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Reflection for Divine Mercy Sunday: April 23, 2017 A.D.

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On February 22, 1931, Jesus Christ appeared to Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun. She recorded the event in her diary. She writes,

“In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, ‘Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.'”

Sometime later, Our Lord revealed to her the meaning of this symbol:

“The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous; the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My most tender Mercy at that time when My agonizing Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross….Fortunate is the one who will dwell in their shelter.”

The Divine Mercy image is intimately connected with Holy Week and Easter. Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection are the source of all grace in the Christian life. Everything comes from Holy Week. Everything leads to Holy Week.

The pale ray represents the water of baptism. This water poured out of Jesus’ heart when a Roman soldier pierced his side. This water takes people out of the darkness of original sin into the light of grace. St. Paul says to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:3-4). Baptism changes everything. It radically transforms us, even now, if we let it. Do we trust in the grace of baptism?

The red ray represents the blood of Christ. Like the water, this blood poured out of Jesus’ heart when the Roman soldier pierced his side. This blood becomes the lifeblood of the people of the Church, who drink it every Sunday (if not every day). The blood of Christ courses through our veins, filling us with the divine life. Jesus preaches to the multitudes, “My blood is true drink” (John 6:55). St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). We have just received this gift in Communion. It has the power to radically transform us. Do we trust in the grace of the blood of Christ?

It is all about trust in God’s grace. Pope Francis says, “All is grace.” St. Ignatius says, “Find God in all things.” Everything has the possibility to become a grace for us if we trust. Trust does not mean that worldly goods will enter into our life if we merely believe. It does not mean that death or suffering will stay away. No. Trust is a simple belief that all is grace. Christ is our model. For him, even suffering, even death become graces, for he showed us his love in suffering. The greatest grace is selfless love, which often hurts. Can we let this truth into our hearts? All is grace. Are we childlike enough, humble enough to know it?

Jesus says to Saint Faustina, “Tell souls that, from the fountain of mercy, souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls.”

Are we humble? Do we trust in God? There is one way to know. There is a simple rule of thumb we can use at any time. When is the last time that we have seen God’s grace? If we answer “now,” then we are humble and trust in God. If anything else, then we do not.

Let me conclude with the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola:

“Take, Lord, and receive all our liberty, our memory, our understanding, and our entire will, All we have and call our own. You have given all to us. To you, Lord, we return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give us only your love and your grace, that is enough for us. Amen.”

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis, S.J.

 

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“Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt?” “You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.”

“Thy will be done.” “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

The Church has presented us today with two fundamental themes that reverberate through Sacred Scripture: mercy and justice. Mercy, essentially, is, according to Pope Francis’s bull for the Year of Mercy, “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” Within the same text the Holy Father defines justice as “the faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will.”

Unfortunately, for many complex reasons, which I won’t get into this morning, many Christians have come to see mercy and justice as opposing, conflictive attributes of God; however, we profess that God is one and that His attributes are ultimately united.

All this thought is abstract, and, maybe, uninteresting to many, so I’d like to provide a concrete example from my time at Loyola University Medical Center. This short story demonstrates one facet of the the justice/mercy situation: God’s justice, which asks of us conformity to His will, invites us to seek His mercy and to share His mercy with others. More succinctly stated, God wills for us to set our eyes on His merciful gaze and to be that merciful gaze to the weak and to sinners.

On the afternoon of May 3rd I received a page asking me to check-in on a patient in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit. She was a 15-year-old girl, named Juanita, who had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 9. Since her diagnosis, she spent just about every other week in the hospital. She was so sick at this point that the doctors put her on “ECMO,” which is basically a machine outside of the body that pumps blood for a person whose heart is failing. The situation was dire, but, thankfully, Juanita still had a bit of consciousness: I could speak with her and with her mother. She struck me as a brave, delightful girl. Her mother told me about her interests in pop music, computer games, and time with her friends. At the end of the conversation, I asked Juanita if she would like to pray with me. She nodded and smiled. Her mother pointed to a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe that hung on the wall. I entrusted little Juanita to big Guadalupe, and I felt that something special had happened as I left the room.

The next day I was off, so I didn’t meet with the family again until May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. Once again, the pager went off, and I spoke with the nurse on the phone. She told me that there was a “Goals of Care” meeting planned for Juanita. My heart sank. A “Goals of Care” meeting almost always meant that the patient was about to die. The family would have some big decisions to make. Quickly, I gathered my things and ran up to the ICU.

I walked into the conference room. Juanita’s mother, Yesica, was sitting next to the social worker. Tears ran down both of their faces. The social worker quietly excused herself and left me to be with Yesica alone. We sat in silence for about 5 minutes, at which point I asked her gently, “What happened?” She replied, with intermittent tears, “Yesterday, her numbers started to crash. They told me that we could keep little Juanita alive for a while, but that, ultimately, the outcome would be negative. They asked me to consider taking her off the life sustaining support. They said that I could do it in good faith. It wouldn’t be immoral. It didn’t sit well with me at all though. I wanted to fight. Last night, I got only a few hours of rest… I had a dream. I saw Juanita playing in the sea on the shore. She was running, swimming, dancing, laughing. She was happy again–happy like she was when she was eight, before all of this started. I woke up crying. I thought that God was calling her home, that I should let her go. What do you think, chaplain, what do you think about my dream? Please tell me.”

She grabbed my shoulder and stared into my eyes. I let a few moments of silence linger so that I could reflect. What to say? God, somewhere in my heart, whispered to me to share with Yesica, “The sea is God’s mercy, and, I think that you’re right, God wants to submerge her in His mercy. He wants her to be happy forever in the depths of His mercy.” She took my hand. We sat without another word a while longer. She broke the silence by asking us to pray together. We entrusted Juanita to God once more, this time in complete abandonment to His will. God’s justice was His mercy.

Later that night, Juanita did die. By the generosity of her mother, Juanita became an organ donor. Her liver helped save the life of another child.

Brothers, as we prepare for vows and as we enter into the second year of the novitiate, may we always be open to doing the will of God like Yesica. May God grant us the grace to see that His will is mercy and that our abandonment to that will makes us just before Him, turns us into another Christ.


 

Names have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved.

God bless,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

 

 

Shawn Mendes and Prepping for Christmas:

My Most Recent Homiletic Reflection at the Jesuit Novitiate

Shawn Mendes

(Photo thanks to http://www.popstaronline.com/shawn-mendes-life-on-the-road-episode-1/ )

Reading: Matthew 11:11-15

Those who were at the sold-out Jingle Ball Concert at the Xcel Energy Center this Monday would have heard the Canadian Shawn Mendes’ hit song “Something Big.” While listening to the lyrics amidst the crowd of shrieking preteen girls, Jack and Brennan, I knew immediately that I had to use it in today’s reflection. Bae, as one young lady proudly tweeted, sang melodiously, “Something big I feel it happening, Out of my control, Pushing, pulling, and it’s grabbing me, Feel it in my bones like, O, O, O, O, O, O.” Something big is happening, and I, for one, have felt it in my bones, pushing and pulling, every advent season since my reversion. We are on the cusp of something great, and we can be channels of this greatness.

To be honest, though, I would have to say that I’ve experienced this sense of magnitude both inside and outside of the advent season proper. For instance, one quiet afternoon during my second trimester in England, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. As soon as it happened, I had a sense that it was a message of importance, so I indiscreetly checked it during a lecture that must not have been very interesting. I read the text from my friend JP: “Pope Benedict is stepping down.” “Say what?” I replied, but, yes, it was true. For the next couple of weeks, I, along with the rest of the Christian world, anxiously awaited for the conclave to begin and for a successor to emerge. One night, while a live feed of St. Peter’s Square was streaming on my computer as I prepared some dinner, the crowd erupted in cheers. Shortly after, Francis stepped out, and I started to shake inside. Something big was happening!

Like the crowds in St. Peter’s that fateful night, the crowds from the gospel reading today must have had a real sense that something big was happening, too, something really big. Jesus solemnly and boldly proclaimed that John the Baptist is Elijah. If the crowd had been listening to John the Baptist, then they would have known that Jesus, by calling John “Elijah,” was essentially calling himself the Messiah. To quote again from the great Shawn Mendes, at this point Jesus had “taken a spark and started a fire.” It is hard to underestimate Our Lord’s boldness here.

And yet the same spirit that moved in Christ is with us today. Can we proclaim the message of God’s plan of salvation with the audacity of Jesus, with the true audacity of hope? I invite you to take a moment to consider your life right now. What do you feel that God is calling you to be, to announce, or to do? Is it “something big,” something bold? Does he have great plans for you during the long retreat? Is he calling you to greater holiness at the long experiment? Is he speaking in powerful ways to our directors? Undoubtedly, he is, so, as Shawn would put it, “Stomp your feet: the ground will shake. Clap your hands: the walls will break.” Listen to God with ears that hear, respond with generosity, and see that the mountains will move in praise of the One who saves.

Best wishes,
David Inczauskis, n.S.J.

Luke 9:24 – “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”

(The Preaching of St. Francis Xavier, Gesu Church, Rome)

Whoever desires to enter the Society of Jesus, first and foremost, has it in his heart to “serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross.” In this straightforward statement at the beginning of the Formula of the Institute, we see the heart of the Pauline character of the Jesuits, a group that is not afraid to preach Christ and Him crucified, even to the ends of the earth. It is towards the Cross that Christ consistently sets his gaze, predicting his passion three times before it occurs. It is the gospel message of the cross that St. Paul takes with him to Corinth, where both Jew and Greek can discover in it only a foolish obstacle. It is the physical representation of the cross, the crucifix, that St. Francis Xavier carries with him to India as an image with which to preach the gospel. And it is before the cross that St. Francis Borgia kneels after the death of Empress Isabella, crying, “No, no, my God. Never again shall I have a master whom death can take from me.” The cross, in short, is the game-changer, the meridian of time that alters the course of human history.

The cross is a gruesome instrument of torture, a gallows, an electric chair, a guillotine, and yet it serves as a symbol of hope for the Christian world, for from the side of Christ on the cross pour forth the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that give new life to the world. The cross is not a symbol of defeat, unless we speak of the defeat of sin and death. Rather, the cross, Good Friday, is the truest sign of inspiration because it cannot be separated from the Easter Resurrection that awaits us on the other side of death. As Pope Francis simply states in Evangelii Gaudium, “Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner” (para. 85). The one, eternal sacrifice takes place at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. At that spot Jesus accomplishes the work of salvation, taking from us every burden, every sin. Do we see what has happened? Do we, with St. Alphonsus Liguori, know that we have but to look upon the crucified Christ to see the depths of love that God has for us, to see that our God is such that He lays down his life for his friends? We witness immense hope for the world in the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a spiritual father who exchanges his life as a ransom for one man and his family; if so, how much more can we find solace in the God who puts himself in the place of all, the billions and billions of souls, at the moment of His passion. And now, the enemy conquered by Love is more than just an evil political regime but the very author of evil and the father of lies himself.

Returning to St. Paul and our Holy Father, we can triumphantly exclaim, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55).

My earnest prayer is that we, as Jesuits, will always turn to the cross of Christ for our salvation, since from the cross comes the Resurrection, and from the Resurrection comes the very source of our hope and joy, the gaudium et spes, the joy of the Gospel.

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

My “Homiletic” Reflection for August 20, 2015

On Matthew 22:1-14

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(Our Chapel at the Novitiate in St. Paul)

“Anything interests between those who love.” “Anything interests between those who love,” so thinks the main character of Jane Austen’s gripping novel Emma. While I’ve wildly torn that line out of its context, as I tend to do with all texts—including lyrics—there is a core of truth to Emma’s ruminations that bears on the gospel for today. God’s Son has a beloved, and that beloved is the Church, a body to whom all are invited to celebrate the Eternal Feast, the Heavenly Banquet, the Supper of the Lamb.

Have you ever been in love? How does it make you feel? For me, it is, in a truer sense of the word than previously applied, gripping. And it is all too devastating. In love, now, as Ed Sheeran says in his melodious duet with Taylor Swift, “Everything has changed.” The morning air is crisp, food tastes a bit better, and unbearable people are suddenly more bearable; and all of this, simply because of that stirring desire within us.

Yes. And what of our loving relationship with God? Isn’t it similar? To quote a more authoritative source, I’ll turn to Pedro Arrupe, who has taught us to pray, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.” Everything? Yes, everything. That’s what our life in the novitiate is all about: God is courting us, and we take a couple of years to figure out exactly how to respond in a “quite absolute, final way.” Our vow formula zealously reads, “I vow to your divine Majesty, before the most holy Virgin Mary and the entire heavenly court, perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience in the Society of Jesus.”

But, of course, there is one difference between romantic love between solely human spouses and our relationship with God. Human partners alone cannot promise perpetual things for each person in this bond “passes away” into the hands of Hades. There is always the “til death do us part” of human relationships that makes them decidedly tragic. Yet, as for us, Christ has overcome death, and we commit ourselves solely to Him.

I daresay to all the first years, and to everyone really, something that I have found for myself to be true—that if you want to be with Jesus forever, then you are in good company here; that if you want to make a radical vow to the Lord, then you will find peace here; and that if the heart inside you is softly speaking to God “Take, Receive, Everything” then you have found your place here, for we are men of Jesus, in the Society of Jesus.

Best wishes,

David J.W.Inczauskis, n.S.J.

AMDG

The Signs Accompanying the True Gospel:

The Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier

The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier by Peter Paul Rubens

“Signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17). Signs indicate the presence of a deeper reality. They don’t say something in and of themselves; rather, they confirm the veracity of a preexisting conviction. In Mark’s Gospel reading—chosen because of the Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier—we hear one account of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples. He reveals to them that great miracles will verify the good news that they preach to the world. However, it is important to note that such wonders are secondary in the text; they merely accompany the gospel. We know that Jesus’ miracles produced mixed reactions amongst the crowds. Very soon after He multiplied the loaves and the fish, the masses turned on Him because of His difficult teaching on the Eucharist. Based on this reality, it seems that the message is more important than the miracle.

Nevertheless, the signs are there. How might we approach them? While studying at the University of Oxford, I often engaged in discussions with a Polish student of physics and philosophy. Peter and I would talk about God, miracles, and the Church with great frequency, but Peter was an atheist. He would always remind me that miracles do appear to occur, but that they are easily explainable if we turn to quantum physics. After all, everything comes down to probability when you think about it. His conviction demonstrated to me that miracles, though they might have captivated the imagination of people of earlier days, don’t necessarily do the trick now, at least not among a certain class of intellectuals. Where, then, shall we turn?

Many people have speculated about the current crisis of the Roman Catholic Church. Some argue that the crisis is one of faith. Others say that it is an issue of trust. I think that we are living through a crisis of holiness. Why has Pope Francis, for instance, aroused so much interest? It is largely because he lives a life of authentic holiness. His lifestyle of sanctity turns more heads than the great number of miracles that have been performed within the Church since the start of his pontificate. The sign that verifies the message of the Gospel today is the sign of holiness.

Francis Xavier, being a saint, a holy man, as Bartlett’s coworker put it, is an outstanding model to follow in this regard. In one of his letters from the Far East to his fellow Jesuits, St. Francis exhorted them to “dispose themselves for much,” “que os dispongáis para mucho.” Though he surely disposed himself for much in that modern scholars estimate his performance of more than 30,000 baptisms, he also disposed himself in ways that are much more akin to our own. Where did Francis Xavier initially go when he arrived in Goa: first, to a hospital to minister to patients, like Dwyer; second, to a prison, like a number of our second years; third, to a school, like many of us first years. He knew both the little way of St. Therese and the big way of the early Apostles, both of which were signs that served to confirm the gospel he proclaimed.

St. Francis Xavier’s challenge to us, my brothers, is to internalize his call to “dispose ourselves for much.” I’m convinced that holy witness, above all, will convince this generation that God is truly Emmanuel. Let us pray that, during this advent season, we might rediscover the miraculous truth that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, as well. With God on our side, we can dispose ourselves to accomplish the impossible task put before the disciples and, of course, put now before us: the evangelization of the whole world.

Finding God in All Things: Second Sermon as a Jesuit Novice

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I had the opportunity to share my second sermon as a Jesuit novice this past Friday. The Church takes the readings from Ephesians 4:1-6 and from Luke 12:54-59. Enjoy!

“God is over all and in all and through all.” Permit me to engage in a short moment of reminiscing. About two years ago at this time, a new teaching fell upon my ears, and it transformed my life.  It was simple, yet touching. My spiritual director told me that I could “find God in all things.” At first, the idea smacked of pantheism, but, then, as the conversation continued, he won me over. The concept seemed almost magical, mystical, and, as I have long been a romantic, it fit well with my fascination with the sublime. The idea was gorgeous, but could I live it?

Shockingly, I could. As I descended the stairs and walked out into the street, love permeated everything. Each individual, despite his or her bleak clothing (it was winter in England), was God-like, made in His image and likeness. I skipped past the local Chinese restaurant and praised the smells that crept into my nose. The food at the dinner table that night was extra-delicious. This attitude has continued, though, I must say, sapped of the initial bout of intrigue, up until the present time. God still reveals Himself to me in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

As far as I can tell, the crowds in this reading were just like me before the turning point I’ve just described. They hadn’t discovered that Jesus was truly “LORD OF ALL.” Perhaps they needed a good Jesuit spiritual director to guide them; or, more likely, they needed God to open their eyes to the epitome of His presence in the world: the person of Jesus Himself.

Inevitably, Christians go through various stages in their spiritual development. It is one thing to acknowledge that God is over all and in all and through all, and another thing to live in that truth. For this reason, St. Paul urges us to “live in a manner worthy of the call we have received.” Fundamental to such worthy living is humility, the virtue to which Jesus exhorts us in the second half of today’s gospel selection. In recent weeks we’ve heard such beautiful talks on humility within these walls that it would be unfit for me to elaborate on this theme excessively. Therefore, I’d merely like to share two short exhortations and points of reflection as a way to conclude this message.

First, are we more attuned to reading the appearance of the earth and sky or to interpreting the present time? In other words, do we recognize the pattern of the earth without recognizing the patterns of the earth’s maker? While it is certainly good to know scientific data and philosophical facts, it is even better to know the mind and the heart of the author of science and philosophy themselves.

Second, do we judge what is right in and of ourselves alone, or do we ask God to inspire us with His judgment regarding the difficult situations of our lives? Do we default to attitudes of mediocrity, of passive aggression or of plain malevolence when confronted with a conflict, or do we ceaselessly seek peace, unity of mind, and reconciliation, as both St. Paul and Jesus suggest?

Tasks such as the ones I’ve named are intimidating, and at times we may feel that we have neither the energy nor the willpower nor the love necessary to reflect on God or to work for peace. However, we can expect that our Lord will give us the grace necessary to accomplish His will, trusting even that He lives over US, in US, and through US.

Thanks for reading! Your comments and questions are very welcome.

Best wishes,
David JW Inczauskis, nSJ

AMDG