Easter Sunday – April 17

Do This in Memory of Me

Reflection by Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ

I was surrounded by yellow shag carpeting. It was on the walls and on the floor. I was celebrating Mass for 40 boys from Rockhurst High School on a spring Kairos retreat. Previously, this room had been a shooting range for a police academy. Franciscan sisters bought it and turned it into a chapel. “This is My Body, given up for you.”

The Last Supper is the First Mass. There Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” I say those words at every Mass. In that bunker chapel in the spring of 2013, I was finishing my second year of priesthood. Looking out at the boys, I recalled my own Kairos retreat in that same shag-carpet chapel when I was in high school. God is good. Truly, He has walked with me, guiding me in my vocation— from high school and college, into the Jesuit novitiate and through formation, and now as a priest. I am happy to say that I have “done this in memory of Him” throughout my life as a priest. 

I’ve celebrated Mass in suburban parishes on Sundays with squirming toddlers, faithful grandparents, and tired, smiling young parents. I preached, celebrated the Eucharist, and greeted them after Mass. At Rockhurst High, I celebrated the 7:15 am daily Mass for a few pious teachers and devoted students. I celebrated the all-school Mass in the gym for 1,200 boys and dozens of teachers and coaches and staff. The night before, the same gym was filled with the same boys painted blue, cheering on their team in the state basketball playoffs. Now they were in blue blazers, white shirts, and neckties. As they came up to receive Communion, I could see flecks of blue paint around their eyes.  

Just after my ordination in June of 2011, I traveled to Spain for World Youth Day. Jesuit schools gathered in Loyola, Spain for a special celebration honoring our founder, St Ignatius. I got to preach in Loyola Basilica. The Gospel that day was the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. “The disciples didn’t have much to offer to Jesus,” I said, “just a few fish and pieces of bread. If we offer ourselves to Jesus, he can multiply our efforts. Ignatius was a young man, seeking God’s will. Through him, Jesus blesses all of us.”

“Do this in memory of me.” I have not lived my priesthood perfectly. I’m a sinner. I get impatient, frustrated and discouraged with myself and others. I need Christ’s mercy and strength. I go to confession. As a teacher, I’ve had some great lesson plans, and some mediocre ones. Yet I have been faithful to Christ’s commandment: “Do this.” With rare exceptions, I’ve celebrated Mass every day. At our Jesuit mission in Belize, I celebrated Mass in Mayan villages. Some chapels there have walls made of bamboo and roofs made of palm branches. I said my parts of the Mass in English; the people sang their responses in Mayan. I didn’t know what they were saying, and yet I did: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts!” They couldn’t understand me, and yet they did: “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is My Body, given up for you.” 

Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” We celebrate every Mass in memory of him. At every Mass, he is with us in the Eucharist. 

Examen For the Week

  • Describe one of your favorite Masses. How was Jesus present at Mass as Emmanuel, “God with us?”

  • Who is one priest who celebrates Mass well? How does he help you to experience Jesus at Mass? 

Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ, is the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer–The Pope’s Prayer Network.  You can reach him at jlaramie@jesuits.org.

Palm Sunday – April 10

Sent Out on an “Errand of Mercy”

Reflection by Fr. Tim Manatt, SJ

Every couple of months I receive a call to anoint an elderly person in his or her home at the request of one of the adult children in the family. Often enough the person who is dying had a close connection to one of my two parishes previously. However, some combination of widowhood, disability, and/or the children’s move to another part of the city or away from Milwaukee altogether brought the person’s active membership to an end, such that, if not for the memory of our long-serving parish secretary, I would not know anything at all about the person or the family.

In these ‘cold call’ cases there is a palpable resistance that often wells up inside me. Why didn’t the family call weeks ago to let me know their relative was failing? Why did they wait until the last minute, especially when they don’t know me personally? 

Of course, part of the reason is the fear of what’s approaching, i.e., who wants to say a final farewell to the matriarch or patriarch of the family? Part of it is the legitimate possibility that the dying person might rally. And then again it may be attributable to an ambivalence of some of the adult children who no longer believe or participate in the sacraments of the Church and are therefore hesitant to request or witness to the last rites.

In any case, I responded to such a call for the last rites at someone’s home in May 2021, mostly out of a sense of duty. Yet that interior disposition quickly changed once on site, with Jesus’s presence suffusing the interaction. 

Doña Antonia’s three children welcomed me inside her home. On the walls there was an extraordinary number of photos, mementos, and acknowledgments, including a national award for Antonia having been recognized as the top bilingual classroom assistant in the entire country in the late 1970s. 

Entering her bedroom, I encountered her sitting up in a reclining chair and greeted her in Spanish. Up until the end of the last century we would have said that Doña Antonia was dying of old age, a woman in her early 90s. She was perfectly coherent and delighted to communicate in her first language.   

After anointing Doña Antonia, I also offered her a small fragment of the Communion host. Then I invited the three children to place a hand on their mother’s arms or shoulder as we prayed the Our Father. 

After the concluding prayer, I reached over to Doña Antonia and gently embraced her shoulders and pressed my cheek to hers.

As I prepared to leave, she motioned to me and pointed to my stole. It is of Central American origin, an ordination gift to me in 2007, and something that has elicited praise in the past for its beauty and simplicity. She asked if she could hold it in her hands, to which I quickly consented. But then she did something that no one has ever done. She kissed my stole and handed it back to me.

The priest is meant to kiss his stole as he vests for Mass. As when he kisses the altar, the symbolism is of a kiss of peace, rather than betrayal, as was the case of Judas Iscariot. I cannot know for sure Doña Antonia’s motivation in pressing her lips to my stole, yet I interpreted it as an expression of humble gratitude for the consolation that faith in Jesus Christ had brought her in the moment, and of course throughout her life as well. Moreover, it impressed upon my consciousness the sublime significance of the priesthood which Jesus has shared with me for His purposes—in this instance, as a minister of divine mercy. 

Examen For the Week

  • Is there a particular context in your professional or personal life in which you often feel some type of emotional resistance and yet it proves to be a consistent avenue of grace?

  • When was your last poignant encounter with someone in a vulnerable stage of life or even close to death? How did the Holy Spirit come to your aid in that moment?  

Fr. Tim Manatt, SJ, is pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St Patrick’s parishes in Milwaukee.  You can reach him at tmanatt@jesuits.org.

Fifth Sunday of Lent – April 3

He Emptied Himself

Reflection by Fr. Paul Lickteig, SJ

While in Albuquerque as a novice, a Jesuit priest took me to a meeting on a Saturday morning to celebrate something that I did not fully understand. A somewhat elaborate ritual, the event involved a significantly sized group of masked men and women moving and dancing together on a path through the town. The central figure was a lanky, yet powerful man dressed in cowboy boots and a simple button-down shirt. His mask, a blend of Latino and Native artistic flourishes, reflected many emotions. His relaxed gait would alternate with each encounter: A deliberate amble, transformed to a skipping, stutter-step, back to a slow plod, depending on whom he encountered. As he made his way through the throng of people, I realized that it was Jesus, dancing his way through the passion, dancing his way to the place of the skull.

A couple days later, I had a chance to meet the man behind the mask. He and the same Jesuit were driving me up to a monastery in the desert. It turned out that he was a penitente, and so was the Jesuit. I had heard of Penitentes via dramatic, histrionic accounts on television. Having witnessed one of their rituals only days before, it struck me that the rite I had witnessed did not match what I had seen previously. He was dedicated to something I did not understand, a tradition that was solemn, beautiful, and had revealed meaning for me in a new way.

We stopped at a gas station to fill up, and conversation between me and the penitente turned to the Jesuit who was outside the car pumping gas. “He is a good man. He is one of the few priests who is permitted to be part of this experience. He has allowed his heart to be colonized by the people he serves.”

The ironic tension of that statement was not lost on me. He had not become one of them, but he had become one with them. He had let his heart be changed so that he could serve them in the ways that they needed to be served.

Like Jesus alternating his step for each person he encounters, a priest’s heart is open to the people he serves, until their deepest needs and desires become as dear to him as his own.

Examen For the Week

  • How do you feel Christ walking with you during the passion of your life, and how do you find yourself being called to walk with Him?

  • How does your heart need to open to the needs and desires of others, that you might truly serve as Jesus served, or serve them as Jesus would?

Fr. Paul Lickteig, SJ, is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Cincinnati. He can be reached at plickteig@jesuits.org 

Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 27

Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God

Reflection by Fr. Christopher Krall, SJ

Funerals are never easy for anyone involved, including the priest. This is even more true when the deceased is a healthy young person who has died suddenly.

During my first year after ordination, a family sought me out to celebrate the funeral of their son, Andrew*, a college freshman, who died suddenly, most likely by suicide. This was the hardest task I have ever been asked to do. 

I tried to get to know the family before the funeral. I listened to stories about their son, brother, nephew, dearly beloved Andrew. I offered condolences, but no words seemed right, no gesture caring enough. No act of mine could ease the pain, answer the questions, or fill the loss of this mourning family. 

At the funeral Mass there was a very large crowd, many of whom were the college friends of Andrew. The thought crossed my mind, would this be an opportunity in my preaching to teach a lesson about the preciousness and the gift of our human life? Hardly appropriate, I concluded. Nevertheless, what can be done in the face of suffering is to faithfully come back to the love of God. As St. Paul writes, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, no present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:38-39). 

More than a year passed after the funeral. I had no contact with the family until, out the blue, Andrew’s mother called me and asked if I would be willing to celebrate the wedding of her older son, Peter. I was shocked.  Wouldn’t my presence evoke all the deep pain and sorrow of Andrew’s loss?  Wouldn’t the family want to move on from such a tragedy? 

I met with Peter, his fiancé, Sarah, and his mother. They explained to me that at Andrew’s funeral, what they experienced was, of course, deep sorrow, but also the consolation of divine love. Now, as Peter was praying about his wedding, he sought that same love, a love that heals the deepest wounds of the human heart while also elevating the human heart to the greatest of joys. 

The wedding of Peter and Sarah was amazingly joyful and life-giving.  Peter purposely left a space in his list of groom’s men for his brother, Andrew, remembering, loving, and keeping him close.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! As a priest, I am privileged to witness the radical healing, consoling, transformative, life-giving, joyful, and unifying power of God’s love active and effective in our human hearts, minds, and actions.  From the deepest of sorrows to the greatest of joys, the love of God endures. 

*Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the family.

Examen For the Week

  • Describe one moment in your life when you experienced God’s radical love that drew you back to the sacraments.  How did you respond?  What did you feel?  What were you motivated to do?

  • What prevents you from sharing your love in word and action, especially with those people in your life who are struggling with their faith or suffering in some way? 

Fr. Chris Krall, SJ, is a doctoral candidate in neuroscience and theology at Marquette University. You can reach him at ckrall@jesuits.org.

Third Sunday of Lent – March 20

“Getting Proximate” to the Needs of Our Times

Reflection by Fr. Christopher Collins, SJ

I began my work at Saint Louis University as chief mission officer not long after the killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, MO. That swiftly changed the nature of my work, largely because I started to get a lot of questions about what we as a university were going to do to engage more proactively in the African American community where so much pain and so many disparities existed.

As a result, I visited a variety of non-profits, starting with Catholic Charities agencies, to learn about how they had been meeting critical needs in the city. In the same timeframe two visiting speakers were brought to campus in quick succession, well-known Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle, and Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. The power of those two talks lingered in my imagination and shaped the desires of my heart. In particular, Stevenson’s admonition to “get proximate” to where pain is in the world, no matter what corner of the world we occupy.

The sentiment came back to me on the day when a verdict was going to be rendered for a police officer named Jason Stockley who was being tried for the killing of a young Black man, Anthony Lamar Smith. Many of the downtown St. Louis businesses were being shuttered for fear of the violence that could erupt in the case of an acquittal.

I drove to our law school campus across the street from the courthouse, mostly to see how people were doing. We watched the TV coverage and kept looking out the window of the law school, several floors above the ground. In the street below people had started gathering, so I went down to offer some sort of presence, hopefully positive.

I was on the fringe of things when a small group of Black clergy who were gathered on the sidewalk motioned for me to come over and join them in prayer for peace and for justice. So I did. They brought me in and put their arms around me and included me in the circle. Soon the group started moving off the sidewalk into the middle of the intersection. 

As the circle grew bigger I felt like I no longer belonged. I tried to pull away, but one woman in particular had a grip on my flank and she would not let go. I had not intended to be there as a protester, but rather as someone in silent, prayerful solidarity, yet the woman would not let me go.  To be honest I felt like I was being used for political purposes, as a white clergy member, and perhaps I was. But she held on. And I stayed close. I stayed proximate to that pain for that stretch. Even now I recall that in that confusing and painful situation, there was nothing I could do but just try to be present. I didn’t accomplish anything, but I was present at least and I was welcomed into that place of pain and anger even if for a passing moment.

Eight years removed from the event I still don’t know what to make of that experience, but it has stuck with me and somehow speaks to me of the call to be a disciple of Jesus—to go where he goes and to be present in the midst of uncertain, or even troubled, circumstances. Certainly, this is a fundamental element of a priest being conformed more and more into the likeness of God’s Son as a priest for and with the people. 

Examen For the Week

  • Was there a time and place where you found yourself invited into a dynamic beyond what you had originally anticipated which resulted in a deeper grace? 

  • Have you felt an impulse or nudge of your conscience, perhaps stemming from an explicit invitation from another person, to become involved in some new form of ministry?

Fr. Christopher Collins, SJ, is vice president for Mission of the University of St Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.  You can reach him at ccollins@jesuits.org.

Second Sunday of Lent – March 13

Entertaining Angels

Reflection by Fr. Kent A. Beausoleil, SJ

April 15, 2013 was a horrific day for me and my family.  Two of my cousins, Celeste and her daughter Sydney, were victims of the bombings at the end of the Boston Marathon.  Celeste lost both her legs below the knee; Sydney, nearly lost her life.

At the bomb scene itself, two strangers came to my relatives’ rescue, to stop their bleeding, and to offer words and actions filled with comfort and care.  In these angels of mercy, truly the Holy Spirit of love lived on.

The ensuing week was filled with worry, sadness, anger, and a heart-stopping numbness.  Fortunately, we have a large and loving family, and the grace and love of that, plus the love and support of strangers, good Samaritans, good and loving neighbors, made it all a little more bearable.  

Subsequently, in the midst of one of my perplexed, ‘God-forgetting’ moments, I wondered what exactly the emotional impact of this event was writing on my heart, and where exactly was this reign of the Holy Spirit’s love?  And yet, despite it being truly a moment of crucifixion in our family’s and my own life, the mystery of this time was ultimately about being touched by God’s love in Jesus found in those two men who became first responders and messengers of hope, bringing to mind the scripture passage: Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (Heb 13:2)

Just one week after the Boston attack I was in Charlotte, North Carolina to preside at a wedding. In talking to the father of the bride I learned that he was one of the passengers who had survived the emergency landing of the airliner on the Hudson River in January 2009.  He spoke of the terror of the incident, but even more so the courage, compassion and care of the pilots, the flight attendants, and all the passengers on that jet who became neighbor to and for one another.  The Spirit of Love lives.  Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.

The next night—the very next night!—a complete stranger sat down next to me in the hotel bar.  And in one of the most connected conversations I have ever had, something powerful happened when he shared that his brother had been on the second plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.  

During both conversations, these ‘God-sent neighbors,’ these entertaining angels, shared not only the pain of their experiences, but also the real joy and healing they went through that was born of those tragedies.  With a sort of divine connection re-established, my emotional and spiritual landscape shifted away from heart-numbing shock to a hope restored in the truth of the Holy Spirit’s love, alive and active.

Examen For the Week

  • How has God blessed your life with ‘angels’ who have been there, or have shown up, right when you needed there? Reflect on the grace of those experiences from a place of gratitude.
  • In what ways have you been an angel, a messenger of God’s grace, for others? What were the events that called out for your being with another as a soul as an angel? What were the consolations for you in being God’s presence to another?

Fr. Kent A. Beausoleil, SJ, is Director of Mission in charge of mission programming and pastoral care for CHI Health at five hospitals in Omaha and western Iowa. You can reach him at kbeausoleil@jesuits.org

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First Sunday of Lent – March 6

Bringing the Cross Home

Reflection by Fr. Bill Johnson, SJ

It’s 2004 and I’m in a hot marketplace in Guanajuato, Mexico. I look up from the colors of food and fabric and craftwork and my eyes lock on a beautiful, simple, paper mâché crucifix with a long-legged Jesus dangling from the crossbeams. I marvel at the artistry and am struck by the irony that our wood-working Savior died on a tree. Can I bring it home with me for the students and staff of Nativity Jesuit Middle School? (now Nativity Jesuit Academy) 

I pay a pittance and they layer on clear plastic wrap and wish me well. It’s too big to carry on the flight to Chicago so I’m told I must check it as baggage. My heart drops because I know it will never arrive intact. The wounded, broken body of Christ will be destroyed yet again. It’s too fragile, too delicate. But I figure it’s worth the risk and say a hopeful goodbye.

I find my suitcase at O’Hare airport, but where’s the crucifix? I ask the attendant and he tells me to check at the cargo carousel at the far end of the baggage claim area. I push my luggage cart to the cargo carousel that is empty and not moving. I check my watch. I’ve got to get on the bus to Milwaukee in fifteen minutes. I take a deep breath and resign myself to the probability that I’ll never see the crucifix again. I say a little prayer and commit to waiting for two minutes. As the deadline nears, I turn to leave when a buzzer sounds, a red light flashes, and the belt kicks into action. The black rubber curtain opens and there’s my crucifix, intact.  A miracle!

Joyful and grateful, I run through the airport pushing the cart with the wrapped Savior of the World leading the way. I’m comforted to think that the baggage handlers recognized and cared for the cross in their routine labors and I marvel at the travelers who respectfully make room for Jesus as I hurry to the bus.

These many years later, my heart is content knowing that that crucifix hangs stretched above the altar in the chapel of Nativity’s summer camp in northern Wisconsin. There, students are stretched to grow as Christ’s body year after year while being educated for a life of Christian leadership and service.

As I treasure those memories, I am reminded of the invitation to pick up my cross and follow Jesus in my priestly vocation. This involves self-sacrifice and regular re-commitment to my religious vows. It means dying to my desire to replace my doubts and feelings of inadequacy with power, control, and recognition. It means turning all of that over to Christ’s Spirit alive in me and in others and, indeed, in all creation.

Help me, Risen Lord, to see each day all things new in Christ.

Examen For the Week

  • How do I take time to see and care for the Cross in my daily routine?

  • How do I share my Cross with others in theirs?

  • The broken Body of Christ has been reproduced in thousands of crucifixes throughout Christianity. How is His body enfleshed in yours for God’s Greater Glory?

Fr. Bill Johnson, SJ, is vice president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Milwaukee.  He can be reached at wjohnson@jesuits.org.  

Ash Wednesday – March 2

He Must Increase, I Must Decrease 

Reflection by Fr. Rob Kroll, SJ

In the weeks following my priestly ordination in June 1999, I honed my sacramental skills at Gesu parish in Milwaukee, the Jesuit church near Marquette University’s campus. Celebrating Mass and hearing confessions were the primary tasks each day, allowing me to grow more comfortable in exercising these core priestly ministries.  

I remember one morning in my first few days at the parish, I was in the sacristy removing my vestments after a weekday Mass when a man appeared asking if I could hear his confession. He explained that he had not been to the sacrament of Reconciliation in many years. He was driving through Milwaukee to another destination, but felt beckoned by the cross atop the church’s spire to exit the interstate and enter the church. After hearing his confession, I watched him literally skip down the central aisle of the church! As a newly ordained priest, I kept in my pocket a printed copy of the absolution formula (“God, the Father of mercies…”), not yet confident that I could recite it from memory. Yet God led this particular penitent to me, allowing me to facilitate his encounter with the Lord’s mercy and healing. It was an awesome, humbling and joyous moment. It remains a consoling memory. 

In the 23 years since my ordination, I’ve heard countless confessions from Catholics of all backgrounds and walks of life. Some have been dramatic, many of them mundane. Yet through this blessed ministry, the people of God have strengthened my belief in the reality of God’s merciful, healing love. Time and again I’ve witnessed the transforming effect of divine grace before my very eyes.  

God’s people have also helped me appreciate the dignity of the priesthood, through which I am permitted to act in persona Christi capitis. That Latin phrase means, “in the person of Christ the Head” (of the Body which is the Church). Each time I raise my hand and proclaim “I absolve you of your sins,” it is Jesus Christ Himself who forgives and heals. Every time I utter the words “This is my Body,” Christ speaks those words through my mouth; He transforms ordinary bread into His Eucharistic presence. Christ Jesus calls me to be ever more deeply conformed to Him. Acting through my frail humanity, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).  

Examen For the Week

  • Can you recall and praise God for a powerful experience of His healing mercy, whether in the confessional or in some other moment? 
  • In what way might Christ employ your voice, hands and heart to bring about a graced encounter between Him and someone in your life?

Fr. Rob Kroll, SJ, is the director of spiritual formation at St. Frances de Sales Seminary for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  He can be reached at rkroll@jesuits.org


Click here to view other Lenten resources compiled by the the Midwest Jesuits.

Lenten Reflection Series: Stories of Deeper Conversion

Understand what you do,
Imitate what you celebrate,
and Pattern your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross
(From the rite of ordination)

The conferral of holy orders, similar to the sacrament of marriage, is a ‘mountaintop experience’ representing the culmination of a long process of discernment, preparation, and conversion. It is, in the words of Bishop Robert Barron, the validation of the man as mystagogue, i.e., of one who is “called by the Mystery to speak of the Mystery.” At the same time, ordination is merely the tip of the iceberg, for just as a lengthy and varied formation process prepares the Jesuit for future priestly ministry, so too the People of God validate his ordination in different ways and places, with the result that the Jesuit is conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ as priest. 

During Lent in this Ignatian Year, eight Jesuit priests share a particular moment in time in which they perceived the Holy Spirit’s action in their lives, through which they arrived at greater intimacy with Jesus Christ. From this connection, in accord with the graces of the Spiritual Exercises, comes an ongoing conversion of heart and habits, in order to follow Jesus.

We hope these weekly reflections will enhance your prayer during this Lenten season. A new reflection and set of Examen questionswill be posted each Sunday of Lent, and the Octave of Easter.

 

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