Sunday, December 28, 2014

God's Family Planning

The Feast of the Holy Family has an essential lesson for the contemporary world.  In the Gospel of Luke 1: 31-35 we read that Mary conceived her child through the Holy Spirit and “the power of the Most High.”  (See also the angel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1: 20.) Mary did not need Joseph, her espoused, to conceive Jesus.  But Jesus needed both of them—Mary and Joseph—to be the Holy Family.

On November 17, 2014, at a conference sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on “The Complementarity Between Man and Woman,” Pope Francis said: “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development.”

Why do children have this right which is under attack today?  Because of the complementarity of the sexes.  St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, have all spoken of the importance of recognizing and supporting the unique contribution of women—“the feminine genius.”  In “The Joy of the Gospel” #103, Pope Francis wrote of “the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.”  He went on to write about “the special concern which women show to others” and which can be called a mothering or nurturing instinct. 

Men, in turn, have their own “distinctive skill sets” which, if we look at Pope Francis’ Inaugural Homily, are found in St. Joseph.
 He is a guide and protector.  In the words of Pope Francis, “Joseph is a ‘protector’ because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.”  Joseph reveals the fatherhood which has God as its origin.  St. Paul, as he begins a prayer for the Ephesians, writes, “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” (3:15). One could say that “the masculine genius” is to reveal to children something of God’s fatherhood.

Sometimes circumstances like death, conception out of wedlock, and the break-up of a marriage lead to single-parent families.  While this does indeed happen, it is not the way God intended families to exist. 

The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes” #52, called the family “the school of deeper humanity.”  It is there where children best learn the lessons of life, of what it means to be human. 

In his homily for this feast last year, Pope Francis talked about the lessons that are learned in families: 

“Today our gaze on the Holy Family lets us also be drawn into the simplicity of the life they led in Nazareth.  It is an example that does our families great good, helping them increasingly to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness is experienced.  Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: “may I”, “thank you” and “sorry”.  In our family, when we are not intrusive and ask “may I”, in our family when we are not selfish and learn to say “thank you”, and when in a family one realizes he has done something wrong and knows how to say “sorry”, in that family there is peace and joy.  Let us remember these three words.  I would also like to encourage families to become aware of the importance they have in the Church and in society.  The proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, first passes through the family to reach the various spheres of daily life. Let us fervently call upon Mary Most Holy, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, and St Joseph her spouse.  Let us ask them to enlighten, comfort and guide every family in the world, so that they may fulfil with dignity and peace the mission which God has entrusted to them.”
As our ancestral parents were tempted in the Garden of Eden to redefine themselves as gods who could determine for themselves right and wrong, good and bad, so contemporary society is seeking a power that does not belong to it.  This same demonic temptation to change nature according to one’s own desires appears in the first temptation that Jesus faced in the desert. He was hungry and was tempted to change rocks into bread.  But it is not the nature of a rock to become grain which in turn is baked and becomes food. 

In a similar way, the world wants to change the nature of marriage and family.  According to Pope Francis, this has devastating effects. In his November 17, 2014 address he said: “Marriage and the family are in crisis today. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people reject marriage as a public obligation. This revolution of customs and morals has often waved ‘the flag of freedom’, but it has, in reality, brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

As we reflect of the importance and beauty of family life today, let us pray for families everywhere and for the Synod of Bishops that will meet in October, 2015. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

God in the Flesh, a Real Baby

I was going to post a picture of the newborn Jesus in the manger, but most religious art does not do justice to the reality that the Son of God became an honest-to-goodness baby.  I blogged about this in 2009.

And so, whenever I give retreats and talk about the Nativity, I quote Fr. Al Lauer, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and founder of Presentation Ministries,  who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 55. His description in one of his daily reflections that appeared in Presentation Ministries "One Bread, One Body," is one of the best that I've come across.  He wrote:

"He emptied Himself (Phil 2: 7) when He became a helpless Infant. The all-powerful Creator of the world could not walk, talk, or roll over. The second Person of the blessed Trinity talked baby-talk, wet His diapers, and spit out His food. Almighty God weighed just a few pounds, shivered, cried, and nursed at His mother's breast.  

"The message of Christmas and God's incarnation is shocking. He Who created the billions of galaxies with billions of stars, Who created the countless creatures on this little planet, became completely dependent on His parents, just like us. It seems almost blasphemous to suggest that God became a weak human being. Yet He did, out of love for us.... The meaning of Christmas is shocking, but ultimately, it is love."

Yesterday Karen from Nebraska called the Apostleship of Prayer office. Her favorite video among the hundreds of two minute daily reflections that we've produced over the past six years is called "A Helpless Baby."  In it I quote Fr. Lauer.

Pope Benedict said a similar thing in his Midnight Mass Homily of 2008.  He said:

"God stooped down--he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity's neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable."

Last year in his Midnight Mass Homily, Pope Francis echoed these thoughts:

"God has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. ... Let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. ... Let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us.  ... We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable."

Blessed and Peaceful Christmas Eve to all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Marian Servants of Divine Providence

I celebrated Mass this morning with some of the Apostleship of Prayer staff and four women who are members of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence.  The Mass was part of a re-commitment ceremony in which that group made promises to continue as Servants for one year.

The Marian Servants are a Private Association of the Christian Faithful that was recognized by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1997.  A flyer that the Servants shared with me states:

"The mission of the Marian Servants is this: to bring Christians to a deeper understanding of their vocation and mission in Christ, in the Church and in the world. The Marian Servants realize that Spiritual Direction is a vital component in carrying out this mission. Therefore the Marian Servants minister to the Mystical Body, the People of God, through Spiritual Direction by utilizing the Ignatian form of praying Scripture and seeking the designated graces."

The main community house in Clearwater, Florida offers retreats and courses in spiritual direction designed to prepare people not only to provide spiritual direction but also to guide others in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Each local community has its own unique ministry and name. After a period of discernment, the
Milwaukee group decided to call itself "The Marian Servants of Jesus Christ Lord and King."  Providentially, the small chapel where we celebrated Mass today has a statue of Christ the King.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


There are three short verses in Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians that are good not only for Thanksgiving Day but for all days.  They are verses 16 to 18 of Chapter 5 and go like this:

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 

In other words, God wants us to always be grateful and to rejoice.  Easier said than done! What about when we are feeling down and things are not going well in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones? Can we give thanks then? Isn’t that na├»ve or dishonest?

Gratitude, like forgiveness and like love, is not so much a feeling but an act of the will. Yes, it’s easier to be grateful when we are feeling good, but St. Paul says we should give thanks in all circumstances.

This takes faith—faith that, in St. Paul’s words, “all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8: 28).  We can be grateful even in the midst of difficulties by making an act of faith that God is using those difficulties to work some good in the world. After all, God used one of the most horrible things that could ever happen—the crucifixion of Jesus—to bring about the greatest good—our salvation.

The natural human tendency is directed toward negativity. We tend to see the glasses in our lives as half-empty rather than half-full and this gives us dark rather than rose-colored glasses with which we view the world.  One could say that it is the will of God for us, as St. Paul wrote, to be grateful because such an attitude of thanksgiving, no matter how we are feeling, is good for us—for our spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

We don’t develop an “attitude of gratitude” overnight nor is it a matter of “once acquired, always there.”  A grateful heart needs to be exercised.  One way that we can develop a grateful heart is to make thanksgiving a part of our end-of-the-day prayer. 

In the middle of the “Inner Life” call-in spiritual direction radio show yesterday, Ann from Wisconsin sent in an email about how helpful an evening examination that includes thanksgiving has been for her. She started doing this after reading Jesuit Fr. Chris Collins’ book “Three Moments of the Day.” 

She wrote: “I read Fr. Chris Collins' book "3 Momentsof the Day" a few months ago and it's changed my life. During the Examen at the end of the day, I start my prayer with all the things I'm grateful for, that happened during the day. And then I go through the list of things I beg God for, but it's been put into perspective now, because I've just told God what I'm grateful for. And I think I've started to realize what's important... For example: Rather than beg God to improve my high school son's grades and make him work harder, I start by thanking God for my son's health and the fact that he's enjoying swim team. Then the grades don't take on as much importance.”

You can listen to the entire show on the “Inner Life”archives.

Oh, and thank you for reading this and passing it on!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jesus Christ the King of Hearts

Jesus Christ is King, but he reigns not with force or violence or human power. He does not force people to do his will, to be good, to follow his Law. The power with which he reigns and rules is divine power. And since God is love, he reigns with the power of love.

His throne is the floor, where he kneels to wash the feet of his disciples, teaching them that, while the kings of this world “lord it over” their subjects, it must not be like that for his followers.  The greatest must be the servant. The first must be the last.

His throne is the cross, where he shows a power greater than all worldly power.  It’s the power of love, a love unto death, a love that will overcome death and give life. To his pierced heart on the cross he will draw all people to himself. He will attract them to himself rather than forcing himself upon them.

The power of this love overcomes hatred with mercy as Jesus prays for those killing him and asks the Father to forgive them. The power of this love overcomes every enemy, including death.

Each of us will die, but that won’t be the end of us. We are made for more. We will enter eternal life where we will be judged. The final judgment depicted in Matthew 25: 31-46 is not something imposed on us from outside, but is the natural conclusion or outcome of our lives.

St. Catherine of Siena once said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” That being so, all the way to eternal alienation from God and the saints begins right here as well.

The striking thing about the judgment scene as described by Jesus is that people do not recognize him in the poor and suffering. Those who act compassionately do so not to gain a reward, or because they were told to do so and are afraid of punishment. Their actions come naturally to them. They appear to be instinctively charitable. Perhaps, when they see someone suffering, they imagine what it would be like to be in their circumstances, and they respond. They see others with the eyes of their hearts and are moved by their suffering.

Those who do not recognize Jesus in the suffering see something else. They see in the other a drain on their time and energy and resources. They see an annoyance, a frustration, a threat, an enemy.
Jesus tells us to see others with an instinctive charity, to see others with hearts that are moved with pity for their suffering. We are to see others with a heart like the Sacred Heart of Jesus which sees them as precious to the Father and which so desires their well-being that it is willing to die for them.
Our challenge is to see all people this way.

They include the homeless person begging with a sign where we are stopped in traffic. They include immigrants and prisoners. And yes, they include politicians on both sides of the aisle. How do we view the people we see on the television news or read about in the papers? Do we see them as persons precious to Jesus because he shed his Precious Blood for them?  Or do we mentally dispose of them as garbage.

If we ignore them or reject them we will find ourselves living as “goats” in the kingdom of darkness, a darkness that begins here and now, in our hearts and all around us.

One way that we dismiss and dispose of people is gossip. This is a particular concern of Pope Francis.

In his General Audience of September 25, 2013, Pope Francis said: “Let each one ask him or herself today, ‘do I increase harmony in my family, in my parish, in my community or am I a gossip? Am I a cause of division or embarrassment?’ Gossip does harm. Gossip wounds. Before Christians open their mouths to gossip, they should bite their tongue! To bite one’s tongue: this does us good because the tongue swells and can no longer speak, cannot gossip. Am I humble enough to patiently stitch up, through sacrifice, the open wounds in communion?”

Good questions which challenge us to live right now in the light of heaven with its charity and peace. Doing this, we enthrone Jesus as King of our hearts.

Lastly, in speaking about this Gospel in his General Audience of November 27, 2013, Pope Francis said that if we have this instinctive charity we will have no fear. We will be able to face death without fear. The way to follow Jesus into the heavenly Kingdom prepared for each of us is charity. He said:

“A sure path comes by caring for the bodily and spiritual wounds of our neighbor. Solidarity in sharing sorrow and infusing hope is a condition for receiving as an inheritance that Kingdom which has been prepared for us. The one who practices mercy does not fear death. And why does he not fear it?  Because he looks death in the face in the wounds of his brothers and sisters, and he overcomes it with the love of Jesus Christ. If we will open the door of our lives and hearts to our brothers and sisters, then even our own death will become a door that introduces us to heaven, to the blessed homeland, toward which we are directed, longing to dwell forever with God our Father, with Jesus, with Our Lady and with the Saints.” 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Divine Struggle to be Human

St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2: 5-11 contains an early Church hymn about the attitude of Jesus. Paul wanted the people to whom he wrote to have this attitude. It is to be ours as well.  This attitude—vision, way of proceeding, value—is not the attitude of the world. It is not our human inclination.  Our tendency is to want independence, power, and control, in short, to be gods. 

This was the original temptation according to the third chapter of Genesis. Our ancestral parents wondered whether God could really be trusted, whether it wouldn’t be better to be independent and in control, to have the power to determine for themselves good and bad, right and wrong. They chose, in the words of the song made popular by Frank Sinatra, to do it “my way” and not God’s way.

Jesus, on the contrary, shows us God’s way, a way that is very different.  It is the way of surrender, of emptying, of humility, and obedience—all of which looks crazy in the eyes of the world. Jesus emptied himself, became a vulnerable human capable of suffering and dying.

Humility is truth.  Humility means accepting the truth that I am not God, that I am “humus”—of the earth, dust, as we are reminded every Ash Wednesday.  Therefore, in order to be happy and at peace, I must accept the truth rather than deny it or rebel against it. I must accept my nature as a vulnerable creature made of dust who is not ultimately in control.  I will only be happy and fulfilled in so far as I accept the facts and allow God to be God of my life.  Peace and joy will not be found in doing things “my way” but only in doing things “God’s way.”  That’s obedience, an unpopular concept and word today. But it’s the way of Jesus.

What worked for Jesus will work for us. This means embracing my humanity and living in accord with nature, my human nature. Then, like Jesus, I will be raised to a glory beyond what our ancestral parents grasped at.

Theologians and Doctors of the early Church taught that God became human so that humanity could become divine. This truth is quietly repeated at every Mass when a few drops of water are poured into the chalice of wine at the Offertory: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Some years ago I heard of an author who was writing a book with a very provocative title. I don’t know if he ever finished or if it was ever published.  The title was “The Divine Struggle to be Human.”  I’ve always thought of this title in light of the emptying described in Philippians 2 and of our own struggle. We tend to turn the words of the title around and to see life as “The Human Struggle to be Divine.”  We, like our ancestral parents, grasp at power, control, independence, and equality with God. Jesus shows us that the true struggle is to embrace our humanity as he himself did. In doing so, we will be fulfilled. We will come to the union with God and the communion with all God’s children for which we were created. 

And it begins right here on earth, at the Eucharist where we come with empty hands and receive the gift of divinity—the very Body and Blood of the one who humbled himself to become human and who continues to humble himself, giving himself to us under the humble appearance of bread and wine.  We need not grasp. We need only to open our hands and hearts, empty them of everything, and receive. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Total Love

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) a Pharisee, who was also “a scholar of the law,” asked Jesus a question that teachers and rabbis were often asked—“which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  With 613 laws given by Moses, it would be natural to want to prioritize them. 

Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 which commands that God be loved with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.  This was such an important law that to this day the Jewish people write it on a piece of paper and place it in a small receptacle that is attached to the doorpost and is touched upon entering and leaving one’s house.  This is a concrete way of declaring one’s intention to live by that law inside and outside of one’s home.

Recall last Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 22: 15-21). Jesus was confronted by Pharisees and asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the pagan emperor who used those taxes to oppress the Jewish people.  Jesus responded by taking a coin and asking whose image was on it. After being told it was the image of the emperor, Jesus said: “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  What belongs to God? We do. Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God, is stamped with God’s image, and therefore belongs to God.  St. John wrote that God is love. Made in the image of love, we are made by love and for love.

Love does not ask “What’s the minimum requirement?” A marriage in which one spouse asks the other “What’s the least I need to do to keep you happy?” won’t last very long. Love asks “What more can I do to show you my love? What more can I do to prove my love for you?” The love that the greatest commandment requires is a total love.

But if our love of God is to be total, how can we fulfill the second commandment that Jesus quote—Leviticus 19:18 with its command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Aren’t these two commandments in conflict?

No, they are actually one commandment. When you love someone you share the interests and desires of the one you love. You love what he or she loves. To love God means to love what God loves. And what does God love? You. Me. All humanity. All God’s children.  Loving God totally means loving our neighbor.

Jesus once said that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for another. Jesus is the proof of God’s love for us. Jesus shared our life and laid down his life on the cross to prove God’s love for us. 

The world’s view of love is actually the opposite of love. The world tends to say that love is a feeling. I love whatever makes me feel good, whatever gives me pleasure. This is the opposite of love which is not about getting but giving.  In his encyclical God is Love Pope Benedict said that our definition for love must begin at the pierced side of Jesus, that opening to a heart that showed the world the deepest and truest love ever known.  True love is total. Ultimately it involves sacrifice.

Have you ever heard of Tom Burnett? He was on United Flight 93 which crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA on September 11, 2001.  In college he had stopped going to church and went searching for God. In time he returned. He worked for a medical technology firm in California and was close enough to home that he would have lunch there. According to his wife Deena, in 1997 he stopped coming home for lunch. Deena thought that Tom, who was accustomed to working 70 hours a week, was simply spending his lunch hour putting in more time at work. Six months before his death, he revealed to her that he was going to the 12:10 Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church.  In an interview, Deena said: “He told me that he felt God was telling him he was going to do something. Something big. But he didn’t understand what it was.”  He figured that if he went to Mass, God’s will for him would become clear.  Deena went on: “He knew that what he was going to do would impact a lot of people. And he knew one other thing: it had something to do with the White House.”

Imagine Tom Burnett, an ordinary guy. He has no desire to go into politics, much less aspire to be president.  Yet he has this sense that God is calling him to something big and it somehow involves the White House. You can hear him thinking, “What does my life have to do with the White House?”

On September 11, 2001, thousands of feet above the earth, Tom Burnett knew what his life had to do with the White House. He and the others on that plane knew where it was headed. They knew they had to do something, even if it meant sacrificing their lives to prevent a greater tragedy from happening.

Where did Tom get the understanding and courage to do what he did? The Eucharist. There he heard the Word that guided him through life. There he received the Body and Blood of Christ that transformed him into someone who could love God and his neighbor with a total, self-sacrificing love. 

What Tom and the others did was heroic. We may think, “That’s not me. I’m not a hero.” But each of us, in his or her own way, is called to heroic love. It may be parents sacrificing themselves for the good of their children. It may be a spouse dealing with the unemployment and depression of the other. It may be children trying to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s.  Each of us in one way or another is called to love sacrificially. The power to do so comes from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where Jesus makes present his life-giving death and resurrection, where he proves once again how loveable each of us is.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Greatest Commandment

St. Anthony Mary Claret was a Spaniard who was ordained in 1835. He tried to join the Carthusian
order but was rejected because of poor health. He then entered the Jesuit novitiate but had to leave when his health broke down again.  While these doors closed, God opened another.  He recovered his health sufficiently to become a missionary and the Archbishop of Cuba.  In time he was called back to the royal court of Spain to be the spiritual director for Queen Isabella II. Regarding this apostolate he wrote: “Living at court and being constantly in the palace is a continuous martyrdom for me.  Every day at prayer I have to make acts of resignation to God’s will.  Day and night and always I have to offer up the sacrifice of staying in Madrid.”
He wrote a book entitled The Golden Key to Heaven in which he reflected upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. The following excerpt from a section entitled “Love for Neighbor” is good preparation for this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 22: 34-40) in which Jesus teaches about the greatest commandment.

Composition of Place: Imagine you see Jesus Christ in the company of His Apostles and disciples and saying to them: “Love one another as I have loved you… By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13: 34, 35). “As long as you did it to one of these…brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25: 40). …

You should know that God is Love itself; God is Charity.  This virtue is the greatest of virtues.  It is greater than faith and hope.  It is like the sun among the stars, like gold among the metals.  It gives life to all the virtues.  Without it no act has value for reaching Heaven—no, not even the most heroic works. …If one truly loves God, that is proof that there is love for neighbor, and the love one has for his neighbor discloses the love one has for God.  He who says he loves God and does not love his neighbor, does not tell the truth, because it is impossible to love one whom we do not see, who is God, if we do not love one whom we can see, namely, our neighbor. …

Charity is an all-extensive virtue which embraces everyone; fellow-countrymen and foreigner, friends and enemies.  It extends to everyone, embraces all, and does good to all.  Therefore people who limit their love to those of their own area or those of their own nation, to those of their own sentiments, or to their friends or relatives, and are not careful to love the rest—such people do not have true charity.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Anniversary of St. Therese's Enrollment

On October 15, 1885 St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer.  My good friend and supporter, Maureen O'Riordan, who is an expert on St. Therese, her parents Louis and Zellie, and her sister Leonie who entered the Visitation Order, has written about St. Therese's relationship to the Apostleship of Prayer.  You can find her article at her website Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway

I'm convinced that St. Therese's "Little Way" grew out of her familiarity with the offering spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Not Fair, but Generously Merciful

Today is the last night of a parish mission that I am leading at St. Justin Martyr Church in the St. Louis area. The following is a summary of my homily from last Sunday, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A.

When I was growing up we played "Hide and Seek."  Everyone is familiar with how that goes. If you are "it" you have to close your eyes while the others all run and hide. Then you seek them and tag them before they can reach "goal" which we pronounced "gool."  If you put your hands over your eyes but then spread your fingers to see where people went to hide you might hear back "No fair peeking." 

Children have an innate sense of fairness. If a teacher plays favorites or treats the girls better than the boys they will complain that the teacher isn't being fair. And vice versa.  Children don't learn fairness, though they often have to be reminded. A victim of unfairness knows immediately that something isn't right.  This sense of fairness seems to be part of one's conscience--an innate sense of right and wrong.

That being said, most of us hear today's Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16a) with the parable of the workers who labor for various numbers of hours in a vineyard yet get the same pay and we react, "That's not fair!"  That's especially not fair if we consider that perhaps the reason why the workers who were hired at five weren't there at the crack of dawn because they were sleeping in.  Should such laziness be rewarded?

Remember: the parables of Jesus were designed to shock people--his listeners then and all of us now--into thought and action.

What was Jesus trying to teach us with this parable? What did he want us to think and to know?

Our first reading (Isaiah 55: 6-9) gives us a clue. Through the prophet, God, "who is generous in forgiving," tells us "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways." 

The parable Jesus told was a description of "the kingdom of heaven."  Every human being is created for heaven--for union with God and the communion of saints. But from the beginning we have rejected God's desire and plan.  Yet God persisted.  As the landowner in the parable is "generous" so is God.  To save us from our sins and the alienation and destruction they cause, the Son of God took flesh, suffered, and died.  He took upon himself the penalty of our sins.  Then he rose from the dead and shared the reward of his obedient love with disobedient humanity.

We did not earn it.  He did not deserve it.  This was totally unfair, but it was totally merciful.

This is our faith. It's what we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist.

But remember, parables are designed to not only shock us into thought but also into action.  What is the action Jesus hoped to achieve with this story?

That we would be as generous and merciful as our Landowner God is.  That we would desire and then pray and work for the salvation of all.  That we would want everyone in heaven as much as God does.

That's difficult. We all have people that we don't like.  We have enemies and the thought of being with them for eternity in heaven sounds more like hell!

It is difficult and perhaps impossible to be as merciful as God is merciful. Yet we are called to be such and the power to be merciful is a divine power that is given to us in the Eucharist.  There we receive the Heart of Jesus when we receive his Body and Blood.  There our hearts are transformed to be more like the generously merciful Heart of our Savior.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Triumph of Our Crosses

On September 14 we celebrated the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross.  I gave the following homily to a group at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, CA.

We are celebrating a great mystery today. It's the mystery of how God saved the world from sin and death.

In the first reading (Numbers 21: 4b-9) we heard of a paradox: how a serpent, the source of death, was lifted up and became a source of healing.

This prefigured Jesus who took upon himself sin and death, was lifted up on the cross, and became the source of ultimate healing.  The cross--an instrument of death--became the instrument of life. The sign of failure and utter defeat became the sign of victory.

In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches there is a beautiful hymn that is sung over and over again at Easter: "Christ trampled down death by death."

Who would have thought it?  Not Satan who was behind the crucifixion and who thought he had won but was defeated.

Now it's our turn.  Jesus told us to pick up our crosses and to follow him.  We are to pick up the daily hardships, sufferings, and frustrations--all those things that call for sacrifice--and unite them to the cross of Jesus. By following him in this way we follow him to victory.

The Bishops at the end of the Second Vatican Council had a series of messages for various groups of people including the poor, the sick, and the suffering. To them they said:

All of you who feel heavily the weight of the cross, you who are poor and abandoned, you who weep, you who are persecuted for justice, you who are ignored, you the unknown victims of suffering, take courage. You are the preferred children of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of hope, happiness and life. You are the brothers of the suffering Christ, and with Him, if you wish, you are saving the world.

This is the Christian science of suffering, the only one which gives peace. Know that you are not alone, separated, abandoned or useless. You have been called by Christ and are His living and transparent image. In His name, the council salutes you lovingly, thanks you, assures you of the friendship and assistance of the Church, and blesses you.

Of course Jesus is the one Savior of the world. He won salvation through his death and resurrection. But not everyone knows of this victory nor has accepted it. Now each one of us plays a role in the ongoing work of salvation.

Christ won the victory. It may not seem like it, but victory is assured. Evil will not win in the end, just as it did not win when Jesus was crucified.  Have hope! You too will triumph with Christ if you join your crosses to his.

Our human tendency is to want to see tangible results, to know that our prayers and sacrifices--all the sufferings we offer up--are making a difference.  Pope Francis addressed this in his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" (#278-9) and he offered a word of hope:

Faith also means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. It means believing that he marches triumphantly in history with those who “are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14). ...

Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks.... It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn 15:5). This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement. It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father....

The theme of our retreat this weekend has been the question of Jesus, "Who do you say that I am?" Our answer today is, "You are the winner!"  You are the one who defeated sin and death with a cross. You are the one who now invites each of us to be a winner.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On the Feast of St. Jeanne Jugan

August 30 was the feast of St. Jeanne Jugan, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. I celebrated Mass at St. Joseph’s Home in Palatine, IL. My homily was based on these special readings: Isaiah 58: 6-11; 1 John 3: 14-18; and Matthew 5: 1-12a.

We are celebrating a great saint today—Jeanne Jugan. Of course she would shudder at those words. She aspired not to be great but to be little.  She once said: “Be little, little, little; if you get big and proud, the congregation will fall.” And another time, “Only the little are pleasing to God.”

Why? Because this is God’s way. How did God choose to save the world? Not with worldly power and glory. Not with an army of angels that would force people to follow God’s way. God saved the world by becoming little—a little baby.

In his homily at Midnight Mass on Christmas 2008, Pope Benedict said that our first experience of God is one of distance. God seems so far above and beyond us. This transcendent God drew near, bridging the distance by becoming one of us. Pope Benedict went on to say that our experience of God is also one of glory and grandeur which provoke fear in us. So God became a tiny baby in order that we would no longer fear but love, for people love tiny, newborn babies. 

St. Paul wrote that the Son of God became poor in order to make us rich. He emptied himself and became little and in need of love and care. He shared our life with its sorrows and joys, its sufferings, both physical and spiritual when he felt totally abandoned as he hung dying on a cross. He shared in death itself.

The cross looks like a failure, but God’s ways are not ours. The failure of the cross is really a triumph in which the power of love wins over sin and death. 

“Love.” That word is used in so many different ways that it has lost its meaning. We talk about loving our pets and ice cream. We love whatever and whomever makes us feel good, gives us pleasure. It’s all about “me” and how I am feeling.

In our second reading St. John says that love is not about feelings and not about words, but about deeds and action.

This is why “hospitality” is such an important word. Hospitality is love in action.

It begins in hearts—hearts open to others, to all, especially the poor and the sick, the neglected and rejected of what Pope Francis calls our “disposable culture.”  We must open our hearts to them just as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is open to them.

This is what Jeanne Jugan did. Her heart was open to the elderly poor. She felt their need.  She had compassion and suffered for their sufferings.  And she responded. She not only opened her house to them; she gave up her own bed to that first poor blind woman that she carried into her home. 

This spirit of hospitality lives on today in the Little Sisters of the Poor. Their Constitutions state: “Consecrated hospitality is, in the midst of the world, a witness to the mercy of the Father and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus.”

Hospitality means opening our hearts, our doors, our wallets.  But ultimately the greatest hospitality is sharing the life of the other. Jeanne Jugan shared in the poverty of the poor, becoming a beggar for the beggars.  Her complete trust in Providence, not having endowments or investment income, continues today as the Little Sisters depend upon the generosity of others.

In his Lenten Message this year, Pope Francis said that Christ did not love us like someone who gives a little out of his or her abundance. He gave all and sacrificed his very self.

So did St. Jeanne Jugan who wanted to be known by her religious name Sister Mary of the Cross. She shared in the sufferings of the Crucified One as did His Mother who stood under the cross and suffered as only a mother could watching her son suffer and die. Mary joined her sufferings to those of Jesus for the salvation of the world. St. Jeanne also offered herself and sacrificed what was most dear to her, her own congregation. It was taken from her when she was relieved of any leadership position and lived a hidden life in the novitiate where the young did not even know who she was.

She was able to do this because she had become little. She had become the last and least. She found her strength and consolation in one place—in Jesus, who assured her that blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who suffer persecution.

When he canonized her in 2009, Pope Benedict said: “In the Beatitudes Jeanne Jugan found the source of the spirit of hospitality and fraternal love, founded on unlimited trust in Providence, which illuminated her whole life.”

He went on to say: “This evangelical dynamism is continued today across the world in the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which she founded and which testifies, after her example, to the mercy of God and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus for the lowliest. May St. Jeanne Jugan be for elderly people a living source of hope and for those who generously commit themselves to serving them, a powerful incentive to pursue and develop her work!”

We gather for the Eucharist, a word that means “thanksgiving.” We are grateful for the Sisters who faithfully live the charism of St. Jeanne Jugan. We are grateful for the staff, workers, and volunteers who share in that charism. We are grateful for the benefactors who support the Sisters in following their charism of total trust in God.  But most of all, we are grateful for the residents who give us an opportunity to love and care for Jesus who said “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Prayer for Enemies

We often think that in the “good old days” of the early Church there were no conflicts and disagreements. Wrong!  The saints whom we celebrated on August 13 show that strong divisions were part of the early Church. St. Hippolytus was a theologian whose liturgical prayers became the basis of Eucharistic Prayer II in the Roman Missal.  He considered Pope Callistus “soft” on heresy and had himself declared pope, the first “anti-pope” in history.  He continued to oppose Callistus’ successors, Popes Urban I and Pontian. During a persecution in the year 235 Hippolytus and Pontian were both exiled to the mines of Sardinia where they died from the mistreatment they received and hence are considered martyrs or witnesses to the faith.  Tradition has it that Pontian abdicated so that the Church would not be without a shepherd while he was in exile and that the two were reconciled before they died.

How should we deal with conflicts? Jesus gives instructions in Matthew 18: 15-20. He says that if a brother or sister in Christ sins against you, you should first discuss the matter with that person. If you do not receive a hearing, then bring one or two witnesses with you and confront the person. This is similar to what we call an “intervention” today. If the person still refuses to listen and to accept responsibility, then you are to “tell the Church”—go to a higher authority within the Christian community.  And if that doesn’t work, then Jesus says “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” 

This sounds pretty negative.  But remember how Jesus treated tax collectors and Gentiles like the Roman Centurion? He called a tax collector to follow him and he brought mercy and healing to another one, Zacchaeus. He healed the Centurion’s servant and commended that Roman’s great faith.  Jesus loved tax collectors and Gentiles.  Ultimately, he died for them.

Perhaps the way to interpret these words of Jesus is in light of the entire Gospel message which includes the challenge to love our enemies and to pray for them.

Jesus is Mercy Incarnate. The Good News he brought is that God loves us very much. The Son of God suffered, died, and rose not only to bring mercy but to give us the power to forgive as well.  Conflicts are not new but the power to forgive is ever-new and ever-present through Jesus present in the Sacraments.

How should we treat those with whom we are in conflict? Even if the conflict continues, we should "will" their good and pray for them, for their conversion and salvation.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Sisters of Life

I am half way between New York City and Albany at St. Joseph Camp which the Sisters of Life are using for their retreat. I am with Fr. Christopher Collins, S.J., and Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J. and we are directing 17 Sisters in their annual eight day retreat.  The Sisters of Life are a new religious congregation which John Cardinal O’Connor of New York City founded on June 1, 1991. 

In a retreat conference, Cardinal O’Connor spoke of the rationale for this new order: “Over the course of hundreds of years Almighty God has inevitably seemed to raise up religious communities to meet the special needs of the day. I am convinced that the crucial need of our day is to restore to all society a sense of the sacredness of human life. Basic to the worst evils of our day is surely a widespread contempt for human life.”

He went on: “Now it seems time for a religious community to pray each day at some length, by way of the Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Divine Office, in contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, in the holy rosary, in various other forms of prayer.  In addition, the community will engage in active ministries which will be an extension of contemplation.”

These Sisters are certainly prayer warriors in the cause of promoting a culture of life, a civilization of love.  Their annual, individually-directed eight day retreat, of which I am blessed to participate, is a prime example of this. 

On the day of their foundation, the Cardinal told them:  “It is your charism to plead for the protection of all human life at every level, with a special focus on those most helpless and unwanted, and to advance a sense of the sacredness of all human life.” 

Cardinal O’Connor told the first Sisters of Life that their consecration was a witness to sacrifice, the antidote to what St. John Paul II called “the culture of death.”  He said: “It will not be through your human persuasion, it will not be through your writings, it will be through your prayer, through your apostolate, through your example of consecrating yourselves that other women will come to understand and will consecrate themselves. It is imperative that you see the relationship between your laying down your life and your encouraging these women to be willing to sacrifice rather than to destroy or permit to be destroyed, the life of their unborn child. This is true not only for the unborn; it is true for all human life, human life which has come to be held in such contempt. The refugees in the Middle East at this moment are enduring unbelievable suffering, not simply because of the war but because the world has accepted this kind of contempt for human life. The world has accepted bombings and artillery fire which, even if destined only against a military adversary, by its nature is going to kill, to maim, to wound, to leave hungry and homeless hundreds of thousands of human beings created in the image and likeness of God.”

Those words were spoken in 1991, but could have been spoken today. Today there are millions “of human beings created in the image and likeness of God” who have been left “hungry and homeless” by war in the Middle East.  During this month of August Pope Francis has asked us to pray in a special way for them and for all refugees.

While reading Cardinal O’Connor’s remarks at the foundation of the Sisters of Life I discovered that another group of Sisters, to whom I gave a retreat acouple years ago, played a significant role in the early life of this new congregation.  They are the ParishVisitors of Mary Immaculate.  The Cardinal placed the early formation of the Sisters of Life in the hands of the Parish Visitors, saying: “I have known you since I was the Bishop of Scranton and Sister Mary played the same guitar for me that she played today. I have admired you. Your lives are contemplative, missionary. That will be the lives that these women will lead. I cannot, and I say this to you sincerely, I cannot think of a congregation anywhere in the world who will give them a better example, who will better model for them our Blessed Mother, who will give them a greater example of devotion to Our Lord and to the service of His people. They will see you as you pray, they will see you in many of your activities. They will learn from you. They will grow rapidly under your care, as Jesus the Christ Child grew in wisdom and grace under the tutelage of His mother and father.” 

The Sisters of Life. The Parish Visitors. One of the blessings of being the director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S. is praying with these consecrated women who are true Apostles of Prayer and who are devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as they live the Daily Offering. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mercy and Sacrifice

There is a story that the disciples of Jesus were criticized by the Pharisees for breaking the sabbath when they picked heads of grain and ate them as they walked through a field (see Matthew 12: 1-8, Mark 2: 23-28, Luke 6: 1-5). Jesus defends them by pointing to similar situations in Israel’s history. He also declares that as “Son of Man”—a title that appears in the book of the prophet Daniel (2: 13-14) and that indicates divine kingship—he is Lord of the sabbath. 

In Mark’s version of this story, Jesus declares that the “sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” The sabbath was instituted by God for the sake of justice: so that the human person could give God the worship that is God’s due. It was instituted by God for the sake of human dignity: so that human beings could have the rest and leisure they require and which imitates God whom Genesis said rested on the seventh day after all the work of creation (2: 3).

Matthew has Jesus quoting a verse from the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6: 6). What is translated here as “mercy” is also the word “love.”  God wants love and mercy and not the empty sacrificial rituals that Hosea inveighed against.  This is the “sacrifice” that God does not want. However, there is another “sacrifice” that is essential to love and mercy.  It is the sacrifice of self, the denial of self-interest, the rejection of retaliation.

The greatest sign of mercy and love is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He died not for the righteous but for sinners (Romans 5: 8). He died begging pardon for those who tortured and killed him and even made excuses for them (Luke 23: 34).

July 19 is the anniversary of Fr. Lawrence Jenco’s death in 1996. Fr. Jenco was a Servite priest who was the regional director of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon in 1985. He was kidnapped and spent the next 564 days in captivity as a hostage. He was blindfolded most of the time and transported from place to place in a secret compartment under trucks where he was almost asphyxiated by the noxious diesel fumes. He was beaten. After his release he wrote a book—“Bound to Forgive”—and he began the first chapter with these words of Jesus as recorded by Luke: “But I say to those who listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (6: 27-28). This holy priest forgave his captors and tormenters and even asked their forgiveness for the times that he himself had harbored hatred and thoughts of revenge in his heart. (I wrote about this in another blog entry here.)

What gave Fr. Jenco the ability to forgive in this way? The Eucharist. He heard the Word of God and allowed it to enter his heart to transform it from a heart hardened by a righteous anger that had become bitter hatred to a heart of mercy and love. He received the Word of God-Made-Flesh in Holy Communion and allowed the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus to transform his heart. 

Past, current, and, no doubt, future events reveal a world desperately in need of conversion, of mercy and love. That will require sacrifice, a sacrificial mercy that begins here, with my heart and yours. Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like yours!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Venerable Nano Nagle

I have been giving a retreat this week to Nano Nagle’s Sisters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. They are known as the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But who was Nano?

Honora Nagle was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1718 and was soon called by the affectionate name “Nano.” This was time of persecution for Catholics in Ireland. They were forbidden to teach, open up schools, or travel elsewhere for an education. Some of the Nagle family were merchants who had connections on the continent and Nano was able to travel to Paris to attend school. In 1746, after her father’s death, she returned to Ireland and, in violation of the laws, began teaching. She set up her first school in 1754 and very soon started seven more. She was never arrested and in 1775, with other women who joined her in the work, she founded the Society of Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which in time became the Sisters of the Presentation. She received the habit on June 29, 1776 and took the name Mother Mary of St. John of God after the 16th Century Portuguese saint who had dedicated his life to the service of the poor and the sick. She died in 1784 and her cause for canonization was approved by Pope Francis in 2013. Today the Presentation Sisters teach and care for the sick in 23 countries around the world.

I’ve resonated with a number of Nano’s sayings. One—“Not words, but deeds”—reminds  me of something that St. Ignatius Loyola wrote in his “Spiritual Exercises,” that love shows itself best in deeds. Love is not so much a feeling or even the words that express a feeling. Love is action.

Her zeal for souls is seen in this quote: “If I could be of any service in saving souls in any part of the world, I would willingly do all in my power.”

Like so many saints from St. Paul through St. Margaret Mary to the present, Nano knew that any good she accomplished was not her doing but God’s.  She wrote: “The Almighty makes use of the weakest means to bring about his work.” We see her great trust in these words: “By degrees, with the assistance of God, we may do a great deal,” and “God is all-sufficient.”

In the Positio or testimonies gathered after her death we read: “Absorbed in wordless prayer, she carried in her heart those in need of compassion.” Her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus made her heart go out to all those who were suffering. She carried them in her heart, prayed for them, and offered her life to help them. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"My Heart Is Overwhelmed"

The book of the prophet Hosea is one of my favorite books in the Hebrew Scriptures. I don’t recall ever reading it before I entered the Jesuits at the young age of nineteen and so it made quite an impression on me when our novice master quoted from it as he spoke to us about the overwhelming love of God.

Chapter 11 of Hosea is particularly striking. Speaking through the prophet, God says: “I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.” Like a good parent, God is moved by the pain that a child’s rebellion causes both the child and the family. While God is angry with sin and its consequences, there is also deep compassion for the child who will ever be God’s child.  God says: “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred.”

In 1981 at a Sacred Heart Conference in Toulouse, France, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about this line. 
That talk can be found in the book “Behold The Pierced One.” According to the future Pope Benedict, the word “overwhelmed” actually means something much stronger.  He writes:

“God’s Heart turns around—here the Bible uses the same words as in the depiction of God’s judgment on the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrha (Gen 19: 25); the word expresses a total collapse: not one stone remains upon another. The same word is applied to the havoc wrought by love in God’s Heart in favor of his people.”

Then, speaking about how the New Testament is the fulfillment of this prophetic word, he writes:

“Here we see the upheaval in the Heart of God as God’s own genuine Passion. It consists in God himself, in the person of his Son, suffering Israel’s rejection. … God takes the destiny of love destroyed upon himself…. According to Hosea 11, the Passion of Jesus is the drama of the divine Heart.  … The pierced Heart of the crucified Son is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of the Heart of God. … We can only discern the full magnitude of the biblical message of the Heart of God, the Heart of the divine Redeemer, in this continuity and harmony of Old and New Testament.”

We often use the expressions, “my heart is broken” or “my heart breaks for you.”  While that captures more of the sense of what is translated as “overwhelmed,” it too is not as strong as the original meaning of the word that is used to describe what Cardinal Ratzinger calls “the havoc wrought by love in God’s Heart in favor of his people.”

Who would not be moved to want to bring consolation to this Heart that is broken by and for humanity?  This is the ultimate meaning of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Eve of Pilgrimage

Tomorrow I’ll be going with 28 other pilgrims to visit Sacred Heart and Apostleship of Prayer sites in France.  Juan Landa of Mater Dei Tours is leading this pilgrimage that has been in the works for several years. I’ll be the spiritual guide.

I have to admit that today, as I try to tie up loose ends in the office and then go home to pack, I’m a bit stressed.  I tend to like routines and the familiar.  Recently I was asked: “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” And of all the exotic choices possible, I said: “I’d go to our Jesuit villa house on nearby Lake Five.”  With all the traveling I do, it would be nice to just be in one spot in a natural setting.

That being said, I am also looking forward to the pilgrimage to the basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heart in Paris, and to the home and convent of St. Therese who enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer when she was twelve. I’m looking forward to visiting the parish of the patron saint of all priests, St. John Vianney, in Ars.  And I’ve heard so much about Lourdes and the Eucharistic and Rosary processions there that I’m anticipating an experience of a lifetime.

Perhaps the highlight will be Paray-le-Monial, where Jesus revealed his Heart to St. Margaret Mary and through her to the world. I’ll celebrate Mass there on June 27, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As I prepare for the pilgrimage I am also aware of something else.  A pilgrimage is a microcosm of life. I am on a journey to the Lord.  My temptation is to feel that I am in the “driver’s seat” of life, but the reality is that life is more like flying than driving. I am not in control.  I need to learn to surrender and trust.  That isn’t easy, but I know that it’s ultimately the source of interior peace and it prepares me to experience the providence of God in new and wonderful ways. 

And so, in my final hours of preparation for pilgrimage, I return to the slogan that many people in various 12 Step programs have found so helpful.  I let go and let God.  I let go of trying to be in control and let God show me his loving care that will be more than I could hope for. I trust.

The itinerary can be found here. At each holy site I’ll be lifting up in prayer my friends, family, and the Apostleship of Prayer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ordination Anniversary

Today is the 31st anniversary of my ordination. I celebrated Mass for our staff and a group of young mothers who come every month to help us stuff envelopes while Grace, our children’s ministry director, watches their children.  I was grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Mass with this small group today.

In the first reading (1 Kings 17: 7-16) the prophet Elijah asks a widow to bring him something to eat and drink and tells her “”The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry….” God can take a little and make it last. In the hands of Jesus, five loaves and two fish can feed thousands. What’s required is trusting surrender.

In the gospel today (Matthew 5: 13-16) Jesus tells the apostles that they are salt and light. A little salt goes a long way to season a meal, to leaven, and to preserve. Salt is not meant to call attention to itself, but to bring out the best in something else. Similarly, we do not stare at a light.  It is there not for itself but to help people see.    

In light of these readings, I couldn’t help thinking about how God took a little and has used it to do a lot. The little is me.  In high school, college, and my early life in the Jesuits I was shy and self-conscious. I feared being called upon in the classroom because I was very nervous talking in front of a group. In the novitiate I was tongue-tied every time we offered spontaneous prayers together and my novice master challenged me, wondering if I should leave the Jesuits because at the rate I was going I probably wouldn’t be ordained and placed in the position where I would pray with people. 

Now, years later, I speak on the radio and in front of groups all the time.  What happened? Grace.  God’s grace at work in me.  And I’m convinced that this grace was channeled into my life through the prayers and sacrifices of many, many good people who have been praying for me over the years. 

Knowing where I’ve come from and what I used to be like, I am humbled.  I can’t take credit for what I do. As I try to be salt and light for others, all glory goes to God who has made it possible.  As Jesus said in today’s gospel, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Holy Spirit, the Reconciler

I celebrated Mass this morning for the Sisters of St. Francis at Clare Hall today. Here is my homily:

In today’s gospel (John 20: 19-23), Jesus confronts the fear of the apostles on the evening of his resurrection. They had huddled together behind locked doors, afraid that they would be crucified next. And, no doubt, they were afraid when Jesus suddenly appeared before their eyes. Is he a ghost? Has he returned to condemn them for abandoning him in his hour of need? Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” and showed them his wounds, the signs of his everlasting love. He repeated, “Peace be with you.”

Fear divides people and leads to conflict and war. The Original Sin had its roots in fear. Our ancestral parents were afraid that God had not told them the truth about the trees in their garden. Could they really trust God? Wouldn’t it be better to get control, to have power, so that they would not have to depend on God?

Fear led to mistrust which led to rebellion. The result was immediate: separation and alienation from God and each other. Division.

Jesus came to take away sin and division. He came to reconcile humanity to God and to one another, to bring unity amidst diversity instead of division. He sent the Holy Spirit to continue this work of reconciliation and peace-making.

As a result, there are many different tongues or languages but one message. There are many parts but one body. There are many different gifts, forms of service, and workings but “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” “the same God” (see the second reading, 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13).  Notice the Trinitarian formula: Spirit, Lord, God, or Holy Spirit, Lord Jesus, God the Father.  The Holy Trinity is the source of unity in diversity because this is God’s very nature—a Communion of Divine Persons.  Three and One, as we will celebrate next Sunday on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God who is diverse and one.  Human beings are not isolated individuals.  Fear and sin isolate and divide.  The Holy Spirit renews the image of God in humanity and brings about the communion of persons, making the many parts into one body. 

Jesus commissions the apostles in the gospel to continue his work of reconciliation and peace-making: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He empowers the Church to overcome sin that divides, breathing on the apostles and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” 

What does this retention of sin mean?  Reconciliation is a two-way street. One who has been hurt badly may extend forgiveness to the offending party, but if the other does not admit the wrong, accept responsibility for it, recognize the need for forgiveness and receive it from the one extending it, then reconciliation has not occurred. The sin is retained.  Forgiveness was extended but not accepted.

We must, like God, be always ready to forgive. And when the forgiveness we extend is not received, we must continue to pray, sacrifice, and make reparation, as Jesus did. We must do all we can to repair the damage that sin has caused, the division.

This is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to carry on Jesus’ work of reconciliation and peace-making.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jesuit Ordinations

This morning five Jesuits of what in two years will be the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus were ordained in Milwaukee.  I was there in the Church of the Gesu where I was ordained almost 31 years ago.  Celebrating the ordinations there always brings back memories of my own, especially this year when Milwaukee’s emeritus auxiliary bishop, Richard Sklba, who ordained me, presided.  As I entered the church and greeted Bishop Sklba, he said that last night he went over the list of those he had ordained and he pointed to me, indicating that he had thought about and prayed for me. 

This year, in addition to the moment when I laid hands on each of the five Jesuits, I was moved by two other things. 

One was the instruction that Bishop Sklba gave when the newly ordained priests knelt before him to receive the paten and chalice which had just been brought up by family members at the Presentation of the Gifts. He said: “Receive from the Holy People of God the gifts to be offered to God. Know what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the cross.”

These words spoke to me of sacrifice. I was reminded of words from St. John XXIII’s encyclical “On the Priesthood,” written for the centenary of St. John Vianney’s death. He quoted Pope Pius XII: “Just as the entire life of Our Savior was ordered to the sacrifice of Himself, so likewise the life of the priest, who ought to bring out the image of Christ in himself, must be made a pleasing sacrifice with Him, in Him, and through Him…. For this reason he must not only celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice, but even in a certain intimate way live it. For thus he can obtain that heavenly strength by which it comes about that he is entirely transformed and shares in the expiatory life of the Divine Redeemer Himself.”  And, St. John added this further quote from Pope Pius XII: “Thus it is necessary that the priestly soul should strive to reproduce in itself whatever is accomplished on the altar of sacrifice.”

After Communion there was reflection song written by the Filipino Jesuit Manoling Francisco called “Your Heart Today.”  It spoke of having a heart like the Heart of Jesus, the priestly heart which all the baptized faithful—lay and ordained—are called to have.  That priestly heart is a heart that is willing to give all, to sacrifice all for others.  It is a heart that is broken as it commits itself to healing a broken world.  It is a heart conformed to the Pierced Heart of Jesus.  Here are the lyrics:






Monday, June 2, 2014

Christ's Ascension and Ours

According to the first chapter in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus “was lifted up” in front of his followers “and a cloud took him from their sight.” Jesus disappeared. Does this mean that Jesus is no longer “Emmanuel” or “God-with-us”?  No. Jesus remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament; he comes to us in the Eucharist.  Now we have a connection with heaven where Jesus is with the Father and yet remains close to us.  In the Ascension Jesus passes beyond space and time and is no longer limited to just one place. 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this mystery in the second volume of his work Jesus of Nazareth:

Christ, at the Father’s right hand, is not far away from us. At most we are far from him, but the path that joins us to one another is open. And this path is not a matter of space travel of a cosmic-geographical nature: it is the “space travel” of the heart, from the dimension of self-enclosed isolation to the new dimension of world-embracing divine love (p.286).

In the Sacred Heart of Jesus there is no distance. All are one with one another and with Jesus.  St. Paul taught that the Body of Christ is one (see 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27).  Christ is the Head and Heart of the Body. 

The Ascension of Jesus assures us that where the Head has gone, the Body will follow. 
Pope Francis uses the concrete image of mountain climbing to describe this reality:

The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us with the deeply consoling reality on our journey: Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior, of our Advocate. Dear brothers and sisters, the Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence, but also tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us.  In our life we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us, who defends us. We are never alone: the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us.

The Ascension is one mystery with two very consoling consequences: we are never alone and in Jesus the human race has arrived in heaven.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Visitation

The month of May ends with the Feast of the Visitation when we recall how Mary, when she learned that she would be the mother of God’s Son and that her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth was also pregnant, raced off to be with her.  This was no short journey. The drive today is about 90 miles.  Yet Mary hastened to be with Elizabeth and to help her.  Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit, is always the one who loves and who helps those in need.

On May 26, 2013 Pope Francis visited the Roman parish of Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah where he directed his homily toward the children who were making their First Holy Communion.  He said:

Our Lady, as soon as she had heard the news that she was to be the Mother of Jesus and the announcement that her cousin Elizabeth was expecting a child — the Gospel says — she went to her in haste, she did not wait. She did not say: “But now I am with child I must take care of my health. My cousin is bound to have friends who can care for her”. Something stirred her and she “went with haste” to Elizabeth (cf. Lk 1:39). It is beautiful to think this of Our Lady, of our Mother, that she hastens, because she intends to help. She goes to help, she doesn't go to boast and tell her cousin: “listen, I’m in charge now, because I am the Mother of God!” No, she did not do that. She went to help! And Our Lady is always like this. She is our Mother who always hurries to us whenever we are in need.

It would be beautiful to add to the Litany of Our Lady something like this: “O Lady who goes in haste, pray for us!”  For she always goes in haste, she does not forget her children. And when her children are in difficulty, when they need something and call on her, she hurries to them. This gives us a security, the security of always having our Mother next to us, beside us. We move forward, we journey more easily in life when our mother is near. Let us think of this grace of Our Lady, this grace that she gives us: of being close to us, but without making us wait for her. Always! She — lets us trust in this — she lives to help us. Our Lady who always hastens, for our sake.

Convinced of this, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major as he prepared to leave Rome recently for the Holy Land.  We too should be convinced that our Blessed Mother will hasten to help us when we turn to her in our need.