy charity to alleviate, to rectify.  This is where the Parish Visitor of Mary Immaculate comes in; one who can enter homes and seek for the Shepherd's lost sheep, who is consumed with a divine thirst for souls--'Souls!  Souls!  Lord, give me souls!' must be her cry.

On August 15 the Parish Visitors celebrated the 92nd anniversary of their founding with a special guest, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.  I was able to concelebrate Mass with this friend of the Apostleship of Prayer whom I first met when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee.  After Mass we went to visit the nearby grave of Mother Mary Teresa Tallon whose cause for beatification the Sisters hope will soon be opened. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Praying with the Sisters

While giving a retreat to some Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma Michigan, I've been privileged to share in their prayer life.  While these Sisters are very active around the world, prayer is certainly a big part of their lives.  It's clear that prayer has a very apostolic dimension for them.   For example, every day the Sisters make a Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  They begin by naming many intentions and people for whom they are offering their Holy Hour.  I was happily surprised to hear, at the top of the list, the Holy Father's two monthly prayer intentions which we in the Apostleship of Prayer publicize.  That the Holy Hour has a strong apostolic dimension can be clearly seen in the prayer which the Sisters recite as they begin:

O Jesus, Son of God, You Who are to bestow Your blessing upon us assembled here, we humbly beg You that it may impart to each and all of us the graces we need.  Let Your blessing extend to places far and wide.  Let it be felt by the afflicted who cannot come here to receive it personally.  Let the weak and the tempted feel its power wherever they may be.  Let poor sinners come under its influence prompting them to turn to You.  Let it reach the missionaries who work for Your people, whose God You are.

Lord, we humbly beg Your blessing for us here and for all those dear to us, and may it effect that secret purpose for which, O Lord, You always generously impart it.  Amen. 

The Sisters also pray Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity every time they gather for prayer.  Here are these very simple and beautiful prayers:

My God, I believe in Thee and all Thy Church doth teach, because Thou hast said it and Thy Word is true.

My God, I hope in Thee, for grace and for glory, because of Thy promises, Thy mercy and Thy power.

My God, because Thou art so good, I love Thee with all my heart, and for Thy sake, I love my neighbor as myself.

After Mass the Sisters pray the Prayer to St. Michael, the Suscipe of Venerable Catherine McAuley, a prayer for her beatification, and the following prayer which Blessed John Paul II wrote as an Act of Consecration of the Modern World to our Lady of Fatima. 

Prayer for Peace to Mary, the Light of Hope

Immaculate Heart of Mary, help us to conquer the menace of evil, which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today, and whose immeasurable effects already weigh down our modern world and seem to block the paths towards the future!

From famine and war, deliver us.
From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us.
From sins against the life of man from its very beginning, deliver us.
From hatred and from the demeaning of the dignity of the children of God, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, both national and international, deliver us.
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us.
From attempts to stifle in human hearts the very truth of God, deliver us.

From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.

Accept, O Mother of Christ, this cry laden with the sufferings of all individual human beings, laden with the sufferings of whole societies.  Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer all sin: individual sin and the "sin of the world," sin in all its manifestations.  Let there be revealed once more in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the redemption, the power of merciful Love.  May it put a stop to evil.  May it transform consciences.  May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope. Amen.

As I get ready to return home to Milwaukee, I'm consoled by the thought that the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma are offering these prayers every day.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Venerable Catherine McAuley's Sisters

Since last Tuesday I've been in Alma, Michigan where I began a retreat for some of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma-- 2 novices about to make their first profession, 9 Sisters in temporary vows, and 2 perpetually professed Sisters.  It has been a retreat for me as well because I've participated in their celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, their daily Holy Hour, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  I've also enjoyed getting to know a bit about their foundress, Mother Catherine McAuley, whom Blessed John Paul II declared "Venerable" in 1990, the first step toward her beatification.

Catherine McAuley was born in Ireland in 1778 and died in 1841.  In 1827 she used an inheritance to open a home for poor girls, the first "Home of Mercy."  The archbishop encouraged her to start a religious congregation to continue this good work and in 1831 the Sisters of Mercy began.  In contrast to the cloistered contemplative nuns with whom most people were familiar, they came to be known as "the walking sisters" because they went through the streets helping the poor and sick.  Today, in addition to the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they take a fourth vow of service to the poor, sick, and ignorant. 

St. Ignatius, the founder of my religious order, the Jesuits, wrote a prayer of offering ("Suscipe") at the end of his "Spiritual Exercises."  When one comes to know the love of God and the gift of Himself that He makes in Jesus and the Eucharist, one wants to return love for love by making of gift of oneself.  I was delighted that Venerable Catherine McAuley also wrote an offering prayer which the Sisters pray together every day after Mass.  Here is Mother Catherine's "Suscipe:"

My God, I am Thine for time and eternity.
Teach me to cast myself entirely
Into the arms of Thy loving Providence
With the most lively, unlimited confidence
In Thy compassionate, tender pity.
Grant me, O most Merciful Redeemer,
That whatever Thou dost ordain or permit
May be acceptable to me.
Take from my heart all painful anxiety,
Suffer nothing to sadden me but sin,
Nothing to delight me but the hope of
coming to the possession of Thee,
My God and my all,
In Thine everlasting kingdom.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jesus ... Best Friend

It's the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of my religious order--the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.   This statue of St. Ignatius can be found in the main body of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

I'm going to be travelling today so I won't be able to celebrate with my community but a few of us in the same situation celebrated Mass this morning.  In the back of our special Jesuit Sacramentary there are prayers that can be recited before or after Mass.  The following was one of the three that were given for today's feast.  It appears to have been inspired by the Anima Christi prayer often attributed to St. Ignatius because it appears at the beginning of his "Spiritual Exercises."

Jesus ... Best Friend,
may your soul give life to me,
may your flesh be food for me,
may you warm my hardened heart.

Jesus ... Best Friend,
may your tears now wash me clean,
may your passion keep me strong,
may you listen to my plea.

Jesus ... Best Friend,
may your wound take in my hurts,
may your gaze be fixed on me,
may I not betray your love.

Jesus ... Best Friend,
may you call me at death's door,
may you hold me close to you,
may you place me with God's saints,
may I ever sing your praise.  Amen.