Jesuit Father James Kubicki serves as the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer, making known the Holy Father’s monthly prayer intentions in the United States.
Father Kubicki was raised in Milwaukee in, as he put it, a “good Polish-American family.”
He joined the Society of Jesus in 1971 and was ordained in 1983. He’s a frequent retreat director and radio guest.
Father Kubicki spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake.
Did you always want to be a priest?
No, not at all. In fact, I had thought about many other things. What happened was: My parents, growing up in the Great Depression, valued education. When it came time to choose a high school in the Milwaukee area, we were looking at a high school that would be both Catholic and noted for its academic quality, so I ended up going to Marquette, the Jesuit high school in Milwaukee.
While I was there, I came under the influence of some very good Jesuits who helped me through some rough spots in my adolescent years and planted a seed. I began thinking to myself, “I’d like to do for other people what these Jesuits had done for me.”
After one year of college, I decided to apply to the Jesuits and was accepted and began my Jesuit formation. Priesthood was more or less part of the package of being a Jesuit. It was only later, as I was preparing for ordination and going through my theology studies and working in a parish as a deacon-seminarian, I really began to experience the call to priesthood on a deeper level. Now, I look at it and say that the Lord was leading me along the best path that he had in mind for me. Through my priesthood I am eternally grateful to the Lord for the opportunities I’ve had to share the good news with others, celebrate the sacraments, and in turn, be touched by his love in the process of exercising my priesthood.
Was there anything specifically that cemented the idea of a religious vocation?
It came down to, in the summer of 1969, a Jesuit priest at my high school invited me to join him and five of my classmates on a camping trip around Lake Superior. It was the experience of brotherhood and fellowship in this small group of friends, and celebrating Mass every day on the shores of Lake Superior in the beauty of creation, and praying the Rosary as we traveled each day. I remember beginning our trip and thinking, “Oh, the Rosary. I’m not sure. This isn’t cool. This isn’t part of what I, as a young person, am interested in doing.” By the time our two-week camping trip was over, I looked forward to those times when we would get in the car and pray the Rosary as we drove. I really look back at it and say that our Blessed Mother had a role to play in my vocation. I really do call her the mother of my vocation.
So, when the time came when I was taking my first vows as a Jesuit seminarian about to enter the Jesuits — we don’t change our names when we take our vows, but we do have the opportunity to take a vow name that we don’t use but is a sign of our devotion — I chose the vow name of Mary because of the role that she had played in my vocation.
Your camping trip reminds me of the early work of Pope John Paul II, who as a priest took people out hiking and camping and evangelized young people in this way.
Definitely. It’s a great means for young people because it brings them together in an atmosphere where that type of close living allows you to talk to a priest — or in their case Bishop Wojtyla — about the things that are important in their lives, and all in the context of creation, God’s beauty and in the context of prayer. I can’t help thinking that this is a great means of evangelization.
Do you have a favorite Catholic memory?
I was able to serve Mass. This was not something that came easily because my mother worked in order to support education in our family. My mother worked in the evenings. I had to come home right after school to be there when she was leaving for work. That’s when they had altar boy training, so I wasn’t able to be an altar server. But one of the priests in our parish decided that it would be a good thing for me to have that opportunity, so he worked with the sister who was in charge of the altar servers and had her make an exception in my case that I would learn the Latin responses (early 1960s), memorize the Latin responses with another altar server and be able to engage in the practice of serving Mass at another time.
Again, I think this is something we see so often in the stories of many priests — that the opportunity to serve at the altar at a young age again plants a seed in their minds — and it certainly did in mine.
The Apostleship of Prayer allows folks to join their prayers with those of the Holy Father and the entire Church. How did you first get involved with them?
The Apostleship of Prayer goes back to 1844. It began in a Jesuit seminary in France. It’s been under the guidance and direction of the Society of Jesus ever since. In my high school at Marquette, in our home rooms, each month we would receive a monthly leaflet that had the pope’s intentions for each month. Every month, the pope gives two intentions to the Apostleship of Prayer.
Also, we prayed the Morning Offering as part of the beginning of our day in school, so I came into contact with this prayer, in which one makes an offering of one’s entire day to God. The beauty of it has really grown for me. At the time, it would have been something I did out of a habit, but I continued the habit through the years and more recently have come to see how the original inspiration of those Jesuit seminarians is something that everyone needs.
The inspiration [for the Apostleship] being: The seminarians were in a seminary studying philosophy and wondering what that had to do with what was really important in life. For them, what was important was being a missionary. They had just read letters from Jesuit missionaries who were working in India. They got both excited and frustrated — excited because they couldn’t wait to get out there to be missionaries themselves and frustrated because they were stuck there studying something that they didn’t think made much of a difference in the world. Their spiritual director gathered them together and said, “Now, look: You don’t have to wait to be an apostle; you can be an apostle right now. Make an offering of your prayers, your frustrations, your headaches, your sufferings, and this will be the spiritual means that will water the fruit that is being ripened on the vine out in the missions.” So, he gave them a sense of purpose and meaning in their daily lives, especially in things that were frustrating to them.
As I look back on all those years of praying the daily offering, I can see that the Lord was helping me to understand that same notion. It’s something that I think was very popular in the Church years ago — the idea of “offering it up” — that if we encounter a pain or frustration or hardship of any kind to make an offering of that to the Lord and in that way join it to the cross and to his perfect offering in the Mass, and the pain and frustration that we go through then acquires an eternal significance and meaning because it’s working for the salvation of souls joined to the cross of Jesus.
Tell me about the Holy Father’s second monthly intention, which is the missionary intention. That wasn’t originally part of the Apostleship, was it?
In the 1880s, at one point, the Holy Father began giving a general prayer intention to the world through the Apostleship. In 1928, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith asked the Holy Father to add a second intention that would be more missionary in its focus. So, since 1929, we have had two specific intentions each month.
How does the Holy Father come up with the intentions, and are people able to submit intentions for his consideration?
Definitely. In fact, that’s what we hope to do more and more of. The Holy Father gets suggestions from around the world. They come from him through the different national directors of the Apostleship of Prayer. I am the director here in the U.S., and there are other directors elsewhere around the world. We are asked to submit suggestions for the coming year. Then the Holy Father goes through those to see how many people are looking for the same intention, and he will choose the ones that he wants us to pray for in a given year.
So, anyone can write to our office or contact us by e-mail and give us suggestions, and we’ll follow up on that.
A case in point: In April 2009, we were praying for farmers, those who work in the field of agriculture, that they would have abundant harvests, and that the hungry of the world would be fed. I know exactly where that intention came from. I was visiting with Bishop Blaise Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., a few years ago, and he asked me why the Holy Father never prayed for farmers and ranchers. I said, “Well, bishop, I don’t know, but why don’t you write up a suggested prayer intention? And we’ll submit it — and maybe the Holy Father will choose it.” That’s what the Holy Father did, but he tweaked it, making sure that the wealthy nations would share their abundant harvests with the rest of the world. He took the basic intention and added the element of praying for an end to world hunger.
For those who want to become a part of the Apostleship of Prayer, what is involved?
It used to be that people would join the Apostleship through their local parish; in every parish the pastor was aware of the Apostleship and would sign people up and inform the national office. That system broke down in the 1960s. What we have now is: We encourage people to enroll officially in the Apostleship of Prayer online at our website, by calling in or writing us. What it means is: There is no membership fee, but you are making the promise that you will pray a daily offering and specifically keep in mind the Holy Father’s intentions for the month. That is the only requirement. It doesn’t bind under sin, but it is a serious requirement. If you want to be under the Apostleship of Prayer — which one newspaper called the Holy Father’s prayer group — you will commit yourself to praying that daily offering and keeping in mind the Holy Father’s intentions. That’s the only official enrollment procedure.
Some people are also members simply by committing in their hearts to praying this daily offering. We consider them members, but we encourage members to enroll so that we can get news to them about prayer intentions. Just recently, our international director in Rome asked us to begin publicizing the urgent prayer requests that the Holy Father has. After the typhoon that hit the Philippines and the earthquakes in Indonesia, there were some terrible situations in Southeast Asia, and the Holy Father mentioned these in his Angelus address. Now that we have the Holy Father asking at other times for more urgent prayer, we want to be a part of that and make people aware of that right away — that the Holy Father has asked us to pray for certain very important emergencies and important intentions to him.
On your blog you share beautiful stories about prayer.
I was encouraged by staff members at the Apostleship office to start blogging. People are often interested in the things I’m doing, parish missions and retreats that I am giving, but also to help people understand the spirituality of the Apostleship, which is a Eucharistic spirituality. Pope Benedict, after the Synod of Bishops in 2005, wrote an apostolic exhortation called Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), in which he said that the Eucharist is a mystery to be believed, celebrated and lived. Most of us understand what it means to believe and celebrate the Eucharist, but what does it mean to live the Eucharist? This is the whole spirituality of making an offering. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans 12:1 says, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” So, we in our lives are living sacrifices, and our prayers, these offerings of hardships, pain, of menial work, the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of each day, when joined to the Mass, have great significance and power.
On the blog I was talking about a story that someone had sent me about a bishop in Europe, who realized that this nun had been praying for him and offering her trials for him, and this was the source of his vocation. It really goes back to one of our early members.
On Oct. 15, 1885, a 12-year-old girl by the name of Thérèse Martin joined the Apostleship of Prayer. We know her today as St. Thérèse the Little Flower. Before she became a Carmelite nun, she learned this spirituality of the Morning Offering. In her autobiography she tells the wonderful story about a convicted criminal who was about to be executed, completely unrepentant and bitter, and she began offering up little sacrifices for him. At the last minute, he turned and grabbed hold of the priest’s hand as it was being held out to him. The priest was holding a crucifix. He grabbed the crucifix and kissed the wounds of Jesus three times. Thérèse saw in this the answer to her prayers: that through her offerings of prayers, sacrifices and works this man repented at the last minute. This is the spirituality of “offering it up” that is at the heart of the Apostleship of Prayer and the heart of the Eucharist as well: where we offer our lives with Jesus to the Father in every Mass.
Tim Drake writes from
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
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