Friday, June 29, 2012

A Week with Canons

No, I'm not at a military re-enactment encampment.  Not those kind of cannons.  These are priests known as canons.  I've been giving a retreat this week to the Canons Regular of Premontre at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California. This particular community of about 70 Norbertines has outgrown its present location and has purchased land nearby where they are planning to build a larger facility to accomodate their needs. Besides running St. Michael's Prep School and a summer camp at the Abbey, they also serve in parishes and schools around southern California and perform other pastoral and spiritual works. But their primary work is prayer which involves chanting the entire seven segments of the Divine Office. The focus on my retreat with them is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I've been privileged to pray with them and here is the schedule we have been following:

6:45 AM    Office of Readings and Morning Prayer
7:45 AM    Breakfast (in silence)
8:45 AM    Terce or Third Hour Prayer
9:00 AM    First Retreat Talk
9:40 AM    Free Time for Prayer and to Meet the Director
11:00 AM  Mass
Noon          Midday Prayer
12:15 PM   Lunch (in silence with a reading)
1:00 PM     Free
3:30 PM    Second Retreat Talk
4:20 PM    None or Ninth Hour Prayer
4:30 PM    Rosary
5:00 PM    Vespers
5:30 PM    Supper (in silence with a reading)
7:00 PM    Third Retreat Talk
8:00 PM    Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
8:05 PM    Compline or Night Prayer
9:05 PM    Benediction

The table reading at lunch and supper has been from Blessed John XXIII's "Journal of a Soul." His deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is evident throughout this journal that covers most of his life, from his seminary years up to and including his time as pope.

The services at St. Michael's Abbey are open to the public and it has been a blessing to see how many people come for Mass, the various prayers throughout the day, and the Holy Hour in the evening.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Best Friend

In 1953 a book entitled "Our Best Friend" was published in Milwaukee by the Bruce Publishing Company.  It was written by Jesuit Father Christian Pesch and begins with these words: "A true and faithful friend is one of the most precious treasures of life."  The dust jacket explains the theme of the book: "The Devotion to the Sacred Heart Presented From the Standpoint of Friendship with Jesus."  This is one of many books that we have on the shelves of the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer.  We have so many good books and I have so little time to read them.  I haven't read this one, but at the beginning of the month I glanced at the first chapter because Michael Hoffman, who organizes the monthly All-Night Vigil in Milwaukee, used it as the theme for this month's First Friday/First Saturday Vigil at which I spoke.  Here's what I said:

We don't often think of God as a friend.  More often we see God as the Lord whom we worship and adore or the Father whom we honor and obey. Jesus, the Son of the Father, is our Brother.  But there is something very important to be gained by thinking about God as our Friend.

The other images or titles carry with them a sense of obligation.  God loves us and his creation because he is Lord.  God loves his children because this is what fathers ought to do.  Jesus loves his brothers and sisters because this is what a family does.  There is a sense here that God must love us because that is God's nature. 

But at the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus said: "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.  I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father" (John 15: 15).  Friends are not under obligation to begin or to continue a friendship.  Friends freely choose one another.  And they like one another.  Have you ever thought of God liking you?  Friends like to spend time together; they enjoy one another's company.  They share the same interests.  Jesus, who has a human and divine heart, chooses you, likes you, enjoys you, and shares your interests and concerns.

Yet friendship must be mutual.  Jesus calls us friends because he likes us.  What about us?  How do we respond?  Do we accept his friendship or reject it?  Do we like him? We would not be here at the All-Night Vigil if we rejected his friendship, yet we do encounter obstacles to our friendship.  At times we do not enjoy Jesus' company.  We don't share his interests, desires, and concerns the way friends do.  This is what we call "sin."

But there is another, more subtle obstacle to our friendship with Jesus.  Fear.  Friends don't fear one another.  Jesus became human and revealed his Sacred Heart to us in order to cast out fear.  It's as though he said: "See my Heart.  It's out there, visible and vulnerable.  It's open to you.  It's on fire, not cold and apathetic.  It's wounded for you."  Before calling his apostles (and us) "friends" at the Last Supper, Jesus said:  "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." 

In the face of such love how do we respond?  Do we return love for love, friendship for friendship?  And how can we do that?  Last June, on the Feast of Saints Peter Paul, Pope Benedict answered this question:

What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself.

The friendship of Jesus brings us together tonight.  We come to know him better and in knowing him to like him more so that his desires and will become more and more our own.  May our prayer be the one that Pope Benedict offered in his homily:

Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Feast Day Homily

Last Friday, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I preached in my community at Marquette University.  Our celebration of the feast included the traditional renewal of the Consecration of the Society of Jesus to the Sacred Heart and also Fr. Michael Class's profession of final vows.  Here is the gist of what I said.

In our first reading (Hosea 11: 1,3-4,8-9) God, speaking through the prophet, declares his love even though his people have abandoned him.  He says: "My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred."  The translation "overwhelmed" is actually mild compared to the original Hebrew which is the same word used to describe the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.  To say "My heart is broken" is even too mild.  Perhaps it would be better to say "My heart is crushed." 

This is amazing.  It's amazing to think that the Creator, the God of the Universe, the God whom philosophers called "the Unmoved Mover" would be so moved by sin and the human misery it causes.

But this is the mystery, the nature of love.  If you love, you will suffer.  If you love, you will suffer for your beloved.  You will suffer with your beloved.  And since God is Love itself, as St. John writes in his First Letter, God suffers to the utmost.  We suffer when the ones we love suffer.  God, who loves more than we can, suffers more than we can.  God does this through his Son Jesus whose passionate love for humanity led to his passion and death on a cross. 

These are "the inscrutable riches of Christ" that St. Paul writes about in our second reading (Ephesians 3: 8-12,14-19).  It was God's plan to make creatures whom he would love, who would love him in return, and who would be united with him forever.  God created us so that we "may be filled with all the fullness of God."  How this is possible "surpasses knowledge."  It requires the knowledge and language of love.  As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: "The heart has reasons which reason does not know." 

We are able to "be filled with all the fullness of God" because of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, gifts from the very Heart of Jesus.  Our Gospel (John 19: 31-37) tells us that after Jesus had died on the cross a "soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out."  The Church has traditionally seen in the water the symbol of Baptism which unites us to the Body of Christ and in the blood the Eucharist which nourishes our union with him.  In Baptism we become temples of God the Holy Spirit and in the Eucharist we are "filled with all the fullness of God," the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, including his Sacred Heart. 

The knowledge of this deep, personal, and passionate love of Jesus moved St. Ignatius to give all.  In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius, having reflected on the love of God revealed in various ways, responds with a prayer of total self-offering:   Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.  You have given all to me.  To You, O Lord, I return it.  All is Yours.  Dispose of it wholly according to Your will.  Give me only Your love and Your grace.  With these I am rich enough and want for nothing more.

The knowledge of "the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" is what moved St. Ignatius to offer himself completely.  It is what moves every Jesuit who has come after him.  Vows are a return of love for love.  As Christ gave all out of love, so the one professing vows does so out of love.  So do we as we renew the Consecration of the Society of Jesus to the Sacred Heart. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

John O'Brien is a Jesuit scholastic from Canada whom I met recently at a gathering of Jesuits who are involved in the work of the Apostleship of Prayer.  He is part of the Jesuit Mission Band that will be giving our popular "Hearts on Fire" retreats for young adults in six cities of the southern U.S. this summer.  Earlier this month he wrote a beautiful reflection on the image of the Sacred Heart for a blog that he and several other young Canadian Jesuits have begun.  It's called "Ibo et Non Redibo," which is Latin for "I shall go and I shall not return" and comes from a letter that the French Jesuit missionary and martyr St. Isaac Jogues wrote.   On this great feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus I am happy to share his reflections entitled "Heart of the World."

Pope Benedict has invited the faithful to renew their devotion to the Sacred Heart and with good reason: as a symbol – and object of meditation – it contains many dimensions of the mystery of God. Let’s reflect on a few of those.

First, the heart is visible. Jesus does not conceal his love, but makes it readily available to all. It
is offered to us. He is vulnerable in that respect. It calls us to let down our barriers.

There are thorns that encircle it. This is not a valentine, but a passionate love that has and will suffer for the beloved. Just as our own vulnerable love can sometimes suffer, so does Christ’s for us.

There’s a cross on top of the heart. John and Mary stood at the foot of the cross when others had run away. This is an invitation to us to stand with them for Jesus. However this plays out in our lives, this is love in action.

The wound. It reminds us of the blood and water that flowed when the heart was pierced by the soldier’s lance. Both elements signify the life (Eucharist and baptism) that results from his sacrifice. It is also the birth of the Church.

The fire blazing. The most dramatic element, it tells us about the fierce love that God has for his people. It offers light and warmth to all who approach, and its blaze melts the hardened parts of our hearts. This fire is also contagious, and will inflame us in going out to set the world on fire.

Jesuit Meeting in St. Louis

I just returned from a gathering in St. Louis of over 20 Jesuits who are interested in the work of the Apostleship of Prayer.  This is the fourth such meeting since 2007.  There were Jesuits, young and old, from around the country and this year's meeting included two Jesuit scholastics from Canada who are members of this summer's Jesuit Mission Band which will be giving "Hearts on Fire" retreats for young adults in six cities throughout the South.  Their schedule and more information can be found here

We began Monday evening with Evening Prayer and then shared about the role that devotion to the Sacred Heart has played in our lives.  Tuesday was a full day.  After Morning Prayer, I gave a presentation entitled "The Apostleship of Prayer: an Ignatian and Eucharistic Spirituality."  Then Fr. Claudio Barriga, the International Delegate for the Apostleship of Prayer in the Jesuit Curia in Rome, talked about the Apostleship of Prayer and the Eucharistic Youth Movement from an international perspective.  He also shared parts of a document designed to promote the "recreation" of the Apostleship of Prayer.  By presenting the traditional mission and practices of the Apostleship of Prayer in a new light, the document is another step in the process of its worldwide renewal so that it may play a role in the new evangelization. 

In the afternoon Fr. Phil Hurley, the Youth and Young Adult Director of the Apostleship in the U.S., and a panel of Jesuits who have worked on past "Hearts on Fire" retreats gave a presentation and talked about their experience of the first two years of these retreats.  Lastly, before celebrating Mass together, we discussed how the Apostleship of Prayer can play a greater role in the work of various Jesuit institutions-- universities, high schools and other schools, parishes, and retreat houses. 

After Morning Prayer on Wednesday, I gave another presentation.  This one was entitled "A Contemporary Approach to Sacred Heart Spirituality."  It was followed by a discussion about collaborating with various organizations and initiatives like the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement and Christian Life Communities (CLC).  We also heard from Joseph Hill, a Jesuit scholastic who has been teaching at Jesuit High in New Orleans, about the revival of the Sodality there and the Camino Retreats with which he has been involved.  These retreats, like the "Hearts on Fire" events, target young adults, 19 to 39, and lead them, over a series of four 3 day silent retreats, through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

In the afternoon I, Fr. Hurley, Fr. Chris Collins (the President of the Apostleship's Board of Directors), and Dr. Doug Leonard (the Apostleship's Director of Operations and Development) talked about the obstacles we face, the opportunities we have, and our needs, both in terms of personnel and finances.  We ended our meetings with a Holy Hour that included a personal consecration prayer to the Sacred Heart and then Mass. 

In planning this meeting I wasn't sure how much time to schedule for questions and discussion.  Based on the lively discussions that followed the presentations, it's clear that we could have used more time! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Christ on the Streets

A few weeks ago I participated in a procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee.  It was sponsored by a local group called "Roses for Our Lady," whose president, a fellow-blogger and my good friend, is Ann Bender.  The perfect weather for our May Eucharistic procession helped ensure that a good crowd of people participated. 

As we walked and prayed the Rosary, I was grateful that we had the freedom (and the police permit) to walk in the streets of the city, to bear public witness to our faith.  I wondered, too, what the people in their cars who had to wait and the people on their porches thought as we processed.  Were they thinking: "Why don't those Catholics keep their faith in their churches where it belongs?" 

That's in fact what many people seem to be thinking these days.  They think that faith is a private matter.  It's what you do on Sundays in your churches.  It's not what you do in your other institutions, your schools and hospitals.  There, they believe, the government should have "the final say." 

Tomorrow in many places where the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated and on Sunday where it will be celebrated in other places, our Eucharistic Lord will be accompanied in procession on streets throughout the world.  We will witness to our faith.  But more: we will proclaim that Jesus is Lord and King.  That Christ has a right to be in public.  That all people have a right to know the love of God revealed in Jesus who gave his Body and Blood for the salvation of all.  Here's how Pope Benedict put it last year in his homily for the Feast:

The Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of the cities and villages to show that the Risen Christ walks in our midst and guides us towards the Kingdom of Heaven.  What Jesus gave to us in the intimacy of the Upper Room today we express openly, because the love of Christ is not reserved for a few but is destined for all. 
And then the Holy Father reminded us that we who receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion are transformed.  We are the Body of Christ transformed and nourished by the Eucharist.  We are, in a sense, living monstrances called to bring Christ into the world again.  Our procession reminds us that we are called to bring Christ to the streets, the homes, the work places, the parks--wherever we go.  Pope Benedict continued:

Let us walk with no illusions, with no utopian ideologies, on the highways of the world bearing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation.  With the humility of knowing that we are merely grains of wheat, let us preserve the firm certainty that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death.  We know that God prepares for all men and women new heavens and a new earth, in which peace and justice reign--and in faith we perceive the new world which is our true homeland. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday

I celebrated Mass this morning at the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Here's what I said:

Last year, on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, Pope Benedict said the following:  "Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Blessed Trinity, the Feast of God, of the center of our faith: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When one thinks of the Trinity, one usually thinks of the aspect of the mystery: they are Three and they are One, one God in three Persons. Actually God in his greatness cannot be anything but a mystery for us...."
There is a problem with that word "mystery."  We tend to think of Sherlock Holmes and murder or crime shows with mysteries that can be solved when enough clues are discovered.  The mysteries of our faith, including the great mystery of the Holy Trinity, are not mysteries like these.  They cannot be "solved" nor completely understood.  St. Augustine said that when it comes to God, "si comprehendis, non Deus est."  If you think you can understand the mystery that is God, you're no longer talking about God. 

But, Pope Benedict finished the above sentence with these words: "yet he revealed himself. We can know him in his Son and thus also know the Father and the Holy Spirit."
God is not a mathematical problem to be solved nor do we come to know a person by dissecting him or her.  We come to know a person as that person reveals him or herself to us.  That's what God has done through creation and the history of the Chosen People recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There Israel, and all of us, come to know God in a way that was radically new, in a way that no other religion came to know God.  God revealed himself as a loving Father.  Then the Father sent the Son, as Pope Benedict often says, as "the human face of God."  Jesus is the fullest revelation of God.  Jesus taught his disciples and us to pray as he did, calling God "Abba," Aramaic for Daddy or Pappa."  We are to call God "our Father" when we pray.  Jesus promised at the Last Supper that he and the Father would come to be one with us (see John 14:  9-11, 23).  He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us (see John: 14: 16-17).  This Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the day we commemorated last Sunday, and at each of our baptisms.  Jesus told the disciples and us in today's Gospel to go and baptize people "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." 

Though God has revealed himself to us in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, the mystery remains.  God is more than we can understand.  Throughout history missionaries and theologians have tried to help people better understand the mystery of the Trinity with images and analogies.  St. Patrick famously used a shamrock to show that God is one and God is three.  But such images limp.  God cannot be divided the way a shamrock can.  Where one Person of the Blessed Trinity is, the three Persons are. 

Practically speaking, what does all this mean for us in our daily lives?  Besides the fact that God has revealed himself as a Trinity, why is this belief important?

Pope Benedict's homily of last year continues: "Instead today’s Liturgy draws our attention not so much to this mystery as to the reality of love that is contained in this first and supreme mystery of our faith. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one because God is love and love is an absolute life-giving force; the unity created by love is a unity greater than a purely physical unity. The Father gives everything to the Son; the Son receives everything from the Father with gratitude; and the Holy Spirit is the fruit of this mutual love of the Father and the Son…."

In other words, another way of speaking about the mystery of the Trinity is to say, as St. John did in the First Letter that bears his name, "God is love" (see 1 John 4: 8 and 16).  God is a communion of persons, three yet one.  Now, in whose image have we been made?  We read in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, that humanity was made "in the image and likeness of God."  Each human person is made in the image and likeness of the Most Holy Trinity.  Our deepest identity is love.  We were made by love and for love.  We are not isolated individuals separated from one another.  We are made for communion.  Individualism is a lie that denies our very identity as persons made in the image and likeness of the Communion of Persons that is God.  Thus when Jesus taught us to pray he did not tell us to pray with the words "my Father," but "our Father." 

Both our first reading from Deuteronomy and our Gospel from Matthew tell us that a very practical implication of this is following God's commandments.  Thus we hear Moses say, "You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today," and after telling his disciples to baptize all people Jesus adds, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."  These commandments are not something external to us.  They are not imposed upon us but are part of our very nature.  We're all familiar with the laws of nature.  One is gravity and as material beings we follow it.  We can rebel against it, launching ourselves off a height and trying to fly, but in doing so we end up hurting or killing ourselves.  Similarly, as living creatures we follow certain biological laws that are built right into us.  There are some things that are incompatible with our health and very life.  We call these poison.  We are free to drink it but if we do we suffer certain consequences for our foolish rebellion.  Moreover we are more than physical and biological creatures.  We are also spiritual beings who have certain spiritual laws built right into our nature.  These are the commandments which Jesus summed up in one word--love.  Love God and love your neighbor.  As beings made in the image and likeness of God who is love itself, we are made for love.  To rebel against this law of love, to sin, thinking that we are only hurting ourselves, leads to soul sickness and the possibility of eternal death--separation from God and the communion of saints. 

Celebrating the feast of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us of our own deepest identity--persons called to communion.  As we grow in love and in communion with God and one another, we reveal to the world the true nature of our Trinitarian God--love.