Sunday, June 30, 2013

Plowing Our Way to Heaven

The first reading (1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21) and the gospel (Luke 9:51-62) for today, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C, refer to plowing. The prophet Elijah encounters his successor Elisha while he is plowing. He calls him to follow him by throwing his cloak over him.  In the gospel Jesus declares: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."

One lesson that we can take from these readings is that God comes to us not only in church or when we are praying but when we are working, in fact, God is there always. The call to follow God's will is always there.

The words of Jesus in the gospel are quite shocking. It sounds as though Jesus is saying that family life with its responsibilities is not important. These sayings of Jesus, like His parables, are meant to shock us out of complacency and to make us think.  Jesus is saying that following Him is a matter of urgency. It should not be delayed or put off.  I don't think He is saying that family life is less important than following Him because it is within family life that He is to be found, just as the will of God was found by Elisha while he was at work plowing. 

The closest I've come to plowing is cutting the grass of a football field in western South Dakota.  I learned quickly that if I wanted to cut a straight line I needed to look, not down at the mower or my feet but up and ahead, at some point at the end of the field. Looking up and ahead, I was able to cut a straight path. 

The same lesson is true for life. As we plow along on our earthly journey, it's important to keep our eyes on our goal, on the end for which we were created, and on Jesus, the One who has already made a path for us to follow. It is urgent for us to not lose track of where we are going, to not get distracted by what's around us, and to not get off the path. 

What can help us to not get off track is to make a daily offering of our lives and to periodically remind ourselves of that offering throughout the day.  God is to be found everywhere and at all times. Every moment, even our naps and sleep, can be precious when offered to God in accordance with His will.  The urgency of Jesus in today's gospel tells us "Don't lose a minute."

I'm reminded of something that Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan wrote the day after Saigon fell to the Communists and he was in prison:

"I am in prison. If I am waiting for the opportune moment to do something truly great, how many times in my life will similar occasions present themselves? No, I will seize the occasions that every day presents, to fulfill ordinary actions in an extraordinary way. Jesus, I will not wait, I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love. A straight line is made of millions of tiny points united to each other. My life too is made of millions of seconds and minutes united to each other. I will  perfectly arrange every single point, and the line will be straight. I will live perfectly every minute, and my life will be holy. Like you, Jesus, who always did what was pleasing to your Father. Every minute I want to tell you: Jesus I love you."

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Auguste "Nonco" Pelafigue

A week ago I enjoyed Southern hospitality in Arnaudville, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country. The day before I was at Loyola University in New Orleans where I spoke at the National Jesuit Brothers Committee's bi-annual meeting on the topic "From Paper to Podcasts: How the Apostleship of Prayer went from the 19th Century to the 21st Century in 10 Years."  I was on my way to Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in Lake Charles to preach at all the Masses and decided to stop in Arnaudville. 

In the past year a group of people from that small town contacted me because a well-beloved member of their community, who died in 1977 had been a member and promoter of the Apostleship of Prayer.  They had started the Auguste "Nonco" Pelafigue Foundation in order to honor his memory and promote his cause for beatification.  I talked to them about the Apostleship and showed them a monthly leaflet from our archives dating back to 1909 and others from the 1940's and 50's. The ones from the '60's and 70's looked familiar because Nonco had brought similar ones to their families.  We talked about how they could continue Nonco's work of promoting prayer for the pope's monthly intentions and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  On our way to a local cafĂ©, The Little Big Cup, for real Cajun food (I
had gumbo and a Po-Boy sandwich made with shrimp), we stopped at Nonco's house, a small shack with no running water where he slept and prayed and ate. I can't really say he "lived" there because he spent so much of his time walking around the area delivering leaflets, teaching catechism, and directing the local children in plays that they performed for the parish. 

I carry away happy memories of my time in Arnaudville and have begun to ask Nonco to intercede for the Apostleship as we try to carry on the work that was so dear to his own heart. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus

I am in Kirkwood, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, where I am in the middle of a retreat for the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. The Central Province is headquartered here and I gave the sisters a retreat back in December, 2005.  I know this religious order which unites two of my loves--Carmel and the Sacred Heart--not only through this particular community but also because I've given retreats to the Sisters of the Northern Province in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and the Canadian Province in Missassauga, Ontario.  Whenever I'm in the Milwaukee area for the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16), I celebrate it with the community in Wauwatosa and I was privileged to be there for special celebrations of the beatification of their foundress, Mother Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, in 2006 and for the 100th anniversary of their foundation in the U.S.A. in 2012. 

Bl. Maria Teresa was an amazing woman. She was born in East Prussia in 1855, the daughter of a staunch Lutheran minister.  She decided to become a Catholic on June 17, 1887 without knowing that this was the feast of the Sacred Heart that year and was received into the Church on October 30, 1888. Prior to this she had spent some time in a convent in Cologne where a deep love for the Eucharist grew.  She wrote about this in her autobiography:

"During the first days of my stay at the convent, the Forty Hours' adoration was observed. It was the first exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the first nocturnal adoration I had ever attended. I cannot find words to describe my feelings. I was so filled with holy joy that I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament from nine o'clock in the evening until two o'clock in the morning without realizing the time. God inflamed my heart with such fervor that later on, all the sorrows sent to me, or allowed to happen to me by His grace, seemed to be only a drop of water on a glowing iron. They can only cause a momentary flare,  a human twitch of nature, and nothing else. The real fervor stays like the real heat of the iron. When I awoke in the morning, my heart was filled with a burning love for God."

This love impelled her to follow God's will at all costs.  One of my favorite stories of Bl. Maria Teresa is how shortly after this experience in adoration and before she had become a Catholic she, in her words, "desired to become a holocaust of love for God."  She concluded all her prayers with the following words: "O Lord, send me wherever You will, to work for the salvation of souls. Fulfill the ardent longing of my soul, O God, to prove my love and gratitude to You. But if it is possible, do not send me to Berlin. However, Your will be done, not mine."  And where did God send her? That's right. To Berlin, where she began her work of caring for abandoned children and also encountered much opposition.

Pope Pius XII said the following about her: "Never in the history of humanity have events required on the part of a woman so much initiative and daring, so much fidelity, moral strength, spirit of sacrifice and endurance of all kinds of suffering--in a word, so much heroism."

A Croatian Jesuit, Fr. Mihaly Szentmartoni, in his book Even Then Will I Trust, compared her to a locomotive: "As I read the autobiography of the Venerable Anna Maria Tauscher/Mother Mary Teresa of St. Joseph, the image of a hurtling locomotive appeared before my spiritual eyes. This fairly frail woman rumbled through this world like a hurtling locomotive, not only in the figurative sense. She actually crisscrossed old Europe who knows how many times, and also went to America. Travel became a symbol of her life. Like the good old steam locomotives of her time, she whizzed by, overcoming every obstacle in her path, pulling her train, i.e., her associates, candidates, nuns and thousands of impoverished children, old persons and others who suffered from spiritual or physical misery.  Like a good old locomotive, she could fume at those who tried to block her path. No one and nothing could stop her until she reached her final destination, the last station on her journey."

The Eucharist was clearly the fuel for this locomotive of a woman.  When she was finally able to establish her first convent and received permission to have the Blessed Sacrament there, she wrote about that first night in which the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord was in the building:

"Joy filled the hearts of all the guests.... At last they were gone, and I was alone. No, not alone, and as I believed, I would never again be alone. I was with Him whom I had longed for so ardently, and over whose absence I had shed so many tears since leaving the convent in Cologne twenty-five years ago. He was here now, the great King, hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Oh, I felt unutterable bliss; He was mine, and I was His!"

The locomotive kept racing along until September 20, 1938. Her last words to those gathered around her deathbed were: "All that God does is good! Always praise and glorify God!"

For more about Blessed Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, see the St. Agnes Home website

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Finder of the Lost

I think that it was when I was in grade school that I got my first holy card. It was a picture of St. Joseph with a prayer that could be said during summer vacation.  I don't recall praying it, but I did save that card in my missal.  Thus began a collection that has grown into boxes of thousands of holy cards.  You can tell the popularity of certain saints by how full their envelopes are and today's saint--Anthony of Padua--could use a second envelope for all the cards of him that I've acquired.

St. Anthony wasn't actually born in Padua, Italy, but in Lisbon, Portugal and a few years ago, while on a pilgrimage to Fatima with Mater Dei Tours, I was able to visit his birth place over which a church has been built.  When he was fifteen Anthony entered the Augustinian monastery near Lisbon. Ten years later, after hearing about the martyrdom of several Franciscans in North Africa, he transferred to that religious order so that he might follow in their footsteps.  Poor health forced him to leave North Africa and bad weather forced his ship off course.  Landing in Italy, he made his way to Assisi where he was ordained and appointed by St. Francis himself to teach the other friars and to preach.  He died when he was 36 in the year 1231 and was canonized less than a year later.

Most people know St. Anthony as the saint whose intercession is sought in order to find lost articles and a  number of rhyming prayers have developed over the years, including:

St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come down. Something's lost and can't be found.

Dear St. Anthony, I pray, bring it back without delay.

Something's lost and can't be found. Please St. Anthony, look around.

How is it that St. Anthony came to be the intercessor for finding what's lost?  It seems that a novice in his community once ran off with a valuable manuscript that Anthony used for his prayer and preaching. Anthony prayed for its safe return and soon the novice returned shaking in fear and telling the story that as he was fleeing he encountered a frightening apparition that stopped him and made him so afraid that he came back.

One of the holy cards I have is called "Litany of the Lost."  On this feast (and why not on other days as well?) let's turn to St. Anthony to intercede with us for all who are lost in any way with part of that Litany:

For those of us who have lost our health ... our peace of mind ... our housing ... our financial security ... St. Anthony, pray for us.

For those of us who have lost a loved one ... our dreams ... our talents ... our initial zeal ... our sobriety ... St. Anthony, pray for us.

For those of us who have lost peace within our families ... civil peace ... our trust in others ... our virtue ... our home ... St. Anthony, pray for us.

Let us pray: All loving God, you have given us St. Anthony, the patron of the lost, as an intercessor of those who are in need of your mercy. Listen to his voice as he calls out to you on our behalf and grant those things which will help us grow in your love.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Guard of Honor

I first heard about the Guard of Honor several years ago when I gave a retreat to the Visitation Sisters in Brooklyn, NY.  I saw a dial with twelve hours in which people's names or initials could be written.  Subsequently a Sister at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, MA sent me some materials about the Guard and wondered how we might collaborate in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I wasn't sure.

The Guard is exactly 150 years old, having been founded in a Visitation Monastery in France by Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart Bernaud. She wanted, in the words of one of the Guard's brochures, "to find a way in which ordinary people could draw closer to Christ's Heart even while immersed in their everday activities. She had the inspiration that each person, in whatever walk of life, could dedicate one hour to the Sacred Heart of Jesus each day while engaged in their regular duties.  In this way ordinary actions could be sanctified and a gift of love made to the Heart of Christ."

This sounds very much like the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer in which one's entire day is offered to God with the Morning Offering.  And so I resisted.  Why offer one hour when you can offer twenty-four hours? 

My question has been resolved and today, the Feast of the Sacred Heart in the year 2013, I have joined the Guard of Honor here at the Visitation Monastery in Toledo, OH.  I have promised to offer the hour of 7 to 8 every morning.

What changed my mind?  Ultimately it was the grace of the Novena which I have been giving here and which culminates today.  While I will continue to make my Morning Offering and strive to offer all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of my day, and every thought, word, and deed with every breath I take and every beat of my heart, I will focus particularly on the offering of the 7 AM hour.  I will try to live that hour  with a deeper and more conscious love for Jesus even in the midst of my usual activities, whether it be praying my breviary, celebrating Mass, eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, or driving to work.  In this way, I hope to inspire a more conscious love for Jesus throughout the rest of my day.  I hope the "Hour of Presence," as it is also called, will help me to better live my Daily Offering.

As I prayed about this during the past week, I wondered which hour I should pick.  I thought about the 3 o'clock hour, the Hour of Mercy, but one of the Sisters told me that this is a very popular hour. With what one might call "Jesuit practicality," I chose an hour that would be easier for me to remember. 

More information about the Guard of Honor can be found at the Mobile, AL Visitation Monastery's website and also at Dom Mark Kirby's "Vultus Christi" site.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Liturgical Novena in Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Sacred Heart Novena at the Visitation Monastery in Toledo, Ohio continues. Every day at the 7:00 AM and 7:30 PM Masses we pray together the Liturgical Novena in Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It consists of Prayers of the Faithful and a Prayer of Thanksgiving after Communion.  Where did the Sisters get copies of this Novena for all the people who come to the Novena?  From the Apostleship of Prayer.  However, this particular leaflet is one that we decided not to reprint. Instead we have a Novena leaflet that consists of the Litany to the Sacred Heart.  As Providence would have it, however, I am being touched by the recitation of these daily prayers and will return to Milwaukee on Saturday with the desire to reprint the Liturgical Novena.  Here it is:

Prayer of the Faithful

Celebrant: We have come together in the power of the Spirit to give thanks to our Father in heaven for His great love for us, a love revealed in Jesus and symbolized by His Sacred Heart.  As we prepare to unite our hearts with His in offering this Eucharistic Sacrifice, let us pray for ourselves and for all the children of God.

Lector: For our Holy Father in Rome, for the bishops of the world, and for all the People of God: let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

Lector: For the world you came to save, that all may open their ears to your gospel and open their hearts to your love: let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

Lector: For the Church, sprung from your side as you died upon the cross, that it may be a beacon of the Way, the Truth and the Life: let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

Lector: For all who are in any way afflicted, that they may find comfort for their spirits in the tender love that wells from your Sacred Heart: let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

Lector: For ourselves, that we may be ever faithful to our baptismal commitment to you, and bring your word and your love to the world in which we live: let us pray to the Lord.

All: Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

Celebrant and People:  Lord Jesus Christ, you called us to share your saving mission. We accept this mission and we renew today our baptismal commitment and all that we do to be united with your Eucharistic offering to our Father in heaven.  That we may serve you with greater fidelity, we ask you, our divine Mediator, to obtain for us the favors we seek in this Novena. (Pause)  Deepen our faith and touch fire to our hearts that we may respond with love to the great love for us and for all people that fills your Sacred Heart.

Prayer of Thanksgiving after Communion

Celebrant and People: Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks. We thank you, Lord Jesus, for becoming our brother, for making us sons and daughters of your Father, for breathing into our spirits your own divine life.  We thank you, Lord Jesus, for your risen presence in our midst and for your saving action in our Church.  We thank you for sending us your Spirit, your abiding gift to us of love and truth and peace.  We thank you, Lord Jesus, for this renewal of your Sacrifice, for coming to us in the Eucharist, for making us more one with you and with each other in the depths of your Sacred Heart.  Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks. We give you thanks for your great love for us and for all your wondrous gifts.


I suspect there will be a few small changes to the wording, but I very much like the emphasis in this Novena on the renewal of our baptismal commitment which joins us to the mission of Jesus.  I also like the emphasis in the invitation to the Prayer of the Faithful and its concluding prayer on preparing to unite ourselves with the perfect offering and sacrifice of Jesus that is made present at every Mass. 

I'm sure the Visitation Sisters of Toledo and perhaps some other people will be happy if we reprint this Novena for the future.