Monday, September 30, 2013


Today's Mass readings (Zechariah 8:1-8 and Luke 9:46-50) are about jealousy.

The Gospel begins with the apostles arguing over which of them is the greatest. They're competing to be #1. In doing so, they compare themselves to one another to see who will come out on top.  After Jesus admonishes them to be more humble and child-like, John shows his possessiveness and jealousy. He doesn't like the fact that someone who is not part of "our company" has been successful in casting out demons in the name of Jesus.

Where does jealousy come from?  From comparison--comparing ourselves to others and ending up jealous of how much better others are.  Better looking, more intelligent, more talented, more blessed.  Sometimes when we compare ourselves with others we end up feeling good about ourselves at their expense, thinking, "well, at least I'm not as bad as so-and-so."  Either way, as a saying goes, "compare and despair."

What is the antidote to jealousy?  Gratitude. We all tend to be "half-empty" people. We see the glass and ourselves as half-empty rather than half-full and we want what others have in order to fill up the emptiness. Gratitude helps us focus on the blessings we have and so that we don't compare ourselves to others: "I am a beloved child of God, my Heavenly Father, who loves me with an infinite love. What more could I want?"

This was Jesus' secret. He knew himself as the Beloved Son of the Father and this freed him to be totally himself. He played no games, put on no facades, and had nothing to prove.  Filled with the knowledge of the Father's love, he was secure in his identity, never compared himself to others, and was never jealous.

But what about that first reading where God, speaking through the prophet Zechariah, says: "I am intensely jealous for Zion, stirred to jealous wrath for her."  Is God jealous? Yes, though not in the way we humans are. Our jealousy comes out of our half-emptiness, our lack or need. Since God is fullness itself there is no jealousy for someone who has something that he does not have.

So what is the jealousy that God has? It comes from his love. God is a Trinity, a Communion of Persons. God's very nature is Love. God was perfectly happy in himself but it is the nature of love to want to share and so God created a world and creatures who were capable of receiving divine love and returning love. God created us to share in the very life of the Trinity, a Communion of Love.

St. Augustine wrote: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Our hearts are restless with jealousy when we ignore the great gift God has given us, when we seek to fill the emptiness within us with substitutes for God--possessions, pleasure, power, prestige.

God has a "jealous wrath" when we accept those substitutes because he knows how ultimately unsatisfying and hurtful they are. God is angry at sin and its effects in our lives.

We can take St. Augustine's words and make them our prayer today:  "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, for love, for union with you, and for communion with all your children, your saints. Because you love us, all you want is our happiness. You know that we cannot find happiness anywhere else and so you desire--in a way that resembles intense jealousy--that we accept your love alone to fill us so that we might find true happiness. Because you love us, you are happy when we are happy, truly happy. May your love fill my emptiness. As I return love for love, loving you in my neighbor, I am emptied to be constantly filled with a fresh outpouring of your love.  Thank you!"

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Today's Gospel (Luke 16: 19-31) brings up a topic that you don't hear very often--hell. Nowadays it's common to hear: "I don't believe in hell. How could a good and infinitely loving God send anyone to hell?" Yet Jesus tells a parable about a mysterious place in "the netherworld" where there is fire and torment.  What are we to make of this?

The parables of Jesus were meant to be shocking. They were designed to make the listener think and then act. The parable of the rich man and the poor man named Lazarus would have been very shocking to the people of Jesus' time. The common understanding then was that wealth was a sign of God's favor and poverty was a sign that God was not happy with you. Yet in the Beatitudes Jesus said "Blessed are the poor" and he preached about how difficult it was for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven--as difficult as a camel going through the eye of a needle.  When the apostles heard this they were shocked and asked, "then who can be saved?"  They had the common understanding that wealth was a sign of God's favor. 

Jesus addressed today's parable to the Pharisees, a group that scrupulously followed the Law but did not have mercy in their hearts. Jesus challenges them and us to be merciful to one another as God is.

But if God is all-merciful, how can there be a hell?  The truth is God does not send anyone to hell.  People choose it for themselves. Hell exists because God is all-loving and will never force his love or will on his children.  Love must be free and God has given each of us the freedom to accept or to reject his love.  Rejecting God leads to alienation from God and from all his children. 

Here's how the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1033 puts it: The "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.'" Notice: it's "self-exclusion" not an exclusion on God's part. 

Pope John Paul II further explained this in a General Audience on July 28, 1999.  He said:  "God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself forever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or Hell.  It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. ... 'Eternal damnation,' therefore, is not attributed to God's initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created."

In other words, God does not send anyone to hell.  People choose it.

Did the rich man in the Gospel choose hell? The "premises" of his earthly life--his attitudes, values, and choices--had consequences that led naturally to this end. We are on earth to learn to breathe the atmosphere of heaven, a state of love and mercy, of care and sharing, of justice and peace. The rich man had not learned his lessons.

Here is a contemporary example. A few years ago the following appeared in a newspaper column:

DEAR ABBEY: I am a middle-aged woman who is Baptist by faith. I believe that when I die I will go to heaven. My problem is, if going to heaven means being reunited with my parents and other family members, then I don't want to go! The idea of spending eternity with them is more than I can stand, but I don't want to go to hell, either. Any thoughts?  --ETERNAL CONFUSED IN MISSISSIPPI

DEAR ETERNALLY CONFUSED: Yes. When you reach the pearly gates, talk this over with St. Peter. Perhaps he would be willing to place you in a different wing than the one your parents and other family members are staying in. And in the meantime, discuss this with your minister.

No.  It doesn't work like this.  There are no separate wings in heaven for our enemies. There is no room in heaven for resentment, hatred, and greed, or any of the other ways in which we treat one another as less than human, less than a child of God, a brother or sister.  "Eternally Confused" is not learning her lessons.  She is not preparing for heaven but, by holding on to those resentments, is setting in motion "premises" that will lead to eternal separation from God and the communion of saints.

The rich man in the Gospel didn't learn to breathe the atmosphere of heaven. Though Lazarus was right outside his door as he "dined sumptuously each day," he did not see him. For the rich man Lazarus was not a person but a non-entity. What mattered more to the rich man was his own pleasure, his own possessions and wealth, himself.  That he had not learned the lesson he needed to learn before he died is shown in how he treats Lazarus in the afterlife. He asks Abraham to have Lazarus dip his finger in cool water and bring it to him to relieve his torment. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers. He does not treat Lazarus like a child of God, a brother, an equal. He treats Lazarus like a slave, ordering him around to serve him and his family circle. 

The message is clear. St. Catherine of Siena once said "All the way to heaven is heaven." We could add, all the way to hell is hell. Our earthly lives are preparation for eternal life with God or without God.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You are a Temple

Pope Francis has frequently said that God is a God of surprises. We certainly see that in the recent daily Mass readings from the Book of Ezra (1:1-6 yesterday).  Who would have thought that the pagan ruler of Persia Cyrus would allow the exiled Israelites to return to their homeland after seventy years? Not those people who in exile all those years! And who would have thought that God would speak to Cyrus and inspire him to commission those returning exiles to build "the house of God in Jerusalem?"  Even more, who would have thought that the pagan people with whom the Israelites lived during those years of exile would give "them help in every way, with silver, gold, goods and cattle, and with many precious gifts besides...?" Yes, God is full of surprises and can do surprising things in our lives.

In today's first reading from Ezra (6: 7-8, 12, 14-20), God surprises us again by inspiring another pagan king, Darius, successor to Cyrus, to continue his predecessor's policy of rebuilding the temple and even taxing some of his other subjects to provide funds for the project. Finally, the temple is finished and solemnly dedicated for worship. 

I've only seen the dedication of one Catholic church, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I'll always remember Archbishop Timothy Dolan ascending a ladder close to
where I was seated to anoint one of the four walls of the new church with sacred chrism. Thus was that space consecrated for a sacred purpose, for worship. Then the altar was anointed with sacred chrism, dedicating it for a sacred purpose. Sacred chrism was also used to anoint my hands when I was ordained thirty years ago, dedicating them for a sacred purpose, for worship. Thus were our heads anointed with sacred chrism at our baptism and confirmation, consecrating us for the sacred purpose of worship.

All of the baptized are sealed with the sacred chrism and consecrated for worship. All of us are temples of God. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist. At the end of Mass we are sent forth: Go! Be the temple that you were consecrated to be! Let others find Christ in you!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Mystery of the Cross

On Saturday I was on Chambers Island in the middle of Green Bay, not the city but the body of water that forms part of Lake Michigan. I was at Holy Name Retreat House leading a retreat for the Catholic men's group called Esto Vir.  In my homily for the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross I said the following:

Our faith is based on a paradox: the very source of death has become the source of healing and life.  This is the cross.

In the first centuries of Christianity the most common image of Jesus was that of the Good Shepherd. There was a reluctance to show Jesus on the cross. This was too shameful. Yet it is the proof of God's love.

As our gospel today states: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3: 16-17).

How did God save the world? Not with physical power. Not with an army of angels that would force people to follow God's will. Not with a destructive flood like the one that wiped out evil at the time of Noah.

God saved the world with weakness. With a helpless baby born in a stable who would grow to suffer and to die. With a flood of blood and water that gushed forth from the Heart of his Son when he was pierced on the cross. With spiritual power, the power of love.

In 2005 at World Youth Day in Cologne in his homily at the closing Mass, Pope Benedict said that at the Last Supper Jesus anticipated what he was going to do on the next day. He accepted it into his Heart. And in doing so, an act of violence was transformed into the greatest act of the love the world has ever known. Death was transformed into life. Bread and wine were transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

St. Thomas Aquinas called what happened at the Last Supper the greatest miracle of Jesus. Greater than healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, calming the storm, or raising the dead.

Pope Benedict went on to say that the transformation must not stop there with the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. He said that the change must now gather momentum and transform those who receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that they will transform the world.

Now we are to love as Jesus loved. We are to not only wear a cross but join our lives to it. We are to offer ourselves as Jesus did when he offered himself to the Father for the salvation of the world, something that he makes present every time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated. We are, in the words of St. Paul, to offer our bodies, our selves "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12: 1)

Pope Francis, in his sermon at the Vigil for Peace in Syria that was celebrated in St. Peter's Square and around the world on September 7, called us to look to the cross so that our world might find peace.  He said:

"When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the center, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. ... We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!

"And at this point I ask myself: Is it possible to walk the path of peace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the ... Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Our Participation in the Work of Salvation

When I was growing up, if something bad happened and I cried or moped, the Sisters in my grade school would say three words. No, not "get over it," but, "offer it up."  The origin of this practice can be found in the first reading at Mass today (Colossians 1:24-2:3).

St. Paul called himself "a minister in accordance with God's stewardship." He is minister of the Gospel which had been given to him to build up the Church. He was minister of "the mystery of God." What is that mystery?

God is Love. This Love is not so much a noun as a verb, not so much a feeling as action. St. Ignatius wrote that love shows itself better in deeds than in words. It is active. The very nature of God is active love. God has revealed Himself as a Trinity, a Communion of Divine Persons.

This great mystery of the Christian faith--that God is Love, that God is a Trinity of Persons, Three and One--includes humanity.  It is the nature of love to share. God, as it were, goes out of Himself to share existence and life and love with other beings which He has created.  God pours Himself into creation. God loves and in loving desires a return of love that resembles the love between the Father and the Son.  It is to this mystery that Paul has dedicated his life.

Just as the Three Persons of the Trinity are three and one, so God desires union with all creation. God wants to bring all into one. This is the great mystery which Paul writes about elsewhere: "that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Our union with God begins at Baptism and is strengthened with each Eucharist.  Through Baptism we are joined to the Body of Christ and in the Eucharist Jesus unites His flesh and blood with ours. This is the mystery Paul writes about in our first reading: "this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you...."

Now we can understand the meaning of the first verses of today's reading: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the affliction of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church...."  Nothing was lacking in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was sufficient to save the world. But many in the world have not heard this good news and many have rejected it. The world has not accepted the salvation that Christ won for us on the cross.

But we are one with Christ. He is the Head and we are Body. We now play a role in the ongoing salvation of the world, in helping the world to accept the salvation Christ won for us.  The one thing lacking in the sufferings of Christ is our own participation in them. What the Head has done the Body must also do. This doesn't mean we have to go out looking for suffering. It will come our way at one time or another. When it comes we have a choice: to complain and grow bitter or to turn that suffering into a powerful prayer and act of love by uniting it to the cross of Jesus. 

What motivates us to do this, to offer up our suffering? The same thing that motivated St. Paul. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul writes that "the love of Christ impels us." The knowledge of the love of Jesus urges us on; it motivates us to join Him in the work of salvation. One with Jesus, we share His love for those for whom He suffered, died, and rose. 

The love that was within His Heart motivated Jesus to act without delay. In today's Gospel (Luke 6:6-11) there is a story of how Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath.  In a similar story, a synagogue official complained: "There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day" (Luke 13:14). But Jesus can't wait to heal the afflicted. His love urges Him to act sooner rather than later. 

I'm reminded of what Blessed Antonio Rosmini wrote as a young priest in his personal Rules of Conduct: "To never refuse charitable services toward one's neighbor when divine Providence would offer and present them to me." 

I'm reminded as well of the saint whom we honor today, Peter Claver. The love of Christ urged him to not delay in responding to the needs of the African slaves as they arrived at the port of Cartagena in Colombia. Another Jesuit saint, a brother, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, taught him about prayer and the love of God. This knowledge motivated Peter to become a missionary, but not in a way he imagined. Inspired by the example of another Jesuit who served the slaves, he gave his life for them. He made a vow to be a slave of the African slaves forever. As the slave ships arrived he ventured into their holds to care for the sick saying that they must first be shown the love of God before they were told of it. 

And so too for us. The love of Christ urges us on as well. It motivates us to lose no opportunity that comes our way to offer up our suffering for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of all. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Link to the Sacred Heart

Have you heard of the new site called “O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus”?  Each First Friday of the month, a day traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart, Catholic writers will post something on their blogs about the Sacred Heart and then link them up to that site.  The founders of the site, Ryan and Laura, are from the U.S. and Australia respectively and they will help prime the pump each month with a question. This month’s is: “How did you first learn about the Sacred Heart?”
I’m often asked about my family’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  People assume that since I’m now involved in a ministry—the Apostleship of Prayer—that promotes this devotion, the seeds of it must have been planted early on. They weren’t. At least, not in an explicit way.

I grew up in what I would call a traditional Polish-American family, the grandson of immigrants. We did not have a picture of the Sacred Heart in our home, nor did we practice family consecration or enthronement of the Sacred Heart.  But my family’s practice of Catholicism was more, I think, a matter of the heart than the head.  Our weekend family life revolved around going to Mass and every month we went to our church on Saturday for confession. There were crucifixes in the rooms of our home and one in particular fascinated me. It was a cross with the instruments of the Passion—a ladder, a spear, and a pole with a sponge attached—all enclosed in a glass cylinder. In my family we had the custom of taking leave of one another in a religious way.  To those leaving our home we would say, “Go with God.”  The reply was “Stay with God.”

So when I entered the Jesuits in 1971 at the age of 19 I was ready to hear about devotion to the Sacred Heart from a religious order that has been traditionally associated with it. But I didn’t.  Again, the Lord worked in a quiet and hidden way to draw me to His Heart. Making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius drew me into a more intimate relationship with Jesus. The Exercises helped me to not just use my head to think about Jesus but to use my heart to contemplate the Gospel stories in a way in which I came to know Jesus in a deeper way. 
In time, all of this—my family experience and my prayer life as a Jesuit—led me to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I was ordained in 1983 on a Friday in June which happened to be the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.  No accident.  No coincidence.  I’m convinced that the Lord wanted me to be an apostle of His Heart and I was ordained to do so on His feast.  Now, through the Apostleship of Prayer, I’m committed to helping others enter more deeply into the Heart of Jesus where they will experience the depths of His love.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Some Labor Day Thoughts

The last of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises is called "The Contemplation to Attain the Love of God." One of his "points" is:

"This is to consider how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors. Thus, in the heavens, in the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc. He gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc. Then I will reflect on myself."

Figuratively speaking, according to Genesis, God worked for six days in creating the world and then rested. Humanity is made in God's image and likeness and so we are made to work and labor with God for the good of creation.  We are stewards of God's creation.  God cares for creation through us. 

The Gospel at Mass today (Luke 4: 16-30) is what many have called Jesus' "Inaugural Address" in which he announces his plan of action as he begins his active ministry after his "hidden life" of work at home and with his foster father Joseph.  But the people who hear him do not have the eyes of faith and so they reject him and his words. They cannot see how God will accomplish the great works promised by the prophet Isaiah through Jesus. 

We are called to have eyes of faith. One of the goals of the Apostleship of Prayer and the Daily Offering is to offer our daily work to God. Such an offering will, with time, help us to see our work with eyes of faith. By offering our work each day and then reflecting upon the daily work that has been offered, our eyes become more sensitive to seeing God at work through us.  In that way, more and more, our daily work will play a hidden or sometimes more explicit role in the work of preparing creation to receive Jesus in his second coming.

The first Mass reading today (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18) speaks of that second coming when Jesus will raise all people to new life in the Kingdom of God.  Our lives are meant to prepare the world for that day.  Our work plays a role in that preparation. 

In the Our Father we pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done."  When we follow God's will by making an offering of our day with its work, we are allowing the Kingdom of God to break into our lives and the lives of those around us.  Little by little Christ reigns in us and over us. As he reigns, God's work is accomplished in us and through us.  May we have the eyes of faith to see and believe this!