Thursday, September 8, 2016

ECHO: A Pilgrimage through the US Catholic Catechism for Adults

Bishop Donald Hying and the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, together with Ahava Productions, is producing a magnificent film series called ECHO that will introduce viewers to the  US Catholic Catechism for Adults  and bring a greater understanding of what the Church believes and teaches to those who participate in this project.

From the Ahava Productions website:  "Pilgrimage with Bishop Donald Hying as he leads us through the US Catholic Catechism for Adults.  Once a week, you will be sent, via email, the latest ECHO video with chapter reading, and reflection questions from the US Catholic Catechism for Adults.  Prior to the beginning of this series, you will need the US Catholic Catechism for Adults.  To view a free online copy of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults visit the USCCB website."

Those who register for this free program will receive a weekly email with the latest short film coinciding with a chapter of the Catechism.  Once you watch the film, you follow up with further reading of the Catechism.  When the series is complete you will have a better understanding of the US Catholic Catechism for Adults with the guidance of Bishop Hying.

These films are artisticly beautiful and moving.   The team at Ahava Productions does a magnificent job of showcasing our faith and teaching valuable lessons.  Your life is sure to be forever changed and your faith deepened through the ECHO series.

Sign up here to receive the free ECHO film series via email.  The first email will be sent on Wednesday, September 14th and will conclude on Wednesday, May 31st.  Don't miss a single film! Sign up today!

While visiting the Ahava Productions website be sure to view their other magnificent films of faith.  You will be greatly inspired and hungry for more!

ECHO PROMO from Ahava Productions on Vimeo.


“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.”


Recently, as a penance, a priest in confession told me to pray and meditate upon Mary's Magnificat of praise.  On the occasion of her birthday, my thoughts return to that gorgeous prayer...

In the scriptures Mary is nearly always moving-going in haste to visit Elizabeth, traveling to Bethlehem where she’ll give birth to the Lord, fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod, searching for Jesus in Jerusalem.  Her Magnificat is also a prayer of movement.  In it she moves from gratitude, to praise, to reflection upon God’s treatment of the proud and humble, and finally ending with the reminder that God keeps his promises.  Fr. John Hardon, SJ notes that throughout the Magnificat the stress is always on God.  In other words,  Mary leads us to Jesus, she moves toward Him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Magnificat is both a prayer of the Mother of God and of the Church, that is, each one of us.  Mary teaches us that the Church is called to sing praise to God in all situations and when we praise God, joy will follow. Because the Magnificat is a prayer of the entire Church it's good for us to remember that when praying this ancient prayer our Mother brings us to God and we acknowledge that the Lord has done great things for us, too, and Holy is His Name.  

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

In His Shadow

Each morning I sit beneath the crucifix and observe the shadow it casts upon the wall. 
The shadow spreads beyond the crucifix and appears larger than the crucifix itself. 
The shadow is an example for me. 
I myself must remain small, but the good I do should extend beyond my little life 
and fill the world around me with the largeness of Christ's love. 
Lord, help this to be so.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sacred Heart of Jesus and Divine Mercy

I've been on a roll recently with reviewing my notes from great talks that I've had an opportunity to hear and then typing them up to share here on this blog.  This is the last of my notes and it's very fitting reading for the Feast of The Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Not only is the topic on The Sacred Heart, but the source is well known for his own personal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and for sharing and encouraging that devotion in others.  What follows are the notes taken from Fr. James Kubicki's Lenten Day of Reflection for Catholics United for the Faith (CUF).

Sacred Heart of Jesus and Divine Mercy by Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer

Some people may wonder if the Divine Mercy image replaces the Sacred Heart image.  The Heart of Jesus is both merciful and loving.  The two devotions go together.  Saint John Paul II said, “Between the first and second world wars Christ entrusted the message of mercy to St. Faustina.  Those who remember know how necessary was the message of mercy.”  “During the most merciless century Jesus appeared with this message:  Jesus told Faustina that humanity will not find peace until it turns trustingly to Divine Mercy.”  How true those words are today and how much more do we need to hear them!

Saint John Paul continues: “Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the Heart of Christ crucified.  On Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared to the apostles he showed his hands and side.  He points to the wounds of passion, especially the wound of his Heart.”

In the image of Divine Mercy, the two rays represent blood and water-this comes right from scripture as the eye witness observed the soldier pierce the side of Christ and out came blood and water.  The water is the clear pericardial fluid of the heart.

St. Faustina had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  In her diary she quotes Jesus as saying, “I have opened my heart as a living fountain of mercy.  My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world.  For you I allowed myself to be nailed to a cross.  For you I allowed my Sacred Heart to be pierced.”

His Sacred Heart is present in the tabernacle; he remains present to us.  The Divine Mercy and Sacred Heart are so closely bound up and are inseparable because Jesus has only one heart.  When we approach these devotions the differences between these are ones of emphasis springing from the same heart.  If you’re devoted to Divine Mercy you are also devoted to the Sacred Heart. 

Jesus told St. Faustina, “My divine heart is so passionately fond of the human race that it cannot keep back its charity.  It must be released through you.”

Jesus has indescribable wonders of his pure love for humanity.  Again he tells St. Faustina, “All my eager efforts of their welfare meet with coldness.  Tell aching humanity to snuggle close to my heart and I will fill it with peace.  Oh how painful it is to me that souls so seldom unite themselves to me in Holy Communion.” 

Statistics show that Mass attendance has gone down.  People say, “I don’t get anything out of Mass,” but they don’t know what the Mass is all about.  We need to pray that our faith will increase.
The Holy Trinity is the great mystery of our faith.  The nature of love is to want to share love.  God created human beings in his own image and likeness.  Love has to be free.  You can’t put a gun to someone’s head and say, “Now love me.”  God never does that.  He always invites our love and tries to attract our love.  We have at times rejected God’s loving plan and that’s sin.  So God sent his son to save us.

In Saint Pope John Paul’s Mercy Encyclical he says, “The Church seems in a particular way to profess the mercy of God when she directs herself to the heart of Christ.  Mercy is the most stupendous attribute of the creator and the redeemer.”

His heart is also present in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  God is infinite, there is no limit to his love and mercy.  No human sin can prevail over the power of his mercy.  When we don’t go to confession or carry our old sins long after they’ve been forgiven, we limit God’s mercy. 
There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.  Saint Francis de Sales reminds us that the sun shines on the flowers in the garden with equal intensity.  Saint Pope John Paul tells us that “only a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent on our part can limit God’s mercy.”  We may come to him with a thimble or with our whole self.  God is always ready to give us his love and mercy but we have to admit that we need it.

Mercy is like a good river-it’s only pure as long as it flows.  When the Jordan River meets the Dead Sea it stops and stagnates.  We are called to let mercy flow through us into the world.
When we sin we make an Act of Contrition and then go through the Church for Sacraments.  Christ is the head and we are the body-we can’t have a body without a head.  The two go together.  Jesus is present in the Church forgiving sins.  We need to hear and accept God’s forgiveness.  The only way our sins are retained is if we don’t give them to the Lord.  James writes, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”

There is a communal dimension to our lives.  We are part of a body.  We can’t just say it’s enough for me to go to God.  We go through the Church.  We meet Jesus through the priest.  I think the greatest joy that Jesus had was in forgiving sins even more than physical healing.  Jesus’ priority was that it was more important to heal a man deep down.  Physical healings are nice but they don’t last.  Ultimately our bodies weaken and die.  Try to see confession from Jesus’ perspective.  We approach the Sacrament ashamed and afraid but we give Jesus the opportunity to forgive us and heal us spiritually.

Jesus told St. Faustina that confession is a fountain of his mercy.  Blood and water flow from his soul and ennobles the Sacrament.  Pope Francis says that confession is not like going to the dry cleaners.  Our sins are more than stains; they are wounds that need healing.  When you go to confession, think of the great joy you give to Jesus as you give him your sins and allow him to heal you.

Some people say, “What’s the point?  I only confess the same sins over and over again.”  Our sins are just like any habit that we fall into.  Jesus isn’t looking for you to get new sins.  He knows our habits but he wants to take those sins off our conscience and heal us.

Other people say, “Why am I here?  I don’t have any sins.  I don’t know what to confess.” When people go to confession frequently it’s not because they are bigger sinners than the rest of us but because they are more in love with the Lord.  All great saints seem to have so many sins not because they are great sinners but because they are great lovers.  They are sin-sensitive.

Love doesn’t ask for the minimum requirement.  The measure of our love depends on how deeply aware we are of God’s love for us.  Having received mercy in confession we go forth and live our faith.  One of the great works of mercy is to pray for the conversion of sinners, to pray for people who are dead in their sins, who don’t know the mercy of God.  God’s mercy is always there ready to be given.

Last year on Divine Mercy Sunday Pope Francis talked about the need for mercy.  We can feel crushed asking ourselves why humanity’s evil can appear as an abyss empty of life.  How can we fill it?  For us, it’s impossible.  Only God can do it.  When Jesus died on the cross he filled the abyss with the depth of his mercy.  But to receive mercy there has to be conversion.

St. Leopold, a renowned confessor along with St. Pio, was once criticized for being too easy in the confessional.  He replied, “Is it I who is too generous?  I didn’t die for you.  Jesus is the one who is too generous in dying for you.  I am just giving you the mercy he won for you!”

Pope Francis says “May the message of mercy reach everyone and may no one be indifferent to this call.  It is given even more fervently to those whose behavior distances them from God’s grace.  Sooner or later everyone will be subjected to God’s judgment from which no one can escape.  Are we ready?  We pray that all people will be ready.”  God doesn’t send people to hell, people choose it.  It’s their own decision.  The world has to freely accept God’s love.  Eternal damnation is not God’s initiative because God only desires our salvation.  In reality it’s the creature who closes himself to God’s love.

We are called to pray for the conversion of sinners.  This was Mary’s message at Lourdes and Fatima.  It’s Jesus message to St. Faustina as well.  “Pray for souls that they be not afraid to approach the tribunal of my mercy.  You always console me when you pray for sinners.”

What are the greatest obstacles to holiness?  Jesus told St. Faustina, “My child, know that the greatest are discouragement and an exaggerated anxiety.  Have confidence; do not lose heart in coming for pardon because I am always ready to forgive you.”

Jesus desires that we trust in his love and mercy and then we can better share that mercy with the world.  Jesus showed St. Faustina that we can help repair the damage of sin.  We can use our sufferings to offer reparation to God.  As members of the Body of Christ stay close and united to the Heart of Jesus.  We need our hearts to be transformed.

St. Faustina’s diary says: “When a soul approaches me with trust I fill it with such an abundance of mercy that radiates to others. And St. Faustina prayed:  “Most sweet Jesus, set on fire my love for you and transform me into yourself. Divinize me that my deeds may be pleasing to you.  May this be accomplished by the Holy Communion I receive daily.  I want to be transformed into you.”  This is very much like Galatians:  “Now I live not I but Christ lives in me.”
Extending forgiveness begins in the heart.  Fr. Lawrence Jenco, a Servite priest who was the director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut in 1985 was held hostage for 594 days.  He wrote a book called, Bound to Forgive in which he writes about a man that tortured him: “Toward the end of my captivity one of my guards, a man named Sayeed who had at times brutalized me, sat down on my mat with me. He had recently started calling me 'Abouna,' an Arabic name meaning 'dear father.' At first I was Jenco, then Lawrence, then Abouna, indicating by the choice of names and tone of voice that a change of heart was taking place. He asked me if I remembered the first six months of my captivity. I responded 'Yes, Sayeed. I remember all the pain and suffering you caused me and my brothers.' Then he asked 'Abouna, do you forgive me?'

These quietly spoken words overwhelmed me. As I sat blindfolded, unable to see the man who had been my enemy, I understood I was called to forgive, to let go of revenge, retaliation, and vindictiveness.

And I was challenged to forgive him unconditionally. I could not forgive him on the condition that he change his behavior to conform to my wishes or values. I had no control over his response. I understood I was to say yes.

I said: 'Sayeed, there were times I hated you. I was filled with anger and revenge for what you did to me and my brothers. But Jesus said on the mountain top that I was not to hate you. I was to love you. Sayeed, I need to ask God's forgiveness and yours.'”*

There are many people we won’t like or we’ll disagree with but we’ll have to love and forgive them.  In Mass, Jesus offers himself to the Father for the salvation of souls.  What the head has done, we are now called to join.  When we leave Mass we are empowered to live that mercy in our daily lives.  When we meet our judge face to face nothing will hold us back.  

*The full quote from Fr. Jenko was taken from Fr. Jim's Offer It Up blog.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Give Me a Word: Wisdom from Desert Monks

The de Chantal Society, "a group of women passionate about praying for vocations and for families in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, gathers three times per year at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary for eucharistic adoration and spiritual formation." Last spring, during Lent, Fr. Tom DeVries addressed the de Chantal Society with an inspiring talk on humility, sin and hope based upon wisdom learned from the desert monks.  Fr. Tom is a great speaker,  and at first I was so focused on listening to him that I didn't think to take notes on what he was saying, so the first section on humility is a little scant as I didn't completely catch all of what he said. Most interesting to me is the Mystery of Sin.  As one who usually beats herself up over sins and mistakes, I had never before considered the fact that our sins could be the beginning of our salvation.  Although these notes are from a Lenten talk and are not complete, the knowledge they contain can be useful to us at any time of year.

Give Me a Word:  Wisdom from Desert Monks
A Talk by Fr. Tom DeVries

The Necessity of Humility

Without God I am nothing, can do nothing.  Humility is being plunged into God.  Without temptations no person can be saved.  With temptations we realize how weak we are and we know without grace we cannot be saved.  We must lose at something, be brought to the edge of all of our resources and realize we can’t control, fix, explain or even understand some of the things that happen to us.  Do not be afraid of failure.  It’s required for us if God will exalt us.  We don’t exalt ourselves; God does.

Realize we are not self-sufficient.  Only God’s grace gets us through.  Then we come to the important place where we say “God, I surrender to your grace.”  I can agree in my head, but it’s hard in my life to get to those places.  God will keep drawing me to the end of my resources.

The Mystery of Sin

The Ambrosian Rite of the Church which was begun by St. Ambrose and is still celebrated today around Milan, Italy, has a prayer for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time that helps us to understand the mystery of sin:  “Lord, you bent down over our wounds and healed us giving us a medicine.  In this way, even sin, by virtue of Your invincible love, served to elevate us to divine life.”  This is echoed in Romans-Paul says where sin increases grace abounds all the more.  There is a mystery to sin, a paradox.   It separates us from God but it’s precisely the route He uses to have us come back to Him.  If we’re honest it’s really our sin that keeps us coming back to God.  We may think we have failed or we are so wounded but it doesn’t stop God’s mercy.  God will use everything to bring us back to Him.

Everything I had deplored about my life was precisely how God kept pulling me back.  I realized what a grace it was that I even became grateful for my sin. 

It sounds heretical but we sing about it at Easter when we call the sin of Adam a Happy Fault.  Even when I was turning away from You, You were more powerful and were drawing me back to You.
We base salvation upon woundedness to level the playing field where everyone has access to God.
Julian of Norwich said:  “Our wounds are our very trophies.  They are the holes in the soul where light breaks through.”  Leonard Cohen, in the song Anthem says, “Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything.  That is how the light gets in.”

The Mystery of Sin follows on the heels of our understanding of humility but it takes it one more step.  God uses sin to draw close to us.  Julian of Norwich tells us that both the first fall and the recovery from the fall are the mercy of God.  In falling down we learn almost everything that matters spiritually.  All of the things that are achievements feed our ego too much.  There are things we keep so secret because they are just horrible, but if we own that one day we will even see our sin as our trophy.  It is falling upwards.

We often have a hate relationship with the faults, wounds and failures of our lives but take heart; God will use it and we’ll be able to thank God for the circuitous route and for all of our sins because God never left you and He used your failure as the route to Him.  People who don’t get close to God never admit their sin and their failure.

Make a chart of your own life-the ups, downs, failures, wounds, great times and bad times.  Realize in the woundedness and failure that you learn most about your spiritual life.  Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.

The Challenge of Hope

Julian of Norwich says “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” St. Paul tells us that “Hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”  St. Matthew says, “Behold!  I am with you always even until the end of the age.”

Christian hope is ultimate hope when we know what our destiny is meant to be and that’s why we can go through humility and sin because God is using it all to lead us beyond this world.
Transitory vanities won’t furnish us with our deepest longings.  We are eternal and hope is ultimate and it’s God.  St. Benedict tells us that the present, even if it’s arduous, can be accepted if it leads the way to a goal and the goal is God himself.

There is a difference between wishes and hope.  Wishes are temporal and hope is eternal.  Optimism is the expectation that things will get better but hope is a trust that will lead us to true freedom.  Hope is based upon God’s promise.

We shouldn’t lose the virtue of hope in our world today.  We look at the near future and we can get pretty depressed, but we should not ever, ever, ever be people who have a message of despair.

Hope is for the long road and we need to believe in God’s promise.  Presumption and despair are sins against hope.  We don’t want to wait; we don’t want to live through difficult times.  But as Julian of Norwich reminds us “The Lord did not say you shall not be tempest tossed but he did say you shall not be overcome.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Live Our Faith

Last fall I had the pleasure of attending a morning breakfast and talk hosted by Cardinal Stritch College with Bishop Donald Hying, the bishop of Gary, Indiana, as the speaker.  I took notes on his excellent talk and only now re-discovered them. What follows are the main points of his talk.

How to Live Our Faith a talk by Bishop Donald Hying

What does it mean to really live the Gospel and Catholic faith with authenticity?  The ideal seems so high.  How do I put that practice into my life?

The mission of the Church is found at the end of the Gospel when the disciples are told to make disciples of all nations.  There is no detailed plan, just a general instruction that we are called and sent.  In the words of Cardinal Dolan, Jesus says, "Come here" and then says "Go forth."  Jesus is calling us to him and then sending us out.  The Church is always on the move.  The Catechism tells us that the laity are called to sanctify the world, to make the world holy and to remind it of its fundamental purpose.

What does it mean for us to make the world holy?  This begs the question, what does holiness mean? The original Hebrew word for holy is "different'.  When we say "holy, holy, holy" at Mass we're really saying "different, different, different."  We are called to make and be that difference in the world.

Our whole identity is summed up in the great commandment, "Hear O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself."  We exist to fall head over heels in love with God because He is head over heels in love with us.

When two people are in love with each other it completely changes how they spend their time.  Think about the anointing at Bethany.  Mary spends three-hundred days wages to buy aromatic nard and she wastes it, breaks it open.  That's the extravagance of a soul that is head over heels in love with God.  Contrast that with Judas who was asking why that money was wasted.  Mary is a maximalist.  When we're in love we don't count the cost.  Judas is a minimalist.   If we practice of our faith as a romance between God and us then we are well on the way to living our faith in the world.

When I was first ordained a bishop I went to Rome for Baby Bishop School where the basic message was that as a bishop you're responsible for everything.  I met a new bishop from Europe who described a bleak situation in his country with a steep decline in Catholics, very few priests and no seminarians.  When I asked him what he was going to do about it he said that he was going to go back to Pentecost and drink deeply of the Holy Spirit and introduce people to Jesus as if they never met Him before.

I'm obsessed with Pentecost, the birth of the Church.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended.  What happened?  Did the apostles hair catch on fire?  Did they get thrown against the wall?  All we know is that the experience completely changed them.  Before they were frightened and now they are courageous.  Three-thousand people
 were baptized in a day!  When I think of that moment and compare it to this moment I know that we are called to reclaim the Church.

During the Protestant Reformation the Church built walls, retreated from the world, entrenched itself. In doing so we lost some of the urgency of the mission.  The Church is not a gas station where we service the people who show up.  There are one hundred people in Gary who are convinced that I'm going to be murdered at the Cathedral because it's in such a rough neighborhood.  But where else should I be?  Where else should the Church be?

We're all baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  How many realize that you are priests?  The ordained priesthood only exists to serve the laity who at baptism entered into the priesthood.  The ordained priest connects us to God and leads us to the love of the Lord.  The laity may be the only Christ that someone ever meets.

The spirituality of St. Francis de Sales tells us that by the virtue of our baptism every single person is called to holiness. It's absurd to think that the mother of five living in the world will practice the same spirituality as a cloistered nun.  There are unique distinctions between vocations.  Because we are who we are we will have a unique experience of God.  Our obligation is to share that unique facet, to add our piece of the mosaic to the picture of life.

There's nothing wrong with teaching people a method of prayer.  Prayer should be consistent and daily.  If we begin the day in silence with prayer and meditate deeply into the heart of the Lord, the rest of the day will unfold perfectly.  When we pray every day in silence we are so connected to the Lord that nothing can shake us.  Yet there are still days that I don't pray as I should.  We all struggle with prayer.  The point is to never give up, to ask ourselves how can I improve?

We're called to a radical generosity.  Everything we've been given is a gift from God.  During my time in the Dominican Republic I befriended a very poor family.  They had a small house with one chair and one chicken.  One night after visiting with them and watching the stars together they gave me their only chicken to take home with me.  I tried to refuse several times but then realized that if I didn't accept their gift of their only chicken I would be insulting them.  So there I was driving down a bumpy road with a chicken bouncing along next to me.  The Sacramental event is Christ giving us the chicken.  He gives Himself away in love, kenosis and self-giving.  God is more humble than we are.

There is an urgency to evangelization for us today.  Every active Catholic should be busy cultivating one or two people.  We can do this by turning ourselves inside out, letting people see our soul, not to say "look at me" but "look at Jesus."  We need disciples who realize that they are called as claiming their vocation in the Church, as being formed, realize that we are being sent.  Translate talk into action.  What we are doing is meaningful!

It all comes down to falling in love with God and to realizing that God is in love with us.  When we make ourselves available, God is going to use us.  Realize the shortness and brevity of our lives. Death becomes a frame around our lives.  Compared to eternity life is a twinkling of the eye.  We're going to be alive forever in eternity with or without God.  The drama of our lives is in the short amount of time that we have to do what we are called to do.  In twelve minutes we will be standing at the judgement seat and God will ask us "What did you do with your life?"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

To Honor Our Mother

The beautiful tradition of honoring the Blessed Mother during the month of May has been carried out with a May Crowning and Eucharistic Rosary Procession by Milwaukee's Roses for Our Lady for the past 36 years.  This year on the day of the May Crowning the group was blessed with beautiful weather and the presence of Archbishop Listecki and four Milwaukee priests, we were treated to beautiful singing by the Andress and Urlakis sisters, we were delighted by many reverent First Communicants and were joined by many religious and laity.  What a beautiful day and wonderful way to spend Mother's Day honoring Our Blessed Mother!

Here are images and video of Roses for Our Lady's 36th Annual May Crowning and Outdoor Eucharistic Rosary Procession held on Mother's Day, May 8th, 2016 at the Archdiocesan Marian Shrine in Milwaukee.  Photo credits to Mary Anne Urlakis, Terry Boldin, Jazmin Trujillo and Mary Bender.  Video credit to Sylvester Markowski.  You may view the videos here and here or at the bottom of this post.