James Kubicki, S.J., is a Milwaukee-based priest who has served as national director of the Apostleship of Prayer since 2003. He holds an M.A. from Saint Louis University as well as an M.Div and a Theology Masters from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He is the author of A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (2012, Ave Maria Press) and appears regularly on Relevant Radio as well as other Catholic media outlets.
Father Kubicki entered the Jesuits in 1971 and was ordained in 1983. From 1984-88 he served as vocation director and from 1995-99 as director of formation for his Jesuit province. In 1989-95 he worked at the Sioux Spiritual Center, a retreat house for Native Americans in South Dakota. During that time he was also assistant director of the Diocese of Rapid City's deacon and lay ministry formation program. From 2000-03 he was the Assistant Director of Demontreville, the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.
On July 7, I interviewed Father Kubicki by email about his work on behalf of evangelization.
How are things going at the Apostleship of Prayer?
Very well. I like to say that we used to be a leaflet shop but now we have become a real prayer resource with printed and audio materials for people of all ages. When I became director in 2003 we didn’t even have a website but now we have a strong presence in social media and Catholic radio stations around the country.
Although the Apostleship of Prayer was founded by Jesuits and is an ecclesial organization directed by Jesuits, it may sometimes have a lower public profile than other Jesuit institutions. How do you explain this ministry to people?
First, I say that the Apostleship of Prayer is a way that people can find meaning and purpose in their lives by making an offering of their entire day to God. It’s a way to live the “Suscipe” or “Take, Lord, Receive” prayer with which St. Ignatius concludes his “Spiritual Exercises.” That makes the spirituality of the AoP Eucharistic, a way to live the Mass in daily life.
The planning document of the Synod of Bishops in 2005 mentioned the Apostleship of Prayer and recommended praying the daily offering as a practical way to live a Eucharistic life. The daily offering includes prayer for the pope’s two monthly intentions, which he gives to the world through us. Thus, we call ourselves the “Pope’s Prayer Network” or “Pope’s Prayer Group.” All of this is inspired by a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, expressed by what has traditionally been called Sacred Heart devotion.
Traditionally, the Apostleship is best known for its promotion of devotional staples like the Sacred Heart badge and daily offering prayer for the pope’s intentions. How do U.S. Catholics today feel about the Sacred Heart devotion?
I think that in many ways Sacred Heart devotion went the way of other devotions in the 1960’s—it was lost. Some of that was due to pictures that were overly sentimental and unappealing, and some of that was because devotions seemed very individualistic—a sort of “Jesus-and-me” spirituality that ignored others. But when I explain the true meaning of Sacred Heart devotion—that it’s really God’s devotion to us and our response, and that being devoted to Jesus’ Heart means sharing his deepest concerns and desires for humanity—that makes a lot of sense to people. That’s what I tried to do in my book, A Heart on Fire. For some, it’s not so much “rediscovering” as learning about a Heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus for the first time.
How does your ministry at the Apostleship of Prayer contribute to the new evangelization?
The last three popes have all talked about how evangelization arises out of a personal “encounter” with God. Only when that encounter grows into a loving and joy-filled relationship will people have a strong desire to evangelize, to share the good news with others. Then their entire life will be lived as a loving response that attracts others. Evangelization is not proselytism but a matter of attraction. We find that what we call the “simple and profound” spirituality of the Apostleship helps people to live meaningful and joyful lives that attract others to the faith. I know a man who told me that he would be bitter and depressed because of his many ailments but the Apostleship helped him to deal with them. And that’s drawn others to want to know his “secret.”
Pope Francis has spoken often about the importance of a strong devotional life in the Catholic Church. As a fellow Jesuit, what message do you take away from his words?
We live in a very scientific and technological world and the emphasis is on what I call “head knowledge.” There is a desperate need for “heart knowledge,” for wisdom. Pope Francis’ encyclical "Laudatio Si’" clearly brings that out. All the scientific and technological advances won’t help humanity if they are not accompanied by a wisdom that knows how to use them for good, according to God’s plan for humanity.
We need a conversion of the heart, to have hearts more like the Heart of Jesus. This was the focus of Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for Lent which he concluded by quoting from the Litany of the Sacred Heart: “Make our hearts like yours.” And in “The Joy of the Gospel,” he called devotions “fleshy,” saying that they can help to foster relationships.
As you understand them, what are devotions and why should Catholics care about them? What is the proper role of devotions in Catholic life?
Devotions help us to pray. In the “Constitutions” of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius recommended any prayer that would help a person grow in devotion. By “devotion” he meant an affection for God, a desire for God. Clearly he was speaking about a heart-centered relationship with God. I think a stronger devotional life can help us pray the Eucharist in a more meaningful and life-changing way in which our hearts, our deepest interiors, and not just our minds or bodies are actively participating in Mass.
In your view, what is the greatest need in the Catholic Church today?
I think the greatest need is for a personal encounter with Jesus that leads to an ever-deepening relationship with him. I think of the twelve apostles. They were so diverse. In fact, if you consider that Matthew was a tax-collector collaborating with the Romans and Simon was a Zealot party member, part of a terrorist organization trying to get rid of the Romans, you have enemies who are called to live and work together. This is a bigger difference than Republicans and Democrats! What could possibly help these twelve overcome their differences of personality, background and political beliefs? Only Jesus.
In a polarized world and church, we need Jesus at the center. And the closest encounter that we have with him is in the Eucharist where he gives us his Heart to transform our hearts.
What’s your favorite scripture passage and why?
Romans 8:28. The NAB translation goes like this: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” This verse challenges me to trust and to surrender, believing that God can use everything to fulfill the divine plan for me and for humanity.
How do you pray?
I would call my prayer “busy.” As soon as I wake up and before getting out of bed, I pray the Morning Offering, the Suscipe and the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Then, waking up some more with exercise, a shower, and some coffee, I pray the Divine Office, trying to concentrate on the words and imagine the images there along the lines of St. Ignatius’ approach to contemplating the Gospels. I may also reflect a bit on the daily readings for Mass. When I celebrate Mass I try to live what I preach by not spacing out or going on auto-pilot but being engaged, mind and heart, in the celebration.
In the evening I pray the Divine Office again and reflect on the day by journaling. That’s my approach to the Examen. In the car or while I’m walking I often pray the rosary, again trying to imagine the scene for each of the mysteries. I pray when I prepare my retreat talks or other reflections. But what I really relish is when I have a chance to simply sit quietly in the Lord’s Eucharistic Presence.
As a brother Jesuit, what is your impression of Pope Francis?
Surprising! From his election to the present, he has been full of surprises for me and, I know, for many others. I resonate with his Christ-centeredness. I see in that emphasis a man who was formed by the “Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius. I also see a man with a very practical approach to problems. He seems to want to deal with problems and crises directly and immediately, rolling up his sleeves and tackling them sooner rather than later.
What do you want people to take away from your life and work?
I was ordained on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1983. I see that as providential. My formation and work over the years as a Jesuit priest helped form me to be an apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I want to help people to know Jesus in a deeper way, to know that they are deeply and intimately loved by the God who was willing to die for them. I would like people to know, no matter who they are, that their lives, and every moment of their lives, have meaning and significance and can play a part in the ongoing work of salvation.
What are your hopes for the future?
Besides what I’ve just said, I hope for something that our beloved Father General, Pedro Arrupe, said shortly before his stroke. He said that one of the signs of the renewal of the Society of Jesus would be a “widespread and vigorous devotion to the Heart of Jesus.” That’s what I am praying and working for every day.
Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.