Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Respect for Elders

I'm on the road these days and have not had much time to write. I'm in Cascade, Iowa, a town of 2,000 that is only 20 minutes from Dubuque. At one time Cascade had two Catholic churches, St. Patrick's founded in 1840 and St. Matthias founded in 1848. One was for the Irish and one was for the Germans. Now the parishes are combined and I am in the middle of a 40 Hours Devotion with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and talks on the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist. Last summer Fr. Douglas Loecke invited me to come here after he read my book "A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus." 

Before coming here I was in Burlington, Iowa where I spoke in all the Catholic grade school classes on Valentine's Day. Naturally I spoke about a Heart that shows us the truest and deepest love that has ever existed.  I also spoke to an assembly of middle and high school students in the gym.  I was invited to Burlington by Mark Knutsen, someone I had on retreat at Bellarmine Retreat House in Barrington, IL last fall.  The local Knights of Columbus Council 568 hosted me for a supper Friday night and I gave two talks Saturday morning. 

When I met with the children on Friday I talked to them about having a heart like the Heart of Jesus, a heart that goes out to other people with love. I told them that one way our hearts can go out to others is through prayer. Then I shared with them the idea of praying for Pope Francis' monthly prayer intentions and, using the "smart board" in every classroom, I showed them the Kids' Page on our website. They laughed at the photo we have for this month's Universal Intention. We are praying for our seniors or elders. I showed them the activity page which can be printed up and which gives them the opportunity to reach out to an older person to say that they are thinking about him or her.

My good friend, Anne Bender, has a wonderful reflection on her blog "Imprisoned in These Bones" about the joys and struggles of helping our elders.  Many of the people coming to the evening talks that I am giving in Cascade are older people who are making the effort to come out in the snow and the cold. They have been the pillars of the Church in rural communities like this and have passed the faith on to future generations that continue to fill the churches here.  May God reward them for their faithfulness!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

St. Claude and a True Heart

This time of year stores are festooned with red and pink and hearts of every kind on displays and cards and boxes of candy for one’s sweetheart. We are preparing to celebrate romance: Valentine’s Day. And of course there is nothing wrong with romantic love.

Less commercial and more meaningful is the feast that follows Valentine’s Day, that of French Jesuit St. Claude Colombiere (1641-1682), known especially for being the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary, the Visitation nun to whom Jesus appeared and revealed his Sacred Heart. Thus the celebration of romantic love, which can wax and wane, is followed by the celebration of a man who has helped us to know the Heart of Love itself. The Church honors St. Claude Colombiere on February 15, though his feast is not in most liturgical calendars.

Scholars disagree about why the rapidly rising Fr. Colombiere was appointed rector of a small, remote Jesuit community in Paray-le-Monial where he would also serve as confessor to a community of Visitation nuns. The Vatican website says: “Not a few people wondered at this assignment of a talented young Jesuit to such an out-of the-way place as Paray. The explanation seems to be in the superiors' knowledge that there was in Paray an unpretentious religious of the Monastery of the Visitation, Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom the Lord was revealing the treasures of his Heart, but who was overcome by anguish and uncertainty. She was waiting for the Lord to fulfill his promise and send her "my faithful servant and perfect friend" to help her realize the mission for which he had destined her: that of revealing to the world the unfathomable riches of his love.”
I don’t find this explanation satisfactory. I believe St. Margaret Mary’s visions were at this time unknown outside her monastery. I prefer to think that Providence worked in a more amazing way, confirming the saying, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” St. Claude’s story helps me surrender to God’s holy Providence when things seem to be going against me. Let’s look at that story more closely.
Earlier, during his theological studies as a seminarian in Paris, Claude had been chosen, at the request of Jean Baptiste Colbert, the powerful finance minister of France, to be the private tutor of his two teenage sons. Apparently, Colbert had heard that Claude was a gifted Jesuit whose sermons showed his potential for becoming a great orator. And so Claude was missioned to this sensitive position in the court of King Louis XIV.
All went well with the appointment until Colbert walked into the room where Claude tutored his sons. There, on a piece of paper amid the open books, was an epigram: “Colbert has gotten out of the mud /And fears to fall back with a thud.”  Colbert, furious, fired Claude on the spot, though the origin of the epigram was never determined. This account and translation comes from Ruth Lavigne’s The Life of Saint Claude De La Colombiere: Spiritual Director of St. Margaret Mary.
After this, it seems no accident that Claude was never really in the French spotlight again. He was chosen for another sensitive mission, spiritual director for the French Catholic Duchess of York in Protestant England, but he never became the great preacher in the French Church that many thought he would become. Instead, he accepted the humble assignment as spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary. In that role, he affirmed that her visions were authentic. We cannot know the heart of a man, but it appears from his writings that, while he was tempted by pride and vain glory when preaching in front of large crowds, his work in Paray-le-Monial held no such temptation.
God took Claude’s failure and disgrace and turned it into a greater good. I doubt whether Claude would have been sent to Paray-le-Monial if the incident with Colbert had not occurred. I believe this is an instance where God’s will was done in ways that were not evident to anyone at the time, not even to Claude.
I hope to find out more about this story this summer. I’ll be going to France as chaplain on a Sacred Heart pilgrimage. We will be at Paray-le-Monial for the Feast of the Sacred Heart on June 27. For more information about this pilgrimage see Mater Dei Tours.