Early this week I commuted between Milwaukee and Kenosha to give a parish mission at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The theme of the mission was the Sacred Heart and how we encounter the Heart of Jesus at Mass in the Liturgy of the Word and in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
On Saturday I attended the Men of Christ conference in Milwaukee. Before leading a blessing for fathers to pray over their sons and an individual consecration prayer, I said the following:
After leading the Israelites into the promised land, Joshua said to the people: "Fear the lord and serve him completely and sincerely. ... If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.... As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24: 14-15). In 1979 Bob Dylan came out with the song "Gotta Serve Somebody" which won for him the best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. What he sang is true. Everyone has to serve. The question is whom or what? Which side are you on?
Admiral Jeremiah Denton knew the one he served and the one he served did not let him down. He served the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You can see a video of him that is in the national archives. Just click on "Contents" and scroll down to the last entry under "Scenes from Hell." He was shot down over North Vietnam on July 18, 1965 and wasn't released until February 17, 1973. Of his almost eight years in prison, he spent four of them in solitary confinement. The video shows him being interviewed by a reporter in North Vietnam. All during the interview he blinked his eyes in a way that seemed strange to those who later saw the footage. His blinks were Morse Code and spelled out the word "torture."
How did Admiral Denton survive? Fr. Jim Willig, in his book about his struggle with cancer, "Lessons from the School of Suffering," quoted Admiral Denton :
When I was in prison in Vietnam in solitary confinement, my captor would continually torture me. One day I was tied to a rack. A young soldier was ordered to torture me and break me. During this torture, when I honestly felt I was at my breaking point, a beautiful prayer came instantly to my mind, even though I wasn't praying. The prayer was "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give my life to you." So, I prayed that prayer over and over again. The more I prayed it, the more I felt I truly was giving my life to the Lord. Then this peace came over me like a warm blanket, and I no longer felt pain--only peace. The soldier torturing me saw this transformation in my face and stopped his torture. He went to his commanding officer and said, "I'm sorry. I can't do this." And they let me go back to my cell. From that day on, I continued to use that prayer of peace, "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give my life to you."
I talked with Admiral Denton about this and he said that what struck him as unusual is that he had learned prayers to the Sacred Heart as a child and they all used the word "thee," but the prayer that came to his mind out of the blue used the more familiar "you."
Admiral Denton gave his life to the Sacred Heart who did not let him down. Now we will declare whom we will serve. We will give our lives, our love, our all to the Sacred Heart of Jesus who gave His life, His love, His all to us. We will consecrate ourselves to both the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary because these two Hearts beat as one for the salvation of everyone. We want our hearts to beat as one with their Hearts.
Then, I led the 2,500 to 3,000 men who had gathered in the following prayer which Douglas Leonard, the director of operations and development of the Apostleship of Prayer, had written for the occasion.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I consecrate myself to you today in grateful response to your love for me. I offer you my body, soul, mind, and heart. Receive me and send your Holy Spirit to guide me in the way of perfect love.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, you stood under the cross and shared in the sufferings of Jesus and his perfect act of consecration for my salvation and that of the whole world. Jesus gave you to us to be our mother. Pray that my heart, like your Immaculate Heart, may beat as one with the Sacred Heart of your Son.
Jesus and Mary, as I consecrate myself to you two Hearts, I pray for those you have given me-my family, my friends, and all the people in my life. May we be united in the family of the Church and share in the mission of bringing the Gospel to every human being. And lead us all safely home to live forever in the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.