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.