Friday, May 29, 2009

AoP Jesuits

I just returned from a meeting at St. Louis University of 25 Jesuits from around the country and of all ages who are interested in the spirituality and work of the Apostleship of Prayer.

We began on Tuesday evening with prayer and spiritual conversation about the role which the Sacred Heart of Jesus has played in our lives the past year. On Wednesday morning I gave a report on the past year’s activities of the AoP and then others reported on their activities related to the Apostleship: retreats, parish missions, student groups at universities. In the afternoon we discussed the role of the newly created position of Youth and Young Adult Director. On July 1 Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J., of the Maryland Province who was ordained in 2008, will fill this role. He will work to introduce the Eucharistic spirituality of the AoP to people ages 3 to 33. Fr. Hurley will also work in a special way with Jesuits at our high schools and universities. The group also discussed how the AoP could collaborate with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and with Jesuit schools that participate in the annual March for Life. Lastly, we talked about AoP involvement in the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid.

On Wednesday evening we met with Chuck Neff, a film producer and television and radio broadcaster who told his story of leaving the world of secular media to work for the Lord. After an inspiring account of the place of Divine Providence in his life, Mr. Neff talked about the role of the media in the new evangelization and gave practical advice about getting involved in the media, especially via the internet.

On Thursday morning Joe Laramie, S.J., a scholastic of the Missouri Province, led a discussion of a paper he wrote on the Eucharist and the martyrs of the early Church. A strong connection was made between the Eucharist and the spirituality of offering which is essential to Sacred Heart devotion and the AoP. This discussion was followed by a presentation by Fr. Ambrose Bennett, a Benedictine monk of St. Louis Priory, who spoke about St. Gertrude and the Sacred Heart, the subject of his licentiate thesis from San Anselmo Pontifical Institute in Rome. He also shared with the group his research on the connection between the Apostleship of Prayer and the traditional Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

The meeting wrapped up in the afternoon summarizing the work of the last two days and planning for the future. This is the third year in a row that a group of Jesuits has met to pray together and discuss their devotion to the Heart of Jesus and the continuing renewal of the AoP in the U.S.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wernersville, PA

I'm in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, about an hour west of Philadelphia. The Jesuit Spirituality Center where I'm staying used to be the Novitiate for the Maryland Province of the Jesuits. It's a beautiful location and I'm here giving a retreat to students and staff of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family Life, a Pontifical Institute that's part of Catholic University in Washington, DC.

After Mass today Michael, a seminarian of the Washington Archdiocese, introduced himself and after I told him I was director of the Apostleship of Prayer he told me that the reason he decided to make his retreat here was because of Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. Fr. Ciszek wrote "With God in Russia" and "He Leadeth Me", two books in which he related his experience of spending about twenty-three years in Soviet prisons, prison camps, and exile in Siberia. His cause for beatification has been introduced in Rome. Fr. Ciszek spent part of his Jesuit formation here in Wernersville, was part of the Apostleship of Prayer, and is buried in the Jesuit cemetery here.

Michael told me how to get to the cemetery and so I made a pilgrimage and, among the graves of many Jesuits whom I didn't know and some whom I did, I found his simple grave. I prayed. I thanked him for his perseverance and his witness, and for something he wrote in "He Leadeth Me":

"In prayer we speak to God, we ask his help, we seek his pardon or we promise amends, we thank him for favors received. But we cannot pray as if we were talking to the empty air; so in the very act of praying we unconsciously remind ourselves of the reality and presence of God, thereby strengthening our belief in him. And that is why, again in my opinion, the Morning Offering is still one of the best practices of prayer--no matter how old-fasioned some may think it. For in it, at the beginning of each day, we accept from God and offer back to him all the prayers, works, and sufferings of the day, and so serve to remind ourselves once again of his providence and his kingdom."

I prayed for Fr. Ciszek and to him, asking him to intercede for all those who are following his path of making a Morning Offering--all Apostles of Prayer.

As I was leaving I saw another grave with a name I recognized--Fr. Robert McAllistor, S.J. I never met him but he was the director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S. before my immediate predecessor. He kept the Apostleship going during the turbulent 70's and 80's when many Catholics had rejected devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and weren't interested in the Pope's monthly prayer intentions. I stopped at his grave as well and thanked him for all his hard work. I asked him to intercede for us now, to help in the revival of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S. I sense he smiled at my visit, and at seeing how the new technologies, like this blog, are allowing us to reach out to many more people and a new generation of Apostles.

God bless all who are "offering it up"!

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Holy Communion

Today's the anniversary of my First Holy Communion and I have to admit I'm surprised that I remember the date. And I am sorry to have to confess that I don't remember much about that day. I remember wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and blue tie. I remember sitting in the living room of our neighbors and having my picture taken. I remember a party with my family in a big hall afterwards. But I don't remember anything about what was most important. I have no memory of what it was like to receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time.

I think many people probably share this experience. Pope Benedict XVI doesn't. He remembers what it was like to receive our Lord for the first time. He talked about this when he met with a group of First Holy Communicants in October, 2005, during the final month of the Year of the Eucharist. Here's what he said:

"I remember my First Communion day very well. It was a lovely Sunday in March 1936, 69 years ago. It was a sunny day, the church looked very beautiful, there was music.... There were so many beautiful things that I remember. There were about 30 of us, boys and girls from my little village of no more than 500 inhabitants.

"But at the heart of my joyful and beautiful memories is this one...: I understood that Jesus had entered my heart, he had actually visited me. And with Jesus, God himself was with me. And I realized that this is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give.

"So on that day I was really filled with great joy, because Jesus came to me and I realized that a new stage in my life was beginning, I was 9 years old, and that it was henceforth important to stay faithful to that encounter, to that communion. I promised the Lord as best I could: "I always want to stay with you", and I prayed to him, "but above all, stay with me". So I went on living my life like that; thanks be to God, the Lord has always taken me by the hand and guided me, even in difficult situations.

"Thus, that day of my First Communion was the beginning of a journey made together. I hope that for all of you too, the First Communion you have received in this Year of the Eucharist will be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Jesus, the beginning of a journey together, because in walking with Jesus we do well and life becomes good."

I know I can't change the past. None of us can. But each of us has the present which leads into the future. My First Holy Communion wasn't a spiritual experience that I now remember. I didn't realize, as Pope Benedict did, that I had received "a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give." I cannot change that. But I can strive to make sure that when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ now, I do so with as much awareness and gratitude as possible.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Morning Offering

I'm a big fan of spiritual reading. In fact, I think spiritual reading can be part of an individual's prayer routine. Is it really prayer? To answer that, look at the life of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Laid up and recovering from a war wound, he began reading a book of brief biographies of saints. And, as they say, the rest is history. His thoughts and dreams for the future were transformed by what he read. He began imagining himself doing what the saints did. Surely this was "prayer." By means of this spiritual reading, St. Ignatius "listened" to the Holy Spirit speaking to him through what he read. The great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, once wrote that she never began her prayer without a good spiritual book nearby so that when she became distracted she would have something to draw her attention back to God.

What does all this have to do with the title of this piece, "The Morning Offering"? This is the subject of today's entry in a book of meditations by Fr. Francis Fernandez entitled "In Conversation with God." Here's part of what he wrote:

"Each day, in a certain sense, begins with a birth and ends with a death; each day is a life in miniature. In the final analysis, our journey through the world will have been holy and pleasing to God if we have tried to ensure that each day was pleasing to God, from sunrise to sunset. The same can be said for the night, because we offer that to God also. 'Today' is the only time we can offer to God. ...

"What we must sanctify is the present day. And how are we going to do that if we don't start by offering it to God? It is only those who don't know God and lukewarm Christians who start their day off in any old way. The Morning Offering is an act of piety which focuses the day properly from the outset, directing it towards God just as a compass points towards the north pole. Our Morning Offering disposes us to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to heed the many inspirations and graces he sends us throughout the day. ...

"Although we don't have to follow any particular formula when saying the Morning Offering, it's good to opt for some habitual way of living this practice of piety. Some people like to recite some simple prayer they learned as children or as adults. ...

"Offering everything we do to God helps us to do things better, to be more effective in our work, to be more cheerful in family life even though we may be tired, to get on better with everyone, to be better citizens.

"We can renew the offering of our work throughout the day; for example, when we are beginning a new task, or when we're finding the job we are at particularly difficult. Our Lord also accepts our tiredness, and when we offer it to him, then it too acquires redemptive value.

"Let us live each day as though it were the only day we had to offer to God, trying to do things well, and rectifying things when we do them badly. And one day it will be our last day, but we will have offered that day too to God our Father. Then, if we have tried to offer our life continually to God, we will hear Jesus say to us, as he said to the good thief: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 43).

Friday, May 8, 2009


A little over a week ago I was driving on the "Avenue of the Saints." That's what the signs along U.S. Highway 218 said for hundreds of miles. Why? It's the route between St. Paul, Minnesota and St. Louis, Missouri. As I drove I listened to a book on tape--"Poustinia" by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, an author, speaker, Russian emigrant to Canada, friend of Dorothy Day, and foundress of a movement called Madonna House. "Poustinia" is the Russian word for "desert," as in a deserted place to which one goes to pray. In our noisy, busy world we all need a place like this to which we can retreat. And we all need to carry a little bit of the quiet and sense of God's presence back with us into our busy lives.

As I drove and listened I heard something that made me think: "I need to remember what chapter this is from (Chapter 5) so that when I get back home I can look it up in my printed copy of the book." Here's what I heard:

"The world is cold. Someone must be on fire so that people can come and put their cold hands and feet against that fire. If anyone allows this to happen, but especially the poustinikki [desert-dweller, hermit, retreatant], then he will become a fireplace at which men can warm themselves. His rays will go out to the ends of the earth.

"The English word 'zeal' usually means intensity of action. A person is zealous about his farming or some crusade. But real zeal is standing still and letting God be a bonfire in you. It's not very easy to have God's fire within you. Only if you are possessed of true zeal will you be able to contain God's bonfire."

When I heard this passage I immediately thought of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is often pictured as surrounded by flames and which, in the Litany of the Sacred Heart, is called a "Burning Furnace of Charity." According to Luke's Gospel, Jesus said: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" Jesus came to set the world on fire with His love, the love that comes from His Heart, the love that is the Holy Spirit. From time to time we need to draw near to this "Burning Furnace of Charity" to warm ourselves so that we can bring warmth into a hard and cold world.

Monday, May 4, 2009

St. Jose Maria Rubio, S.J.

St. Jose Maria Rubio is not in the universal calendar of the Church but today my community, the Society of Jesus, honor his memory. He's known as the "Apostle of Madrid" and the "Father of the Poor," and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2003. After serving for nineteen years as a diocesan priest he entered the Jesuits and, after his formation, spent the rest of his life in Madrid where he preached, gave spiritual direction, heard confessions, and exhibited a special love for the poor and abandoned of that city. He died in 1929.

One of the great signs of the Holy Spirit in our day is how popular Eucharistic Adoration and Perpetual Adoration Chapels have become. Yet many people wonder what to do when they go before the Blessed Sacrament for an extended period of time. There, in the Holy Eucharist, we meet the Sacred Heart of Jesus and can have a heart to Heart talk with Him. We can adore Him and listen to Him in the silence of our hearts. If we have nothing to say and if we sense the Lord saying nothing to us, it is enough to simply be in the presence of the Beloved. Here is something from St. Jose Maria Rubio that may be helpful:

Are you truly making an effort to adore God? In this Sacred Host lies the whole of His omnipotence, all His wisdom, the perfect goodness of Jesus Christ, since therein rests His living heart as it is also in heaven. When we adore in this way, we adore in spirit and in truth.

But after we have adored, the heart must be open to the other sentiments; for you well know that we are taught a diversity of forms of adoration in the Gospels; and we express them sometimes by profound acts of bodily reverence, sometimes by silence of the mind. From time to time, we also link with this type of adoration, tears, groans, and sighs; or words, expressions of interior feelings, prayers accompany the same. All these forms of adoration before Jesus hidden in the sacrament are so powerful that there are times when the spirit can do nothing better than bow low in Jesus' presence.

Someone asks me: "What am I to do if I can think of nothing to say?" It is enough if you show reverence and hope. "But I am unable to say anything." I ask you not to be sad on that account; the very silence suffices. However great your experience of a heart which is dried up and empty, and for all that you may be very aware of its trials and confusion, fear not; continue your act of adoration; for that is enough, and it is to be considered a splendid deed in God's eyes. If subsequently, however, a thankful feeling of the soul towards God is aroused, if you desire to endure some greater sacrifices for His sake, foster those sentiments which the Holy Spirit is arousing in you, and offer them as a bouquet in Jesus presence. And would that this were the chief and daily form of our prayer.