Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Prayer Pierces the Heavens

The readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C continue the theme of prayer.  In the first reading (Sirach 35: 12-14, 16-18) we read: “The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds….”

From time to time I’ve been asked, “What’s the point of praying? If God know everything and even knows what is in our hearts before we put words to our concerns and desires, what’s the point of praying? 

Our world is obsessed with action.  We tend to think of prayer as a last resort.  When practical action appears to be impossible we say, “Well, I guess I’ll just pray.”  “Just!?”  Is prayer a last resort rather than the first?

There is a line attributed to both St. Augustine and to St. Ignatius Loyola.  While the former may have written it, the latter, I’m told by the Jesuit historian Fr. John Padberg, did not.  In fact, St. Ignatius probably reversed the order of the saying.

The saying goes: “Pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends on you.” 

It is good to recognize when we pray that the Holy Spirit is the one who prays within us (see Romans 8: 26-27).  And it is good to work hard.  But the reverse of the saying—“Pray as though everything depended on you and work as though everything depended on God”—makes more sense. 

In other words, we should put time, effort, and energy into our prayer, praying as though it’s up to us but knowing that grace is always a gift.  And we should work in such a way that we leave the results to God rather than thinking that our sheer effort will accomplish things. 

This is where the Gospel (Luke: 18: 9-14) comes in.  The Pharisee congratulates himself on his works and goes away unjustified, while the tax collector prays with humility and is said to go away justified.  The key, as we’ve heard in previous Sundays’ Gospels, is humility.

The word comes from “humus”—dust or earth.  Humility recognizes that I am not God, not in control, and cannot overcome every obstacle by my own effort and hard work. 

Humble or lowly prayer surrenders to God who created us to share in the love of the Trinity and the communion of all saints.  When we pray fervently and persistently, our prayer pierces the heavens and opens a channel for God’s grace and mercy to enter the world.  Like parents who show respect and love to their children, inviting them to work alongside of them though they do not need their help in assembling a toy or cooking a meal, God respects and loves us by including us in the work of caring for creation and the human family. 

Prayer is not so much changing God’s mind as opening ourselves up to Trinitarian Love and allowing God to transform us and work through us to transform the world.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pray Always and Don't Give Up!

The readings at Mass today (Twenty-ninth Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C) challenge us to pray with persistence.  In the Gospel (Luke 18: 1-8) Jesus tells "a parable about the necessity to pray always without becoming weary."  It's about a widow and a judge who refuses to take her case, but finally does because her persistence is wearing him out.  If uncaring people respond to persistence how much more will our caring God?

But we've all had experiences of praying and not receiving the good things for which we pray--like the health of loved ones.  A few years ago I prayed and prayed for Fr. Will Prospero, S.J. and he died of cancer at the age of 49.  My administrative assistant, Stephanie, died of leukemia at the age of 31.  Last April my good friend Fr. Ray Gawronski, S.J., 65 years old, died one month after he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. But one of my most painful losses was my sister Judy for whom I prayed fervently for years as she struggled with depression; she died of suicide two days before Christmas in 2003.

When we pray and nothing happens we ask: "Where are you, God?  Why don't you hear my prayers? Why don't you answer them?"

The truth is that God hears every prayer and knows what is in our hearts before we even put words to our desires and concerns.  Moreover, God answers every prayer.  Sometimes the answer is the one that Jesus received from his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane--"No."

"Why?" we ask.  We don't know why God answers some prayers in this way.  It challenges our faith that God is there and loves us.

Jesus ended his teaching in today's Gospel asking, "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

What's the point of praying for specific intentions if God knows our desires and concerns even before we articulate them?  God does not want to act alone or apart from us and our cooperation.  God's love always respects our freedom.

We see that in the First Reading (Exodus 17: 8-13).  God chose to work through Moses and his prayer, symbolized by his upraised hands.  But he grew tired.  He needed others to help him pray. God shows us that when we grow weary in our prayer we have a community of believers to rely upon.  Prayer builds community.

The Apostleship of Prayer, now also known as the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, is a community of millions of people around the world who pray each month for specific and important needs of the world and the Church.  There is power in this prayer, but it requires faith.  It requires persistence even when nothing seems to change or when things only get worse.

Pope Francis wrote about having the faith that empowers our prayer in his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" (#278-9):

"Faith also 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. … 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…. 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.  It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit."

Through the daily offering of our lives--every prayer, work, joy, and suffering--we can "pray always and not grow weary."  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Faith, Prayer, and Humility

The first reading from Sunday’s Mass (Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C) is from the Prophet Habakkuk. As you read the words with which it begins, what scene comes to mind? 

“How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”

What comes to my mind is Aleppo, Syria.  If you watch the news or read the paper with any compassion a prayer must well up: “How long, O Lord?  Why?”  We want God to intervene in this hopeless situation of the Syrian civil war. 

But God will not intervene except through us.  God won’t force his plan or his will on humanity. God won’t take human freedom away. 

God wants human cooperation to fulfill his plan.  When Jesus walked this earth his hands were tied by people’s lack of faith.  According to Matthew 13: 58, when Jesus returned to his native town of Nazareth, “he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.” 

The reading from Habakkuk ends with a vision of justice and peace.  Through the prophet God tells us to be patient and to have faith. 

In the Gospel (Luke 17: 5-10), the apostles ask Jesus: “Increase our faith.”  Jesus responds with an image of impossibility—that faith the size of a small seed can uproot a tree and send it into the sea.  Isn’t peace just as or more impossible?  But faith and prayer can do the impossible. God and the human person working together can bring about miracles no less impossible as the displacement of trees. 

One such miracle was the survival of several Jesuits who were in Hiroshima at ground zero when the first atomic bomb was dropped.  (See my blog post of August 6, 2016.)  Not only did they survive the initial blast but subsequently none of them experienced the effects of radiation.  How was this possible?  Fr. Hubert Schiffer, S.J. said it was because they prayed the rosary and lived the message of Fatima.

If you go to Fatima today you will see the results of another miracle.  There is a large piece of the Berlin Wall on display.  Why?  It tells us that faith-filled prayer brought down that wall and the Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that it represented.  Faith and prayer can bring down walls and change governments.  It can transform hardened hearts.

But in the second part of the Gospel Jesus tells us that something else needs to accompany faith.  Perhaps it is an essential ingredient of real faith.  Humility.  Humility recognizes one’s true condition.  We are not masters of ourselves but servants of God.  We cannot trust in ourselves but only in God.  Humility is a foundational virtue because all the others—even charity, which St. Paul called the greatest (1 Corinthians 13: 13)—can become a source of pride that ultimately leads us to think that we are all-powerful and in control. 

Jesus shows us the way of humility, “taking the form of a slave” (Philippians 2: 7), bending down and washing feet (John 13: 1-16), and offering himself on a cross for our salvation.  His focus is not on himself but on God the Father and God’s other human children.  In the Eucharist he continues to humble himself, making present his life-saving death and resurrection and then giving himself to us under the humble appearances of bread and wine.  In the Eucharist he invites us to sit and dine while he serves us!

The vision of peace is possible but its realization requires faith-filled prayer.  The greatest prayer is the Eucharist where Jesus gives himself to us to transform us.  Here we receive the Body and Blood, soul and divinity, including the Sacred Heart, to tear down the walls that separate us and to transform our hearts.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

St. Francis' Stigmata and the Year of Mercy

On September 17 I offered a spiritual workshop to the Sisters of the Third Order of St.Francis at their motherhouse in Peoria, IL.  While the universal Church remembers the Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmine in the liturgy that day, Franciscans celebrate a feast in remembrance of their holy founder’s receiving the stigmata.  However, there is an interesting connection which Fr. John Hardon, S.J.has noted:

“St. Robert Bellarmine had a great devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, and was especially devoted to honoring Francis' stigmata. Bellarmine urged that there be a special feast in honor of the five stigmata of St. Francis. Bellarmine had an important position in the Vatican and he made sure that the feast was introduced in the Church, despite strong opposition. As Providence arranged, Robert Bellarmine died on the feast of the stigmata of St. Francis, September 17.”

The readings for the Franciscan feast are Galatians 6: 14-18 and Luke 9: 23-26 and the following is the homily that I offered to the Sisters.

As Providence would have it, today, as we reflect on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are celebrating a feast in honor of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmata, a gift that he received in the year 1224. The Year of Mercy and St. Francis’ stigmata go together quite well.  For if mercy is the greatest expression and embodiment of God’s love, and if the Church is the Body of Christ, then we are to embody God’s mercy and show it to the world in a visible way.  The greatest act of mercy is the Passion—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In his Message for the 2015 World Mission Day, Pope Francis wrote:  “Mission is a passion for Jesus and at the same time a passion for his people. When we pray before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which gives us dignity and sustains us. At the same time, we realize that the love flowing from Jesus’ pierced heart expands to embrace the People of God and all humanity. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people and all those who seek him with a sincere heart.”

Isn’t this what St. Francis did?  He prayed before Jesus crucified and experienced the depth of his love.  He shared Jesus’ passionate love for his people so much that he received the wounds of Jesus into his body. He embodied the Passion, the mercy of God.

On October 4, 1673, several months before Jesus appeared and revealed his Sacred Heart to her, St. Margaret Mary had a vision.  Here is how she described it: “On the feast of St. Francis, our Lord let me see in prayer this great saint, clad in a garment of light and unspeakable brilliance. He had been raised above the other saints to an extraordinarily high degree of glory, because his life was so like that of the suffering Redeemer who is the life of our souls and the love of our hearts. His glory was the reward of his great love for the Passion of our Lord, a love which rendered him worthy of the sacred stigmata and made him one of the great favorites of Jesus’ heart.”

In our first reading, St. Paul wrote that the world had been crucified to him and he to the world.  What does this mean?  I think it means that he shared Christ’s passionate desire for the salvation of the world.  This also describes St. Francis who took up the cross of poverty and labored for the salvation of souls.  He even risked his life in 1219 by going to Egypt to speak with the Sultan about Jesus.  Christian Crusaders were attacking the Sultan’s city and Francis was concerned as well for them because of their immoral life style.  Francis shared Christ’s passionate concern that no one be lost. 

The ultimate meaning of St. Francis’ stigmata is that he shared the desires and concerns of Jesus’ Heart so much that his body revealed the merciful wounds of Christ.  He was so configured to Christ that he embodied the mercy of God in a visible way.  

We too are called to be configured to Christ.  When we share his concern for the world and labor with him for the salvation of all, we embody the mercy of God.

We do so, always, with joy.  St. Francis once said: “It is not right for a servant of God to show a sad or gloomy face to anyone.”  More recently, in “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said that Christians cannot be “sourpusses.”  The mercy which we embody is joyful.  Being “merciful like the Father,” as the motto for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year tells us, means sharing God’s joy in being merciful.  In the parables of Luke 15, Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven when the lost are found, when sinners repent and receive the mercy that God always has in store for them.  May our celebration of this feast and our ongoing Jubilee celebration help us to embody the joyful mercy of God.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation

Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.  In 1989 the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Dimitrios I initiated this special day of prayer for September 1 because on this day the Orthodox liturgical year begins with a reading and commemoration of God’s creation of the world.  In 2015 Pope Francis asked that the Catholic Church join in this special day of prayer.

In 2007 a proposal was made and accepted at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly to foster a greater awareness of the need to care for creation during a special five week period from September 1 to October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. 

This fits in very well with Pope Francis’ Universal Prayer Intention for the month of September.  We are praying that each person “may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center.”  Some may think that by focusing on the care of creation we are making the earth more important than human beings.  That is clearly not the case.

The earth, creation, is the home of the entire human family. It provides what we need to live.  Protecting the earth is necessary for the health and well-being of the human person.  And this means every human person, for all are made in the image and likeness of God.

This is what is meant by “the common good,”  which refers to the good of all people. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1907 states that “the common good presupposes respect for the person as such.” 

Concern for the common good of every human being counteracts the exaggerated individualism of modern culture.  In his encyclical “Laudato Si” #204 Pope Francis wrote: “When people become self-centered and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume.”

Concern for the common home in which we live is an essential part of reverencing human life in all
its stages.  Pope Francis clearly stated: “”Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (#120).

On this annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation we join billions of Christians and other people of good will in committing ourselves to pray and work for the care of God’s gift, creation—not just one day or five weeks, but always!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Power of Prayer

Is God all-powerful?  When he walked this earth was Jesus God?  Was Jesus all-powerful?  Most Christians would answer “yes” to these questions, and yet we have a scene in the Gospels where Jesus appears to have limited power.

Mark 6: 1-6 tells of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth where he is rejected.  The neighbors take “offense” at Jesus because he is too familiar to them.  He can’t be a prophet or a wonder-worker.  “Is he not the carpenter?”  As a result, “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.” 

It seems that Jesus’ power was limited by people’s lack of faith.  This makes sense.  God created humanity so that we—God and us—would work together tending the earth and caring for God’s human family. Being all-powerful, God could have done everything by himself.  But love involves sharing and so God created humanity to share in the work.  Children experience the love of their parents when they are invited to help them in the work that adults do.  They feel special and included.  And so it is with God.

Mary—whom the poet William Wordsworth called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”—is the model for humanity.  She cooperated completely with God’s grace and became the “Mediatrix of Grace,” the means by which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became human.  She was a perfect channel for God’s grace to flow into the world.

Sin and lack of faith block grace’s flow.  Thus Jesus’ powerful love was blocked by his townspeople’s lack of faith.  Conversely, faith-filled prayer and action open channels for God’s powerful grace to enter the world.

When he met with Polish Bishops recently, Pope Francis told them: “We can all have an open heart and think of spending one hour in the parishes, an hour a week, of adoration and prayer. Prayer moves mountains!”  Open hearts, like the Immaculate Heart of Mary, allow the power that created the universe to enter the world. 

The message that Mary gave to three children in Portugal in 1917 was “prayer and penance.”  Mary said that if people prayed, especially a daily Rosary, and offered sacrificial actions like fasting, a greater war than the one that was currently going on could be avoided.  People did not listen and the world endured a second “world war.”

But many people did listen. They prayed and did penance.  In 1989 something happened that those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s never expected.  The Berlin Wall came down. A large portion of it is now on display at Our Lady’s shrine in Fatima.  Then, two years later, the Soviet Union broke up as the Communists lost power. 

But before that, as though to prepare the stage for what many thought was unthinkable—the end of the Soviet Union—prayer wrought another miracle.  On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square.  By all accounts he should have died.  He didn’t and afterwards he attributed his survival to Our Blessed Mother.  He said that while one finger pulled the trigger, another finger guided the bullet millimeters away from certain death.  That bullet now rests in a crown used to honor Our Lady of Fatima.  In the millennial year 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “That here ‘a mother’s hand’ had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies.”

Perhaps an even greater example of the power of faith-filled prayer is a little known story within a larger event that occurred seventy-one years ago today.  On this day in 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  Eight blocks from where the bomb went off was the Church of Our Lady’s Assumption. Next door was the rectory where eight Jesuit missionaries resided.  One of them was Fr. Pedro Arrupe who later served as the General of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983. Another was Fr. Hubert Schiffer who had just finished celebrating Mass and was sitting down to breakfast when the blast occurred. He wrote: “Suddenly, a terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me ‘round and round’ like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.” 

All around there was devastation, but, while damaged, the church and rectory stood and became a makeshift hospital for those who survived the blast. Dr. Stephen Rinehart who worked for the U.S. Department of Defense testified:  

 No way any human could have survived nor should anything have been standing at 1 kilometer.  I think there were a few badly burned survivors at ten to fifteen kilometers (all—except the Jesuits—died within fifteen years of some form of cancer). There are no physical laws to explain why the Jesuits were untouched in the Hiroshima air blast. There is no other actual or test data where a structure such as this was not totally destroyed at this standoff distance by an atomic weapon. All who were at this range from the epicenter should have received enough radiation to be dead within at most a matter of minutes if nothing else happened to them.  There is no known way to design a uranium-235 atomic    bomb, which could leave such a large discrete area intact while destroying everything around it immediately outside the fireball (by shaping the plasma). From a scientific viewpoint, what happened to those Jesuits at Hiroshima still defies all human logic from the laws of physics as understood today (or at any time in the future). It must be concluded that some other (external) force was present whose power and/or capability to transform energy and matter as it relates to humans is beyond current comprehension.       

Fr. Schiffer, who died in 1982, said: “We believe that we survived because we were living the Message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.” 

The ways of God are mysterious.  The Rosary is not magic.  Somehow God wanted to give a sign of the power of faith-filled prayer and the special protection of Mother Mary, Our Lady of Fatima. 

The question is: do I take faith and prayer seriously?  Events in our lives, in our nation, and in our world test our faith.  It’s easy to get discouraged and give up.  But if prayer can move bullets, bring down the Berlin Wall, and protect eight Jesuits from the atomic bomb, shouldn’t I trust in its power to continue to work wonders?    

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A First Mass Homily

Homily for the First Mass of Fr. Vincent Strand, S.J. 
St. Bruno Parish, Dousman, WI -- June 5, 2016
1 Kings 17: 17-24;  Galatians 1: 11-14a, 15a,c, 16a, 17, 19;  Luke 7: 11-17

Two women.  Both are heart-broken. They have lost their husbands, and now, their own flesh and blood, their sons.

The Prophet Elijah was a boarder at one widow’s home during a time of drought and famine.  God miraculously provided food for the three—the prophet, the widow and her son—but now the son dies.  Elijah feels her pain.  He prays.  And God brings the boy back to life.

Jesus was recognized as “a great prophet,” in the tradition of Elijah.  He feels the widow of Nain’s pain and is moved with pity. Then, with his own power because he is Son of God, he brings the youth back to life.

Commenting on this story, Pope Francis said:

This “compassion” is God’s love for humanity, it is mercy--thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us. What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! … The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man.

The restoration to life of the two sons is beautiful, but temporary. They will die again.  Their being raised to earthly life is a sign of something better. Because Jesus rose from the dead, he has power to give not just a temporary extension of life, but eternal life.  He can raise people from the dead to live forever with him in heaven.  This is part of the Creed which we proclaim together:  “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Jesus shares this power to give new and eternal life with the Church, his Body. 

Vincent, Jesus shared this power with you yesterday. Jesus called you and yesterday he empowered you to heal broken hearts and souls.  Pope Francis, in a recent interview book entitled “The Name of God is Mercy,” said that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not like going to the dry cleaner to get stains removed.  It’s much more, much deeper. It involves healing wounds.  You are now an instrument of this healing and life-giving grace.

St. Paul, as we heard in the Second Reading, experienced the merciful love of God that took him from being a persecutor and zealot to proclaiming the love of God revealed in Jesus.

Pope Francis, at age of seventeen, on September 21, 1953, went to confession and had such a profound experience of God’s merciful love—and the healing and peace that it alone can give—that he chose to become a Jesuit priest.  You have also experienced the profound merciful love of Jesus that has drawn you to this vocation.

In the Novitiate you wrote:

As I grew more and more aware of God’s great love for me, suddenly my vocation seemed simple: to bring the love of Jesus to the world. For me, the love of Jesus was symbolized by the love of his Heart. I felt Christ calling me to share the love of his Heart, to be an apostle of his Heart. This, it seemed to me, was at the core of what it means to be a Jesuit. I knew it was to the Society of Jesus that God was calling me.

The image of the Heart of Christ that you chose for your ordination card is striking.  It’s not pretty, not sentimental. It was etched into a wall in one of the cells in the starvation bunker in Auschwitz. It’s just down the hall from St. Maximilian Kolbe’s cell. 

And on the wall opposite this image is another—
the one that is spoken of in the quote from Pope
Benedict XVI that you chose for the back of your card.  It’s a crucifixion scene—the Cross.

[We know that in the end—as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly—the only real “standard” against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God’s love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world.]

In that place of darkness—symbol of humanity’s inhumanity, of sin, and the hatred and violence it brings, there are images of love—the Cross and the Pierced Heart

You were ordained yesterday to bring the light of Christ’s love into the darkness. You will do this through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

You will do this through the prophetic ministry of the Word, speaking words that challenge us to believe in the love of God and to have hope when it is so easy to despair; to, as some have said, comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable; to speak and write the truth that saves and to do so with love.

But more, you are now able to bring to people the very One who forgives, heals, and gives eternal life.  When you celebrate the Eucharist, Christ makes himself present through you. He makes present his life-giving death on the cross and his resurrection. Through you the bread and wine become the Body and Blood for us to receive and to be transformed. 

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this in Cologne Germany at World Youth Day 2005. Your brothers were there, but you were not able to go because you had just entered the Novitiate.

Speaking about the Last Supper, Pope Benedict said:

By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all.

In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world:  violence is transformed into love, and death into life.

To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.

All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood.

But it must not stop there; on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. 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 your service at the altar, Vincent, we receive the Bread of Life, the food that transforms us, in Pope Benedict’s words, into “the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.”  As “the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood,” all of us are now empowered to bring the merciful love of God into our own little corners of the world. The Eucharist, of which you are now a special servant, makes this possible.

We thank God for the call that you received and the grace with which you were able to accept the call. 

St. John Vianney, patron saint of all priests, said:

"The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”

This love involves sacrifice, something you’ve obviously learned from the beginning, from the sacrifices that you’ve seen your family make. Thank you for offering yourself to be a priest, a Jesuit, an apostle of the Heart of Jesus.