Fr. Walter Ciszek: on the Eucharist

On the feast of Corpus Christi, a few thoughts from Father Walter Ciszek, SJ:

daucau monstrance

in the Nazi labor camp of Daucau, priests gathered scraps of wood to fashion a monstrance that could be used for the adoration of the Eucharist

When I reached the prison camps of Siberia, I learned to my great joy that it was possible to say Mass daily once again. In every camp, the priests and prisoners would go to great lengths, run risks willingly, just to have the consolation of this sacrament. For those who could not get to Mass, we daily consecrated hosts and arranged for the distribution of Communion to those who wished to receive. Our risk of discovery, of course, was greater in the barracks, because of the lack of privacy and the presence of informers. Most often, therefore, we said our daily Mass somewhere at the work site during the noon break. Despite this added hardship, everyone observed a strict Eucharistic fast from the night before, passing up a chance for breakfast and working all morning on an empty stomach. Yet no one complained. In small groups the prisoners would shuffle into the assigned place, and there the priest would say Mass in his working clothes, unwashed, disheveled, bundled up against the cold. We said Mass in drafty storage shacks, or huddled in mud and slush in the corner of a building site foundation of an underground. The intensity of devotion of both priests and prisoners made up for everything; there were no altars, candles, bells, flowers, music, snow-white linens, stained glass or the warmth that even the simplest parish church could offer. Yet in these primitive conditions, the Mass brought you closer to God than anyone might conceivably imagine. The realization of what was happening on the board, box, or stone used in the place of an altar penetrated deep into the soul. Distractions caused by the fear of discovery, which accompanied each saying of the Mass under such conditions, took nothing away from the effect that the tiny bit of bread and few drops of consecrated wine produced upon the soul.Many a time, as I folded up the handkerchief on which the body of our Lord had lain, and dried the glass or tin cup used as a chalice, the feeling of having performed something tremendously valuable for the people of this Godless country was overpowering. Just the thought of having celebrated Mass here, in this spot, made my journey to the Soviet Union and the sufferings I endured seem totally worthwhile and necessary. No other inspiration could have deepened my faith more, could have given me spiritual courage in greater abundance, than the privilege of saying Mass for these poorest and most deprived members of Christ the Good Shepherd’s flock. I was occasionally overcome with emotion for a moment as I thought of how he had found a way to follow and to feed these lost and straying sheep in this most desolate land. So I never let a day pass without saying Mass; it was my primary concern each new day. I would go to any length, suffer any inconvenience, run any risk to make the bread of life available to these men.

Fr. Walter J Ciszek, SJ – in He Leadeth Me

in memory of Uncle John

John W Emmer, JrHere’s the short documentary put together by Project Recover about the recent discovery of Heaven Can Wait, the B-24 bomber that went down over Hansa Bay, New Guinea during World War II. My uncle, John W Emmer, Jr, was on board as aerial photographer along with 10 other crew members.

Toward the end of the documentary, there is footage of the flag ceremony held by the Project Recover expedition crew in Hansa Bay… during which they read the names of all of the fallen, including my uncle. Somehow brought the whole thing home for me.

Below is the documentary link, as well as links to local and national news stories that have been published over the past week.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

-Excerpt from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

Project Recover: The Finding of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ B-24 from Kyle McBurnie on Vimeo.

Local news stories featuring uncle John:

FOX9 News – Minneapolis (May 23, 2018)

WCCO TV News – Minneapolis (May 27, 2018)

Local news stories featuring other crew members and the discovery effort:

Illinois News Bureau (May 21, 2018)

Killeen Herald – Texas (May 22, 2018)

San Francisco Chronicle (May 22, 2018)

Siouxland Proud – Sioux City (May 23, 2018)

KGTV News – San Diego (May 25, 2018)

Poughkeepsie Journal (May 26, 2018)

YouTube story about Lt. Thomas Kelly (May 26, 2018)

National news stories:

AP News (May 24, 2018)

Fox News (May 24, 2018)

Ha’aertz – Israel (May 24, 2018)

Japan Times (May 24, 2018)

Fiji Times (May 25, 2018)

New York Times (May 28, 2018)

Photos of uncle John:

Father Cantalamessa on Pentecost and the love of God

Back in January of 2008, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, preacher to the papal household, gave two talks in Los Angeles at a gathering of the SCRC about Pentecost and loving the Church.

I’ve posted the first of the two talks as an audio podcast. Here’s an excerpt:

Last year, in England, there was a consultation of all the charismatic renewal in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, to make a balance of the first forty years of the charismatic renewal, and in preparation for this consultation, a survey was distributed with many questions. One of the questions was: “What do you think has been the greatest blessing the charismatic renewal has brought to your life?” Well, the answer, almost unanimous, was the love of God. “For the first time, I discovered what it means to be son of God / daughter of God.” And any time I myself have an occasion to meet people who have received the baptism in the Spirit, I ask them, “What remains to you after years of this experience?” Usually the most common answer is the love of God. The love of God.

This is the miracle of miracles. Usually we are looking for miracles, but this is the greatest miracle: God loving us. When we know, at least a little, who God is and who we are, this is the greatest miracle. And it’s difficult to believe. Apparently, this is the most easy thing to believe. But on the contrary, very few people reach this position of really believing that God loves them… personally, eternally, in such a way that we have no idea. So Pentecost, my dear brothers and sisters, should be this: a rediscovery of the love of God for us. We are more preoccupied with how we love God, but this comes later.

One of the most important contributions of the charismatic renewal to the whole theology of the Church is precisely to restoring this order. Before the commandments, before the duties, comes grace — the gift. This shows the essential difference between Christianity and any other religion or religious philosophy. Any religion starts telling people what they must do to reach the final goal (nirvana, and so on.) Christianity doesn’t begin by telling people what they must do. It begins by telling what God has done for them. Grace!

Somebody could say, “Yes, but isn’t the first and most important commandment this: ‘You must love your God with all your soul and all your strength?'” Yes, this is the highest commandment. But the order of commandments is not the first order, it’s the second one. Before the order of commandments, there is the level or the order of gift: grace. And we have contributed to this rediscovery which is the secret of making evangelization effective nowadays. The power of Christianity is grace.

The whole talk is worth a listen. You can download the talk directly to your browser here, or subscribe to my feed using iTunes, or simply look up the episode on Podcast Alley.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday, a time to remember in a special way the message of our Lord to St. Faustina Kowalska, a simple nun from Krakow in early part of the 20th century.

When I was studying in Europe as part of a semester-abroad program in 1992, I had a chance to visit Krakow and visit the convent where Sister Faustina lived. I remember leaving from Steubenville’s Austrian campus early that day — which meant skipping out of the end of a talk given by Cardinal Schönborn, who was reading to us from the latest draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Just one more thing to lay before God’s mercy…

When we arrived in Krakow, it was hard to find Sr. Faustina’s convent — although the fact that none of my classmates spoke Polish might have had something to do with it… We just pulled out our holy cards with the image of the Divine Mercy on it, and first were directed to the wrong church! But we eventually got there, and the sisters were kind enough to show us around… we saw the sisters’ cemetery, the chapel that contains the image, and the tomb of St. Faustina. Here are a few photos…

The sister’s cemetery

Praying at the tomb of St. Faustina

The Divine Mercy image in the chapel

A Polish holy card

the upset of Easter, and the last things

For your Easter meditation, here are a couple of excerpts from an RCIA Hollywood podcast on The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell/Purgatory

the Christian life: comfort by way of upset

It would be interesting to take a survey, asking people two questions:

“What is the most comforting religion in the world?”

“What is the most upsetting religion in the world?”

It would be interesting to know what people would say to these two questions.

I think that the most comforting religion in the world would be Christianity, without question. And as far as what would be the most upsetting religion in the world, I think it also would be Christianity. I think it’s both. It is the most upsetting, and the most comforting, because of original sin. There’s just no way back to the Garden except through the experience of death.

Our life, right now, as we live it, in all of its comfort — in its native form for us… I don’t think we always want to leave this comfort nest, even if there’s something better, because we don’t know that something better.

Our life has really been turned upside-down by the Fall, and to turn it upside-right, we had better be ready for an upset. Imagine a boat sitting in Paradise on the waters of creation. Then imagine the boat being capsized. That’s what original sin has done to our existence. We’ve gotten very used to being in that tipped-over boat. That’s become our native home, that’s what we understand, that’s what we know: the experience of sin and of fear. And so now Christ comes, and He wants to right the boat again, but how do we receive that? We’re afraid, we’re threatened, we’re challenged by that. How dare he turn this boat over? How dare he upset our life? In fact, he’s righting the boat, but we experience it as an upset.

So the idea of Christianity is really that comfort comes by way of upset. We just don’t know it yet. When it’s all upset in our life, I think we discover the truth that finally the boat is being righted, and what we had become so familiar with was in fact just the pilgrim state of this valley of tears, and now we are discovering our true home in the Father’s house….

Evaluating one’s life in the light of the Last Things

I think it’s good to make an annual self-evaluation during Holy Week.

Here’s a reflection on the last things, which I’ve based on Dr. Peter Kreeft’s discussion in his book Fundamentals of the Faith. He has a chapter on each of the Last Things. From those essays, I’ve constructed a self-interview of sorts. It’s an opportunity to make an evaluation of our lives in light of things ultimate.

The first question is about death:

What death am I facing — whether little or large — and how can I meet it with Christ? It might be worthwhile to re-visit that question in a year and see if there has been any resurrection in this area or not.

The second question has to do with judgment:

The experience of judgment is the experience of being laid bare… everything is revealed. So the question is: What most needs to be laid bare in me or seen through the eyes of justice… (That’s what justice does… it sees everything)… for the sake of living more justly now, and so that Christ can touch and heal it? Christ is the divine Physician, but unless we show Him our wounds…. It’s not that He doesn’t know the wounds are there, but He needs us to relax enough so that He can actually tend to them.

The third question has to do with heaven:

The question is: What are my false heavens? Or what is my counterfeit paradise? Maybe I have several: maybe it’s the weekend; maybe it’s my job; maybe it’s a relationship. What are those things in my life which are not Paradise but for which I am happy to stop along the way because I’ve found this counterfeit? What keeps me from remembering that this is not a place of rest? I mean, the sabbath is, but other than that? We’re on pilgrimage. What will I do to keep a sense of pilgrimage alive? What will I do to keep my heart alive to the true goal of my existence? So we’re moving from a kind of examination to a resolution: What are we going to do about this?

Then lastly, hell:

What are the areas of drift or complacency in my life? Because I think for those of us who have decided to become Christians… to be baptized and to follow Christ and so forth… we have sort of set out on pilgrimage. It isn’t a question of whether or not I have heaven as a goal for me, but what will keep me from that is if I drift, if I get lax, if I get complacent. Where am I kind of drifting? And what am I going to do about that?

So give yourself some time this week to ask yourself these questions. It has been interesting for me to complete this exercise each year since a Triduum retreat in 2007; it’s been a grace to go back over it each year and to notice that I need to revisit some of them, but with others there really has been grace active in my life.

Blessed Easter! May the Resurrection of Christ transfigure every corner of your existence. May your every tear be joy-stained; behind every upset, may you experience the joy of being discovered by the One who has upset it all, for love of you.