Monday, September 21, 2015

A Sinner and Called

On this day, the feast of St. Matthew, sixty-two years ago, a teenager walked out of the confessional, relieved and at peace. The profound experience of God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation planted a seed.  He felt moved to offer himself to God in a religious vocation, as a Jesuit.

Years later he was ordained a bishop and he chose, as his episcopal motto, "Miserando Atque Eligendo."  This phrase comes from a homily of St. Bede that is the second reading in the Breviary's Office of Readings today.  Jesus saw the tax collector (Matthew, the sinner) and "because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said 'Follow me.'"  

The Jesuit bishop, of course, was Jorge Bergoglio who is now known as Pope Francis.  At the age of seventeen in 1953 he experienced God's mercy in such a profound way that he, like Matthew, left the life he had planned and followed Jesus.  He saw himself as a sinner and called.  Not, "a sinner yet called," but "a sinner and called."

This is an important distinction.  Why?

First, as Jesus said in today's Gospel (Matthew 9: 9-13), he "did not come to call the righteous but sinners."  "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do."  Jesus is God's mercy in the flesh.  He reaches out precisely to sinners and calls them to freedom, health, new life.

Second, God tends to choose "the weak" and "the lowly" in order to make clear that it is divine power at work and not human power, "so that no human being might boast before God" (1 Corinthians 1: 27-29).  Sinners know where they have come from and so can more easily remain humble.

Third, sinners make great evangelizers.  Having experienced the good news of God's mercy, they want to share that news with others.  And their sharing is more convincing because "they've been there."  Others can see in these sinners-turned-evangelizers the possibility and hope of their own freedom.

Thus it is no surprise that right after he leaves his job to follow Jesus, Matthew throws a party at which there were many tax-collectors and sinners.  

In his homily, St. Bede writes that this wasn't the only banquet. Besides the banquet in Matthew's house, there was another that was even better:  "But far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love."  Matthew welcomed mercy into his heart which then opened to his fellow sinners.  And to Jesus.  Jesus, finding a merciful heart like his own, felt very comfortable there in Matthew's heart.

May he find such a welcome in our hearts as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Lady of Sorrows and Us

Jesus lived, died, and rose to save the world.  But just as God invites humanity to be co-creators, sharing in the work of caring for creation, so God calls each of us to share in the work of salvation. In one sense the work of salvation is complete because of what Jesus did.  But, in another sense, it is ongoing because not everyone knows Jesus, nor has everyone accepted the salvation he won for them.  This is where we come in.  We are called to do what St. Paul said he did in his Letter to the Colossians 1: 24: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church...."

It almost sounds as though Paul is saying that what Jesus did was not sufficient, but he would never say that.  We ought to read this passage in light of St. Paul's other writings, in particular, what he says about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.  Christ is the Head of the Body.  We are members of the Body, joined to Christ.  What Christ has done, we the Body are now called to do.  When we join our sufferings to the perfect offering of Christ on the cross and at Mass, we play a role in the ongoing work of salvation.

Mary is our model in this.  "Lumen Gentium," the Vatican Council II document on the Church, quotes St. Ambrose and states that "the Mother of God is a type of the Church" (#63).  She stood under the cross of Jesus and did not scream or try to stop the soldiers from crucifying her own flesh and blood. She shared in her Son’s faith that this act of violence would not be the end, that somehow God would bring great good from it, that God was saving the world through it.  She had great faith, but it didn’t take away her own pain and sorrow.

We are called to have that same faith when it comes to our own sufferings.  In "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis wrote these encouraging words: "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" (#279).  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Angels and Saints

I celebrated Mass today with the Apostleship of Prayer staff.  I wore white instead of green, the color most people going to Mass today would have seen.  Today is what is known as a "ferial day" on which there is no feast, obligatory memorial, or optional memorial.  The presider is free to choose any saint from the calendar or a votive Mass of one king or another.

I could have worn white to celebrate St.
Raymond Nonnatus.  "Nonnatus" is Latin for "not born" and this name was given to Raymond because he came into the world in 1204 via cesarean section after his mother died during labor.  In time Raymond joined the recently founded Mercedarian order, a religious congregation whose mission was to ransom Christian slaves and going so far as to take their place until the ransom could be paid.  This is what Raymond did and while he was in prison he preached the Gospel so convincingly that some of his Muslim captors became Christian.  This so infuriated the governor that, according to tradition, he had a red-hot spike driven through Raymond's lips and a padlock inserted to prevent his preaching.  Eventually Raymond was ransomed, returned to Europe, and was made a cardinal adviser to the pope who had heard about his courageous witness.  He died on this day in 1240.

I could have celebrated Mass in his honor, but instead I chose white as I celebrated a Mass in honor of the Angels.  When Monday is a ferial day, I like to remember the Angels who, from time to time, have certainly remembered me.  The latest such incident occurred a week ago.

I was in the St. Louis airport on my way back to Milwaukee after a retreat for 78 men at White House Jesuit Retreat Center.  I had plenty of time to catch my 8:25 flight to Milwaukee but had misread the gate information.  Settling myself down to wait at Gate E4, I checked email and then began reading a book when suddenly, I heard a name over the loud speaker.  It sounded vaguely familiar and it was repeated a second time announcing the immediate departure of his flight for Milwaukee at Gate E20.  Sometimes people have trouble pronouncing my last name ("Kubicki," which I don't think is that difficult) and such was the case this time.  Realizing I was at the wrong gate, I got up and raced through the terminal, arriving at the correct gate just in time to board my plane before the doors closed.

I'm convinced that my Guardian Angel opened my ears to hear my mispronounced name being paged and then gave my legs some extra wings as I raced through the terminal.

And that is one of the many reasons why I like to honor the Angels in a votive Mass from time to time.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Priesthood of the Baptized

Today is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, a bishop and doctor of the Church whose preaching was so inspired that he was called "Golden Word." He only lived about fifty years, but the 183 sermons of his that we have continue to speak to us over 1500 years after his death. In one of them, he reflects on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 12: 1: “I urge you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  These words are at the heart of what we strive to do in the Apostleship of Prayer: to live a Eucharistic life, a life in which we offer ourselves one day at a time with Jesus who offers himself to the Father for the salvation of the world.  The following is from Homily 108 of St. Peter Chrysologus:

How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering.  He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself.  The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same.  Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill.  Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

Paul says: “I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy.”  The prophet said the same thing: “Sacrifices and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me.”  Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest.  Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you.  Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity.  Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection.  Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you.  Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer.  Take up the sword of the Spirit.  Let your heart be an altar.  Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice.  God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Called and Chosen

The readings at Mass today (15th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B) are about vocation. In the first reading (Amos 7: 12-15) we hear about the call of a prophet who never planned on being one. In the Gospel (Mark 6: 7-13) we see how Jesus "summoned" the apostles and sent them out on a mission trip to confront evil and sickness head-on.  But I want to focus on the second reading from the first chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians.

It says that God chose us.  We are called to be children of God, followers of Jesus, members of the Body of Christ.  Or, as Paul puts it, "to be holy and without blemish."  We are made for union with God, to be holy as God is holy.  To be children of God and part of the Body of Christ means to be holy.

When did God call you?  When did God choose you?  Paul's answer may be surprising.  He writes that God chose us "before the foundation of the world."  In other words, before this world was created, God had you in mind. Shortly after his election as pope, Benedict XVI told the cardinals that "each of us is the result of a thought of God." And since those thoughts are eternal, God had you in mind from all eternity.

Why?  Why did God choose to create you and call you?  Pope St. John Paul II said that "each person is unique, precious, and unrepeatable."  There never was, never will, and isn't another "you" among the billions of human beings.  You give God a joy and pleasure that no other human being can.

You were chosen to be holy, like God. For that to happen a transformation is required.  This is where another word that Paul uses comes into play: "In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ."  Through baptism we became adopted children of God. However, when we say that we're speaking of something deeper than human adoption.  Human adoption is beautiful.  Parents give a child their name and their love, food and shelter and education. But parents cannot give an adopted child their own genetic makeup, their blood.  With God it's different. An interior transformation takes place. Through baptism a real change occurs.  God gives us grace to transform us into true children of God.  This is our deepest identity.   A person at baptism is flooded with sanctifying grace and is "holy and without blemish."

Now we are called to live out of our deepest identity: to be and to act what we truly are--children of God, joined to Christ, members of his Body.

All Christians have this most basic vocation and it is within this context that other calls are heard, other vocations arise.

Today is the wedding anniversary of a very special couple. They had nine children, four of whom died early. Four of the surviving children became Discalced Carmelite Sisters and one became a Visitation Sister.  The cause for the beatification of the latter, Leonie, has just been opened.  Of the four other daughters, one has been canonized--St. Therese of Lisieux. And the parents, who celebrate their anniversary today in heaven--Louis and Zelie Martin--will soon become the first married couple in the history of the Church to be canonized together.

You can find out more about this beautiful family at the following websites:

Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway
Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the Parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux
Leonie Martin, Disciple and Sister of St. Therese of Lisieux

Monday, June 22, 2015

Prayer in the Storms of Life

In the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (Mark 4: 35-41), we see quite a contrast.  The violence of a storm contrasts with the inner calm of Jesus, asleep in the stern of the boat that is being swamped.  The terror of the disciples contrasts with the peace of Jesus.  As Jesus addresses their fear and cry for help, his inner peace calms the storm.

We all experience storms in our lives. Our first response is usually to try to handle them on our own. Only when we feel our helplessness do we turn to God in prayer.

Then we pray and pray and nothing happens. The desired result of our prayers doesn't come.  Last year I prayed and prayed for Fr. Will Prospero, S.J.--a personal friend and strong supporter of the Apostleship of Prayer--and he died of cancer at the age of forty-nine.  (Here is a video tribute that friends of his put together after his death.)

The response to situations like this is often, "God doesn't hear my prayers." No.  God is not hearing impaired.  Or we say, "God doesn't answer my prayers."  No. God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is not the one we want. Sometimes the answer is "no."

Behind these responses is the question of the disciples in the Gospel: "Teacher, do you not care...?"

Yes, God cares. Do we believe that? Jesus asked the disciples (and us): "Do you not yet have faith?"

Faith is a virtue.  I like to say that the virtues are spiritual muscles which require exercise in order to grow and remain healthy.  We can pray "Lord, give me faith," or "Lord, increase my faith," but get ready.  Faith won't come out of the blue, just as physical muscles don't.  God answers this prayer with storms and challenges that require us to exercise faith.

We don't like the stress and hard work that this exercise requires.  I once saw a cartoon that showed a jogger running past a park bench. On his T-shirt was the slogan: "No pain, no gain."  On the bench sat an overweight man with a can of beer wearing a T-shirt that said; "No pain, no pain."  We don't like the pain that goes with exercising the virtue of faith in the midst of life's storms.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said: "People say that God will never give you more than you can handle. I just wish God didn't trust me so much."

God trusts us.  God wants more for us than we can imagine.  God trusts that we can handle the storms that can lead us to exercise faith and grow in holiness.

In his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" (#275-9), Pope Francis has some challenging and consoling words about faith and the prayers and sacrifices we make:

"Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope and he will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us.  Christ's resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. ... Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty.

"Faith ... 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. ... Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a big tree.... Christ's resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world....

"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.... 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."

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Corpus Christi Homily

At the Last Supper, Jesus faced three dilemmas and offered one solution.  The dilemmas were the result of his love.

The greatest act of love for another is to die for that person.  At the Last Supper Jesus told his apostles, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15: 13). Yet Jesus laid down his life not only for his friends but for his enemies. As St. Paul put it: "For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 6-8).

Jesus wanted to prove his love for all people of all time and he wanted everyone to experience that love.  But he could only die once. How could he make that act of sacrificial love present everywhere and always?

He said: "This is my body, which will be given up for you; do this in memory of me" (Luke 22: 19).

He created a New Passover to go with the New Covenant.  This Memorial Meal makes present the very event it commemorates.  Now people of all time, and not just those who stood under the cross at Good Friday, can be present as Jesus offers himself up for their salvation.  He does not die again but he makes his life-giving death and resurrection present through the the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The second dilemma of love is this: when you love someone you want to be always near that person.  But Jesus had to go. He said: "I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16: 7). Jesus must leave this world in order to send the Holy Spirit.  But he wants to stay close to his followers and he even promised that he would not leave them orphans, that he would return (see John 14: 18). He promised "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28: 20). How can he go and also stay?

"This is my body."  He remains close to us in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament.

Thirdly, love desires not only to be close but to be one with the beloved. Love desires union.  How can Jesus unite himself to the apostles and then to Christians of all time?

"This is my body. Take and eat."  Jesus comes to us in a form in which we can receive him. He unites himself to us in Holy Communion where the two become one.

That is the gift which we celebrate today.

This has two very practical implications.

First, we who receive the Eucharist are one with Christ and are transformed by our union. In his homily at the closing Mass for World Youth Day 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said: "The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood."  Through a Holy Communion we are parts of the Body of Christ, "his own Flesh and Blood" in the world today.  This confirms Jesus' teaching in a parable about the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. Whatever we do to or for one of his least brothers or sisters, we do to or for Jesus.  Whatever we fail to do for one of his and our least brothers and sisters, we fail to do for Jesus.

Second, the sacrificial offering of Jesus replaced all the animal and grain offerings that preceded him. His was the one perfect sacrifice that took away the sins of the world and reconciled humanity with God and one another.  Now we, as members of his Body, join him in making that perfect offering as we celebrate Mass.  Then we go forth from Mass to live the offering we have made with Christ.  In the words of St. Paul, we offer our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12: 1).

We thank God for the gift of the Body and Blood of his Son Jesus. We adore Jesus present in the Eucharist. We open ourselves to the grace of the loving union in which the two become one flesh. And we return love for love by offering ourselves every day as we pray the Daily Offering.

The Daily Offering, prayed and lived, is the best response to Jesus' gift of himself to and for us.

Friday, May 29, 2015


When I was growing up before the Second Vatican Council, the Sundays after Pentecost were known as the Third or Fourth or Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. That gave the feast of Pentecost an importance that I fear has been lost as we return now to Ordinary Time, which really means Ordered or Numbered Time.  The time after Pentecost, both the first one centuries ago and our celebration last Sunday, is the time in which the Church carries on the mission of preaching the Gospel and reconciling.  This two-fold mission was made clear in the readings for Pentecost.

The first reading (Acts 2: 1-11) tells the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost Sunday. The power of the Holy Spirit was expressed in two ways--wind and fire.  Jesus compared the Spirit to wind in John 3: 8: "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  We get the word "respiration" from the word "spirit" and the Hebrew word for "spirit" is "ruah" or "breath."  The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God.

On the first Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate a feast in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. God the Father, the Creator, reveals the divine nature of love by creating. In doing so we see that God is "for us."  The Second Person of the Trinity is "Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us'" (Matthew 1: 23).  The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the breath that shows us God is "within us."  We are temples of the Holy Spirit.  God is as close to us, and as essential, as our breath.

Fire gives light and warmth. It also purifies and unites.  Precious metals like gold are placed in a furnace to melt and be purified of dross or impurities.  The Holy Spirit comes to give the light of truth, to warm and heal hearts, and to purify us so that we may be one.

Sin divides and separates.  Early in history (see Genesis 11: 1-9), human beings rejected God's call to fill the earth. In fear, they clung together and tried to attain the glory and power of God on their own.  To fulfill the plan for human beings to fill the earth, God confused their language and scattered them.  But this scattering and confusion of language led to sinful divisions.  Diversity became the source of conflict rather than richness in unity.  The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost began the process of reconciliation and unity.  The tongues or languages remained diverse but there was an amazing and miraculous understanding.

Before the Spirit came at Pentecost, the Son of God had to suffer, die, rise, and ascend.  Jesus prepared the Church to carry on his work when he met the apostles in the upper room, gave them his peace, sent them as the Father had sent him, and empowered them to carry on his work of reconciliation by breathing on them (John 20: 19-23).  He said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."  Forgiveness requires two parties--one who extends forgiveness and the other who receives it. God is always ready to forgive, but people may reject that forgiveness. People may not recognize that they have done anything wrong that requires forgiveness and so they do not ask for it nor receive it.  These are the sins that are "retained."

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus, through the priest, sends the Holy Spirit upon those who ask for mercy. The Spirit comes to purify and heal.  There is no individual sin.  As St. Paul wrote in the second reading (1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13), there is one body that consists of many parts.  Each of us is a cell within the Body of Christ.  The health of one cell affects the entire Body, just as one cancer cell affects a person's physical health.  Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God who is a Trinity of Persons.  God is not an amalgam of individuals but a communion of Persons. Made in God's image and likeness we are made for communion.  Theologians have said that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son.  The Spirit is the love that brings the Body of Christ together into one.

One of the invocations in the Litany of the Sacred Heart is "Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity."  The fire that burns in the Heart of Jesus is the Holy Spirit who purifies, heals, and unites all who come to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  In that Heart and through the power of the Holy Spirit, all human beings can truly be one, one with God and one as God's family.

May the coming month of June, dedicated as it traditionally is to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the following Post-Pentecost months until Advent, make us one in the Heart of Jesus.

[The icon in this post is from the hand of Brother Christopher, a Carmelite Hermit. His God-inspired work can be found at the website for the Carmelite Hermitage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Importance of Fatima

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.  We remember how on May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children--Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta--and gave them an important message for the world. It wasn't a new message but as old as the Gospel where we read in Mark that the first recorded words of Jesus after his baptism and the temptations in the desert were: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (1: 15).

On May 13, 1982,  one year after the attempt on his life, St. John Paul II visited Fatima and offered the Blessed Mother the bullet that had struck him and which he was convinced did not kill him because her finger guided it away from doing mortal harm. (I wrote here about this bullet which was affixed to the crown that is placed on the statue of Our Lady on special occasions.)

 Pope John Paul II said:

"These are the first words of the Messiah addressed to humanity. The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel. This call was uttered at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it was addressed particularly to this present century.  ... The call to repentance is a motherly one, and at the same time it is strong and decisive."

The call of  Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima has not lost its urgency.

Pope Francis has a special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. In his first Angelus Address after being elected pope, he mentioned a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that came to Buenos Aires on pilgrimage shortly after he became a bishop there in 1992. Then, in 2013, two months after his election, Pope Francis asked the Patriarch of Lisbon to consecrate his papacy to Our Lady of Fatima.  Cardinal Policarpo did so on May 13, 2013 with these words: “O Blessed Virgin, we are at your feet to carry out the request clearly expressed by Pope Francis to consecrate to you, O Virgin of Fatima, his ministry as Bishop of Rome and universal pastor.” 

On the anniversary of the last Fatima apparition, October 13, 2013, during the Marian Day of the Year of Faith, Pope Francis entrusted the world to Our Lady of Fatima with these words:

Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima,
with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence
we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed.

We celebrate in you the great works of God,
who never tires of lowering himself in mercy over humanity,
afflicted by evil and wounded by sin,
to heal and to save it.

Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
this act of entrustment that we make in faith today,
before this your image, beloved to us.

We are certain that each one of us is precious in your eyes
and that nothing in our hearts has estranged you.

May we allow your sweet gaze
to reach us and the perpetual warmth of your smile.

Guard our life with your embrace: 
bless and strengthen every desire for good;
give new life and nourishment to faith;
sustain and enlighten hope;
awaken and animate charity;
guide us all on the path to holiness.

Teach us your own special love for the little and the poor,
for the excluded and the suffering,
for sinners and the wounded of heart:
gather all people under your protection
and give us all to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.

In two years, Pope Francis hopes to go to Fatima for the centenary of the apparitions.  

Clearly Our Lady of Fatima important to Pope Francis.  Her message is as important as ever. Sister Lucia, who lived for almost eighty-eight years after Mary appeared to her, wrote in a book published in 2000 ("Calls" from the Message of Fatima):

"We all desire and long for peaceful days, to be able to live in peace. But this peace will not be achieved until we use the Law of God as the norm and guide of our steps. Now the entire Message of Fatima is a call to pay attention to this divine Law. ...

"God does not wish sinners to perish but rather that they be converted and live. This is the reason why Our Lady urged us so insistently to pray and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners: Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell because there is none to make sacrifices and to pray for them (Fatima, 19th August, 1917). Hence, by our union with Christ and with his Church, we must offer ourselves as victims of expiation and petition for the conversion of our brothers and sisters. Herein lies the essence of our charity: to love those who perhaps do harm to us, contradict or persecute us. Our forgiveness, offered to them in the light of faith, hope and charity, will draw them back into the arms of God."

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fear of the Lord

The first reading (Acts 9: 26-31) at Mass today (Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B) begins: "When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple."  The early Christians were afraid that what they had heard about Saul's conversion was not true, that Saul was a "plant" who was infiltrating the community in order to eventually persecute it.  It took Barnabas, known as the "son of encouragement," to facilitate Saul's entry into the community.

The reading ends with the Church "at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers."

We have here two kinds of fear.  The first is fear of danger, pain, suffering, and death.  The second is a gift of the Holy Spirit that gives peace and consolation.  Clearly this second kind of fear is the opposite of the first.

But what is "fear of the Lord?"

Pope Francis spoke about it in his weekly General Audience of June 11, 2014. He said:

It does not mean being afraid of God: we know well that God is Father, that he loves us and wants our salvation, and he always forgives, always; thus, there is no reason to be scared of him! Fear of the Lord, instead, is the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we are reminded of how small we are before God and of his love and that our good lies in humble, respectful and trusting self-abandonment into his hands. This is fear of the Lord: abandonment in the goodness of our Father who loves us so much.

When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts, he infuses us with consolation and peace, and he leads us to the awareness of how small we are, with that attitude — strongly recommended by Jesus in the Gospel — of one who places his every care and expectation in God and feels enfolded and sustained by his warmth and protection, just as a child with his father! This is what the Holy Spirit does in our hearts: he makes us feel like children in the arms of our father. In this sense, then, we correctly comprehend how fear of the Lord in us takes on the form of docility, gratitude and praise, by filling our hearts with hope. Indeed, we frequently fail to grasp the plan of God, and we realize that we are not capable of assuring ourselves of happiness and eternal life. It is precisely in experiencing our own limitations and our poverty, however, that the Holy Spirit comforts us and lets us perceive that the only important thing is to allow ourselves to be led by Jesus into the Father’s arms.

This is why we need this gift of the Holy Spirit so much. Fear of the Lord allows us to be aware that everything comes from grace and that our true strength lies solely in following the Lord Jesus and in allowing the Father to bestow upon us his goodness and his mercy. To open the heart, so that the goodness and mercy of God may come to us. This is what the Holy Spirit does through the gift of fear of the Lord: he opens hearts. The heart opens so that forgiveness, mercy, goodness and the caress of the Father may come to us, for as children we are infinitely loved.

When we are pervaded by fear of the Lord, then we are led to follow the Lord with humility, docility and obedience. This, however, is not an attitude of resignation, passivity or regret, but one of the wonder and joy of being a child who knows he is served and loved by the Father. Fear of the Lord, therefore, does not make of us Christians who are shy and submissive, but stirs in us courage and strength! It is a gift that makes of us Christians who are convinced, enthusiastic, who aren’t submissive to the Lord out of fear but because we are moved and conquered by his love! To be conquered by the love of God! This is a beautiful thing. To allow ourselves to be conquered by this love of a father, who loves us so, loves us with all his heart.

Pope Francis then went on to say "the holy fear of God sends us a warning: be careful!"  We ought not to fear God but we should have a healthy fear of ourselves and what we are capable of doing that breaks our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters.

We need not fear God who does not send anyone to hell.  Hell--alienation from God and the Communion of Saints--is not something God chooses but something we choose for ourselves. We, not God, do the sending.  The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" states clearly: "This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'" (#1033).  We are the ones who do the excluding and sending.

St. John Paul II explained this in one of his General Audiences (July 28, 1999):

God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely,  can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell.  It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.

“Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God's initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In  reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. 

The choices we make are life and death choices.  

In the Gospel (John 15: 1-8) Jesus makes this clear with the image of the vine and the branches.  Through Baptism we are joined to the Vine that is Jesus Christ.  We have life as long as we are united to the Vine.  But we are free to cut ourselves off from the Vine.  We do that through mortal sin.  God never cuts us off but because God loves us and does not force us to remain in him, we have the freedom to cut ourselves off. Doing so, we choose death--separation from God and from the other branches, our brothers and sisters.  

But there is hope.  We can be grafted back on the Vine through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And our union with the Vine is strengthened with every Holy Communion by which the life force of Jesus' Precious Blood flows through us and keeps us closely united to him.  

Therefore, choose life!  Or, as St. John puts it in the second reading (1 John 3: 18-24): "Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

St. Catherine of Siena

It just so happened that on a recent trip to Birmingham, Alabama, I began reading a biography of today's saint, Catherine of Siena. It was written by the Nobel Prize winning author Sigrid Undset. You can read more about this fine book at Ignatius Press.  St. Catherine died on this day in 1380 at the age of thirty-three.  She was an amazing woman who experienced many mystical graces including an exchange of hearts with Jesus and the stigmata which only became visible after her death because Catherine, in her humility, did not want the attention which the visible wounds would have brought her.  She was bold and courageous and did not shrink from writing to and meeting with the pope to tell him that he should leave his residence in Avignon, France and return to his diocese, Rome.

Here are some prayers of hers.  The first two are reflections on the Incarnation--the mystery that in order to save humanity, God became human.  St. Catherine asks why did God go to such lengths.

O great and eternal Trinity, as if intoxicated with love and gone mad over your creature, seeing that since it was separated from you who are life, it could produce only the fruit of death, you provided a remedy for it with the same love with which you had created it, and grafted your divinity on to the dead tree of our humanity. You who are the greatest sweetness deigned to unite yourself to our bitterness; you, who are brightness, with darkness; you, wisdom, with foolishness; you, life, with death; you, who are infinite, with us who are finite. What constrained you to this in order to restore us to life, after your creature had so injured you? Only love--for through this grafting, death is vanquished.

O eternal and infinite Good, O extravagance of love! You need your creature? Yes, it seems to me; because you behave as if you could not live without it, although you are life and all things receive life from you, and without you nothing lives.  You fell in love with your own workmanship and delighted in it as if enraptured with its well-being; it flees you and you go searching for it; it goes away from you and you draw near; you could not have come any nearer than in assuming its very humanity. 

In the following prayer St. Catherine reflects again with wonder at the depths of God's love and in particular the gift of the Eucharist.

O eternal Trinity, O Trinity eternal! O fire and abyss of charity! O enamored of your creature! How could our redemption benefit you? It could not, for you, our God, have no need of us. To whom then comes this benefit? Only to man. O inestimable charity! Even as you, true God and true Man, gave yourself entirely to us, so also you left yourself entirely for us, to be our food, so that during our earthly pilgrimage we would not faint with weariness, but would be strengthened by you, our celestial Bread. O fire of love! Was it not enough for you to have created us to your image and likeness, and to have re-created us in grace through the Blood of your Son, without giving yourself wholly to us as our food, O God, divine Essence? What impelled you to do this? Your charity alone, in the excess of your love.

United to Jesus, loving with his Heart that beat within her, Catherine shared his love for humanity. She offered herself to God with these words:

Lord, you know why I cry out to you with daring confidence; because, when you inspire me with compassion and love, you are constraining me to raise my voice even to your throne. I see lost souls of innumerable sinners, and my heart breaks at the sight, or rather, my heart is enlarged and then, overcome with compassion, I cannot help weeping for their misfortune. I offer you my life, Lord, now and for ever, whenever it shall please you to take it, and I offer it for your glory, humbly beseeching you, by the merits of your passion to cleanse and purify the Church, your Spouse, from every defect; delay no longer!

Catherine also offered her life for the pope and for peace and unity within the Church:

O supreme and ineffable Godhead, I have sinned and am not worthy to pray to you, but you have the power to make me worthy. I have a body which I surrender and offer to you: here is my flesh and here is my blood. If it is your will, crumble my bones and flesh together for your Vicar on earth for whom I beg you to deign to hear me.  Give him a new heart, continually growing in grace, a strong heart to raise the standard of the holy cross in order to make those without faith share like ourselves in the fruits of the passion and of the blood of your only-begotten Son, the spotless Lamb.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

St. Peter Canisius and The Sacred Heart

The liturgical calendar the Jesuit St. Peter Canisius on December 21, the date of his death in 1597, but today the Society of Jesus celebrates his feast day. After he was canonized and declared a doctor of the Church in 1925 his feast was assigned to this date and was so celebrated until the calendar was changed in 1969.  Jesuits continue to honor him on this day because the days right before Christmas focus on the coming celebration of the Nativity and give less attention to the saints.

St. Peter Canisius shows that the Church had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus before the apparitions to St. Margaret Mary in the 1670's.  St. Mechthilde of Hackeborn, a Benedictine nun who lived in the 1200's, wrote a book of prayers to the Sacred Heart.  St. Peter Canisius made a copy of these prayers, carried them with him wherever he went, and held fast to them on his deathbed.

He is known as the second apostle of Germany (after St. Boniface) and when he was about to set out to begin his mission there he wrote the following prayer:

"My Savior, I seemed to be gazing at the Heart of your Sacred Body with my own eyes. It was as if you opened it to me to drink from it as from a spring, inviting me to draw the waters of salvation from these springs of yours. I was filled with longing that the waters of faith, hope, and charity would flow from your Heart into me. ... Then I dared to touch your beloved Heart and bury my thirst in it; and you promised me a robe woven in three parts to cover my naked soul and help me greatly in my undertaking. These three parts were peace, love, and perseverance. Secure in the protection of this garment, I was confident that I would lack nothing, and that everything would turn out for your glory."

Peace, love, and perseverance: gifts from the Heart of Jesus. They allowed St. Peter to write a popular catechism and to explain the doctrines of the Catholic faith to Protestants and Catholics alike during a time of upheaval in Germany.  May the Church today receive these same gifts from the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus

On this day in 1541, seven months after Pope Paul III gave official approval to the founding of a new religious order, the Society of Jesus, and two weeks after his election as its first General Superior, St. Ignatius and his first companions celebrated Mass at Mary's altar in St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. Before receiving Holy Communion, Ignatius held the consecrated host and each of the first Jesuits pronounced his vows. Then they received. April 22 is now celebrated in the Jesuits as the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus.

St. Ignatius had a deep devotion to Mary. She played a critical role in his conversion. One night in mid-August, 1521, she, with the Child Jesus, appeared to him.  He writes about this, using the third person, in his Autobiography:

"One night, while he lay awake, he saw clearly the likeness of Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus, at the sight of which he received most abundant consolation for a considerable period of time. He felt so great a disgust with his past life, especially his sins of the flesh, that he thought all such images which had formerly occupied his mind were wiped out."

On the eve of the Annunciation in 1522, St. Ignatius made an all-night vigil at the Shrine of the Madonna of Montserrat. He left behind his sword and dagger and offered himself to Mary and her Son as their knight.

I've always considered Mary to be the Mother of my Jesuit vocation. As a high school student I began praying the rosary which became a chain linking me to Mary through various tests and trials.  In the past, Jesuits took "vow names" which never replaced their actual name as happens in other religious orders but which were a simple act of devotion. When I pronounced my first vows in 1973, I took the name "Mary." Since my middle initial is "M" for Michael, this has worked out well and whenever I use that initial I think of these two patrons--Michael the Archangel and Mary, Mother of my vocation and of the Society of Jesus.

Jesuits' devotion to Mary clearly shows up in our present pope who often prays to her and visits the Church of St. Mary Major before and after every trip abroad.

Here are the prayers which I and some of my brother Jesuits used as we celebrated Mass together this morning:

Collect:  "Almighty and everlasting God, you chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of your eternal Word. Make us strong and faithful servants of that Word in the Society of Jesus, which has consecrated itself to you in the presence of Mary, our mother."

Prayer over the Gifts: "Lord God, you made the Virgin Mary a companion in the sufferings of your Son and in the glory of his resurrection. Turn our eyes toward him whom we have pierced, so that, seeking his kingdom on earth, we may enter eternal life with Mary, our mother."

Prayer after Communion: "You have raised up Mary, O Lord, because she believed in your word. By the grace of her Son, may we, who call her blessed, experience the power of her intercession."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I celebrated Mass this morning for the 600 students and faculty of St. Anthony's High School in Milwaukee.  I found it a good opportunity to preach about a very special woman and to encourage the young people to see themselves as loved and chosen by God.

The feast of the Annunciation could also be called the feast of the Conception of Jesus, Only nine more shopping months until Christmas!

We honor Mary today because she said "yes" to God.  No Mary, no Jesus.  It's as simple as that.  In order for the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to become human, a very special woman was called to be his mother.  This is why we honor Mary.  It was God's plan to save the world through her.  Through her the Son of God took flesh, lived our life, suffered and died and rose from the dead. All to save humanity.  This was Mary's glorious destiny--to be the Mother of God.  This is why we use the words of Luke's Gospel every time we pray the "Hail Mary."

When Mary told the angel Gabriel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word," Jesus was conceived in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit.  With Mary's "yes" to God, Jesus was conceived and began to develop cell by cell.  Within three weeks the first physical organ of God-in-the-flesh appeared--his heart.

If you think about, every conception of a new life involves God's intervention.  It takes more than a sperm and an egg to create a new human life.  God is present instilling an immortal soul into the new life developing in a mother's womb.  In this way, every human life is special and, because its beginning involves God's intervention, you could say, "miraculous."

St. John Paul II once said that "each person is unique, precious, and unrepeatable."  There never was another you. Among the billions of people today there isn't another you nor will there ever be.  You are precious to God.  You give God a love and a joy that no other human being can give God because of who you are.

Shortly after he was elected, Pope Benedict XVI said: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."  And God didn't just think of you some nine months and a couple hours before you were conceived. Since the thoughts of God are eternal, God had you in mind from all eternity.

Pope Benedict continued: "Each of us is willed."  God wanted you to exist.  Sometimes people tell me, "I'm an accident.  I'm a mistake.  My parents didn't plan on having me. In fact, they were pregnant with me before they got married and the only reason they got married is because they were pregnant with me.  They shouldn't have gotten married because it didn't work out and they were miserable together. I'm not only a mistake, I'm a bad mistake who made life miserable for my parents."  No, no one is a mistake or an accident in God's eyes.  Because God was present instilling an immortal soul, the principle of life for human beings, God willed or intended that person's conception. No matter what the circumstances of one's conception, God was present willing that person into existence.

"Each of us is loved," the pope went on to say.  Our experience of human love is finite, conditional. We put limits on our love and we tend to think of God's love that way.  But God is infinite and loves you as though you were the only person in the world. St. Francis de Sales once used the example of the sun which shines on the individual flowers of a garden.  Shining on one doesn't mean there is less sunshine for the others.  The sun shines on each flower as though it were the only flower in the garden. If that's true for a creature, the sun, then it is even more true for the Creator of the sun, God, who shines with his love on all the human flowers in the world with equal intensity.

And Pope Benedict said, "each of us is necessary."  You are essential to God's plan just the way Mary was.  Ask yourself, "What is God's plan, God's desire for me?  How is God calling me to bring his love come into the world?"

Shortly after his election Pope Francis said, "For God, we are not numbers, we are important, indeed we are the most important thing to him.... We are what is closest to his heart."

You are so important, that God took flesh, as we celebrate today.  Moreover, in order to save you, that flesh was nailed to a cross and died, as we will celebrate on Good Friday.  But that flesh rose never to die again, as we will celebrate on Easter.  It was all made possible by that special woman, Mary.  As we honor her today, let's thank God for our life and make an offering, asking that God's will may be done in our life as well.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Role of Temptation

Every First Sunday of Lent we get a gospel passage about the temptations of Jesus.  Right after his baptism in the Jordan--when, though he didn't need purification himself, he identified himself with sinful humanity--the "Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan" (Mark 1: 12-13).  This happened right before Jesus began his public ministry of teaching and healing.  Does it surprise you that Jesus was tempted?  It shouldn't.  Temptations occur not simply because we're sinners.  They happen to those who are good, as Jesus was perfectly good.  We have an enemy who wants to knock us off the right path of doing God's will, just as he tried with Jesus.

Why does God allow temptations?  There must be something in them that is good for us. What is that?

First, humility.  God does not prevent temptation because it serves the purpose of keeping us humble.  St. Paul comes to mind. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul writes about "a thorn in the flesh," "an angel of Satan" that afflicted him.  We are not sure exactly what this was, but it could have been a particular temptation, a moral struggle.  That makes sense given how Paul also wrote about his struggle with sin in Romans 7.  At any rate, he didn't like it at all and thought that he would be a much better apostle and person if he were rid of this "thorn."  He prayed for God to take it away.  The answer he received is a common answer to prayer--"No."  The Lord told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."  It is as though God told Paul that without this "thorn" he would think he was perfect. He would become puffed up and proud, self-sufficient.  This struggle brought Paul to his knees, leading him to pray and depend on God, not himself.

A second reason is that by battling temptations we exercise and grow in virtues.  A struggle with impatience is an opportunity to exercise patience which can then grow.  Virtues don't take away temptations.  They are spiritual muscles that need to be used and exercised.  Temptations give us the opportunity to do just that.  For every temptation there is an opposite virtue which God is giving us an opportunity to develop.

Thirdly, through temptation we grow in compassion, just as Jesus did.  In Hebrews 4  we hear that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin."  In the desert of temptation Jesus grew in the compassion that would later motivate him as he reached out to sinners.  Our temptations can similarly help us to be more compassionate to others in their struggle. "There but for the grace of God go I."

Lastly, temptations can draw us close to Jesus. If we give in to temptation and sin, we move away from Jesus who won't abandon us but will seek us because he is the Good Shepherd who cares about his lost sheep.  But if we struggle and battle temptation, despairing of our own strength and ability and turning to the Lord in our need, shouting, "Lord, save me! I am drowning!" (see Matthew 14: 22-33), he will reach out and grab us and hold us close to himself.  Sharing a struggle brings people closer to one another. Sharing our struggle with Jesus can bring us closer to the one who has also struggled against temptation and won.

Temptation is part of life, part of following Christ.  He shared our life, with all its struggles and temptations, suffering and even death itself.  He's "been there, done that."  While we may feel far from him when we are being tempted, the reality is that we are sharing in something that he himself went through.  He is close to us in temptation and he understands.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Beginning of Lent

I led a day of recollection today for the seminarians at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee. It was a quiet and prayerful day and what follows is a summary of my homily.

In our first reading (Joel 2: 12-18), God tells us to return "with your whole heart" and to "rend your hearts, not your garments."  We are half-hearted.  Our hearts are divided.  We need our hearts to be healed, to be made whole.  We need to open our hearts to God so that the Holy Spirit may pierce and soften these sin-hardened hearts.

What divides our hearts?  What hardens them?  The self-centeredness of sin.

Last week the first readings at Mass were from Genesis, the story of the first temptation and sin.  Our ancestral parents had hearts open to God, but fear and mistrust closed and hardened them. They were tempted to believe the serpent who suggested that God might not be telling them the truth when warning them that the fruit of a certain tree would bring death. They mistrusted God and thought it would be better to be independent, to get control, to be like gods who could determine for themselves what was right and what was wrong, what was good and what was bad.

They ate and the effect was immediate. They felt shame in each other's presence.  They were no longer open to each other but covered themselves. When God came for their daily stroll, they hid.  The man's response shows the self-centeredness that began the hardening of his heart, closing him off from God and the woman. He said: "I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.  Me, me, me.  The world now revolved around him.

Then, when God pointed out that this response clearly indicated he'd eaten of the fruit, the man responded, "It was the woman you put here...."  He blamed his partner and God.  Turned in on himself, the man turned against God and his neighbor.

Sin works the same way in our lives.

Those who work in the Church and offer their lives in service of others are not immune from sinful self-centeredness.  It creeps into our relationship with God and into ministry. In the Gospel (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18), Jesus warns against "righteous deeds" which are done to gain others' attention and affirmation.

We need this time of Lent for conversion.  Our divided hearts, which seem to be serving God while all the while serving themselves, need to be made whole and undivided.  We need this time to develop hearts like the Heart of Jesus which he described as "meek and humble."  Humble hearts don't pray and serve in order to receive glory.  They give and serve without seeking a reward because they are motivated by love.

Jesus was so in touch with the infinite love of the Father that he was free to love totally with great freedom, with a whole and undivided heart.  Knowing the love of the Father, he, in the words of our second reading (2 Corinthians 5: 20 - 6: 2) became sin.  Just as he reached into the isolation of the leper in last Sunday's Gospel (Mark 1: 40-45), touched him, and made himself unclean in the process, so Jesus reached into human darkness and took upon himself the sins of the world when he was nailed to a cross.  With his attention focused totally on the God and those whom God sent him to save, Jesus made a total offering of himself.

Now he calls us to renounce the self-centeredness of sin that hardens and closes our hearts. We begin this time of purification and healing by remembering that we are dust. We are not God.  We are not in control.  Nor do we have forever for our hearts to be made more like the Heart of Jesus.  "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Peoria Franciscan Sisters

I am in East Peoria these days, giving a week long retreat to the Sisters of the Third Order of St.
Francis.  On August 21, 1875 a community of 25 Sisters and 4 Postulants left Germany because of the Bismark Laws which restricted religious freedom.  They ended up in Iowa City where a priest whom they had met in Germany helped them get settled.  About a year later six of the Sisters went to Peoria at the request of a local priest who asked them to start a hospital.  The first bishop of Peoria, John Spalding, promised his help to them if they would form a separate congregation. Thus began this particular community of Franciscans with Mother Mary Frances as the first superior.

Mother Mary Frances' last words to her community capture the spirit that is still very much alive among these Sisters: "Dear Sisters, live in meekness and obedience. Nurse the sick with the greatest care and love, then will God's blessing be with you."

Our retreat will end on Wednesday, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the annual World Day of
the Sick.  In his message this year, Pope Francis wrote about "the wisdom of the heart."  What is this wisdom?  "It is a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God."  He went on to say, "Time spent with the sick is holy time. It is a way of praising God who conforms us to the image of his Son, who 'came not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mt. 20:28)."

It strikes me that the Sisters are living proof of these words.  The gift the Sisters make of themselves in service of the sick gives praise to God and helps them grow in holiness.  I'm praying that more women will hear the call to join them because they are very stretched as they direct the operations of 9 medical centers throughout Illinois and in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Please join me in that prayer.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Listening Prayer

Fr. Larry Richards tells a story that I'd like to embellish a bit.  Two guys are visiting and the phone rings. One answers and says:  "Oh ... hello ... am I ever glad that you called. You see I could really use your help. My job isn't going so well right now. My supervisor is always on my case. And one of my kids is failing chemistry and needs good grades this semester for his college application.  I'm really worried about my dad.  He seems to be losing it. He's very confused and my mom is afraid he's got dementia and she doesn't know what to do.  And, well, you know, there's a big game this afternoon and the Packers are 7 1/2 points underdogs.  So I'd really appreciate your help. Thanks. Bye."  The other guy then asks, "Who was that?" "God." "Well, what did God want?"  "Uh ... well ... I don't know."

Isn't that often the case in prayer? It can be pretty one-sided with us doing the talking and never really listening.

A good relationship requires good communication which involves listening.

In the first reading at Mass today (2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 1 Samuel 3: 3-10, 19) Samuel hears God speak but isn't listening.  It can happen that sometimes a person hears but doesn't listen because one's mind is a million miles away, focused on one's own agenda or concerns. Samuel hears but doesn't recognize who it is that is calling him because he is "not familiar with the Lord." Finally, on the third time, Eli, his spiritual director, understands that it's God who is calling Samuel and he instructs him to say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."  With these words, Samuel tunes in to God. He goes beyond hearing to listening and receiving God's word to him.

We all need to be like Samuel. We need quiet time and space in order to tune in to God, to listen. God speaks to us through the Scriptures.  God also speaks to us through the thoughts that arise in our hearts when we are engaged in good spiritual reading. In Chapter 4 of The Book of Her Life, St. Teresa of Avila wrote that during eighteen years of terrible dryness in prayer, she "never dared to begin prayer without a book," which she called "a partner or a shield by which to sustain the blows of my many thoughts."  "With a book," she writes, "I began to collect them, and my soul was drawn to recollection. And many times just opening the book was enough; at other times I read a little, and at others a great deal, according to the favor the Lord granted me."

Another way that we can listen to God is to prayerfully review our day asking what God was trying to tell us through its people and events. The Bible is the record of God's presence and activity in the lives of individuals and the community. Each of us could write our own record of God's activity in our lives, how God spoke to us through the people we met and challenged or blessed us through the events of the day.

Sometimes our prayer of listening is simply being in God's presence with nothing seemingly going on. In the Gospel (John 1: 35-42), Andrew responds to Jesus' question "What are you looking for?" with "Teacher, where are you staying?" He wants to be with Jesus. It is enough simply to be in his presence. Our contemporary culture's emphasis on productivity goes against this attitude of simply being.  Yet, when one truly loves another, words don't matter. It's enough to simply be in the presence of the beloved.  And how powerful it is to be in God's presence!  If the sun radiates with an energy that warms and burns, how much more the Creator of the sun!  It is enough to be in his Eucharistic presence and to receive the rays of his radiating and transforming love.

In his presence, Jesus reveals to us who we are.  When Jesus looked upon Andrew's brother "Simon the son of John," he saw him not only as he was but as he would become. He saw more than his impetuous nature which would declare in a single night that he would love him to the death and then would deny that he even knew him. He saw all of Simon's potential and he named it, telling Simon, "you will be called Cephas" or Peter.  Rock. The Rock on which he would build his Church (Matthew 16: 18).

The Scripture scholar William Barclay tells the story that the great artist Michelangelo was once working on a shapeless piece of marble.  A visitor asked him what he was doing.  He responded, "I am releasing the angel imprisoned in this marble."

Jesus, the Master Artist, looks at us in prayer and sees not only the present reality but also the future. He sees the potential that will be realized through the power of his grace at work in us, shaping and molding us like an artist.

If we persevere, stay close to Jesus, listen to him, and allow him to shape us through our prayer and the activities of our day, he will not, like Michelangelo, release a hidden angel, but a hidden saint. We will become holy as God is holy.  We will become whole, fully human and alive as Jesus was and is. All it takes is to stay close to the Lord and listen to him. He will do the rest.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

St. Francis of Assisi Church

 I am in Springfield, IL, at the Motherhouse of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis where I am helping direct some seminarians from Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis on their annual retreat.

While the weather has been desperately cold, I've stayed indoors where it is cozy and warm.  The Sisters run a retreat and conference center called Chiara Center.  The hospitality has been great.

One of the beauties of this retreat center is the church which clearly shows we are still in the Christmas Season.

This Nativity set is up yearlong and includes St. Francis who is credited with organizing the first living creche.

The church also includes a shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux which depicts various scenes from her life.

The Sisters ran a Tuberculosis Sanitarium here from 1919 to 1973.

St. Therese died of TB and so it was natural to create this shrine in the church and to ask her help for the patients as well as for the missionaries who left this Motherhouse and journeyed throughout the world.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mary's Motherhood and Ours

Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  There are many feasts that celebrate Mary. We recently celebrated her Immaculate Conception--that she was conceived without sin. In August we celebrate her Assumption--that at the end of her earthly life she was taken body and soul into heaven. Now, on the eighth day after Christmas, we celebrate her motherhood.

She is a mother unlike any other mother. First, she is a virgin mother.  Secondly, she is the mother of a child who is God.  Early theologians marvelled that the Creator of the universe, whom the world could not hold, was held in the womb and in the arms of Mary, a creature.

Early Christians were in awe of this and wondered how this could be. Some went so far as to say that while Mary could rightly be called the Mother of Christ she ought not be called the Mother of God. How can God, who is eternal, who has no beginning or end, have a mother who gives him a beginning in time?  The 5th Century Council of Ephesus declared that because Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man and because Mary gave birth to him, she can truly be called the Mother of God. This is a mystery beyond human comprehension.

The mystery continues. As Mother of Jesus Christ, Mary can also be said to be Mother of the Body of Christ, the Church. She is the Mother of all who are united to Jesus, the Head of the Body.

And there is more. We are called to share in the Motherhood of Mary.  Once, according to Matthew's Gospel (12: 26-50), when Jesus was busy teaching in a crowded house, Mary and some other close relatives came and asked to see Jesus.  He asked "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"  Then he pointed to his disciples and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." Whoever listens to the Word, as Mary did, and acts upon it by doing the will of God, is a mother who gives flesh to Jesus, the Word.

Recall that at the Annunciation Mary received the Word of God from the Angel Gabriel. Surrendering to the will of God for her, she conceived the Word in her womb.  Her Immaculate Heart received the Word who became flesh through her.

St. John Paul II, in his encyclical on the Eucharist, called Mary "the Woman of the Eucharist" and said that her "Fiat" or "Yes" to God allowed Jesus to take flesh within her. He said that something analogously happens when we receive the Word-made-flesh, the Body of Christ, in Holy Communion. Our "Amen" is like Mary's "Fiat." The Word takes flesh within us and transforms us. We become what we receive. We become, in Pope Benedict's words at World Youth Day 2005, "the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood."

On this day when we honor the Motherhood of Mary, we also celebrate the World Day of Peace. In a 1974 apostolic exhortation about Mary, Bl. Paul VI wrote about the connection between Mary's Motherhood and Peace: "This celebration ... is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. ... It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewed adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels, and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. For this reason ... we have instituted the World Day of Peace...."

As Mary gave flesh to Jesus, who is our Peace, so we, members of his Body, give flesh to peace.

Pope Francis' Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace is entitled "No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters." This comes from St. Paul's Letter to Philemon, a Christian who had a slave named Onesimus who had escaped and, after encountering Paul, was baptized. Paul wrote Philemon asking him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother Christian.  With this in mind, Pope Francis wrote about the terrible phenomenon of human trafficking and modern slavery. Though slavery is outlawed throughout the world, tens of millions of people of all ages find themselves victims of various forms of slavery including forced labor, the sex trade and arranged marriages, child soldiers and drug runners, and people held captive by terrorists.

Pope Francis writes: "Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object."  This is a sin against the sanctity of life. Persons, made in the image and likeness of God, are being treated as objects to be used for other people's gain or pleasure.  Such an objectification of the human person is a root cause of conflicts and war.

Pope Francis challenges all of us to view others as sacred, made in the image of God who sent his Son to live and die for them.  We are called to reverence life in a world that sees some human beings as garbage to be disposed of before birth and as burdens to be disposed of when they are no longer productive and become a drain on the economy.  Without such a reverence for the sanctity of human life, there will be no peace.

Peace begins here, in each individual heart, each family, each community.  As we receive the Word of Life, the Prince of Peace, and give flesh to him as members of his Body, we make peace a reality.