The Miracle of Spring

The Miracle of Spring

I have been on the road for the last two weekends.  Last Saturday, March 3, I celebrated Mass and helped with confessions at the retreat for junior high students in Centennial.  Then on Sunday, March 4, I celebrated Masses at St. Paul’s Newman Center in Laramie.  This Saturday (March 10), I attended the fundraiser for St. Anthony’s Tri-Parish School in Casper, which was well attended and a wonderful evening.  Then on Sunday, I celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s parish in Wheatland and at Mary Queen of Heaven parish in Chugwater.  It was the first visit to those parishes.  The homily from this Sunday’s Mass is below.

Take time to marvel at the miracle of Spring in the next few months.  Each Spring, new life is poured out as pure gift from God.  Farmers and ranchers work hard during calving and planting season.  Yet, their toil is tiny compared to the immensity of life bursting forth all around them.

The buds on the trees are bulging.  New leaves are not far behind.  Before long the grass will tint the land green.  Flowers will pop out on the prairie as sentinels to the beauty of God.  Wheat sprouts will poke out from tiny kernels of grain packed with power.  Newborn calves wobbly on their legs will soon frolic with delight across the pasture.

Take time to marvel at the miracle of Spring in the next few months.  Each Spring, new life is poured out as pure gift from God.

Do you know that LENT is an old English word for SPRING?  The miracle of new life in creation also overflows in our spiritual lives.  Grace is poured into our hearts as pure gift from God.

St. Paul says, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).

The land is so barren in winter; yet it is completely transformed in spring.  Our hearts are often desolate because of the cold dark winter of sin.  Yet, God renews us with mercy, grace and forgiveness again and again.  It is pure gift.

“When we are dead in our transgressions,” God shows us the “immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Eph. 2:7-8). 

Are you taking time to marvel at the miracle of new life offered to you this Lent?  It is not something we accomplish.  Rather it is the GIFT of God.  It is even more powerful than the miracle of spring.  It is especially abundant in the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation.

Have you been to confession?  When you go to confession, do you embrace forgiveness as pure gift?  Often, people will say, “I know that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.”  But that is a sneaky form of prideGod’s job is to forgive.  Our job is to receive forgiveness.  So when we start to decide whether or not we are eligible for forgiveness, then we are making ourselves bigger than God.  We’re doing God’s job.  It is a form of pride.

Our stance before God is to receive grace like children receive gifts from their parents.  Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).  This was so confusing for the Pharisees.  For them, to experience the kingdom of God, you had to be old enough to read the Torah and keep the commandments.  But Jesus says, “Nope.  It’s pure gift.  Unless you accept it like a little child, you will never enter into the Father’s mercy.” 

“By grace you have been saved through faith.”  All that you have to do is believe it and accept it as a gift.  “It is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” 

 Pope Francis is a strong witness of how God loves us so freely. He keeps focusing us on God’s mercy.  In his first Angelus address, Pope Francis said, “It is not God who tires of forgiving man, but we who tire of asking for forgiveness.  Let us never tire, let us never tire!  He is the loving Father, who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.”

Several years ago, a young man in his twenties told me that he had been angry with both parents for his entire life.  His mother spent much of her time drinking and partying.  His dad was absent for most of his life.  Yet, he decided to tell his mom “I forgive you, and I love you.”  He said, “I felt my soul for the first time in years.  I felt so good inside.”

By the grace of forgiveness, he went from the cold dark winter of sin into the bright warm light of spring.  He found the grace to say I forgive you because he had worked on his relationship with God.  He went to Mass every Sunday.  He came to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He was active in leading youth retreats.

Finally, his relationship with God matured enough for him to forgive.  He experienced a new springtime in his spiritual life.  He was amazed by the gift of new life.  The only work that we have to do is to open ourselves to grace.

Let the Father’s love re-create you this Lent.  St. Paul says, “We are his  handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works God has prepared in advance” (Eph. 2:10).  When that young man let God re-create his heart with the gift of MERCY, then he could do the good work of forgiving his mother.

Take time to marvel at the miracle of Spring while new life is poured out as pure gift from God.  Sit in quiet by yourself in nature.  If you are a farmer or rancher, take ten minutes just to be quiet and take in the beauty of spring.

Then realize that God wants you to have a spiritual springtime.  Marvel at the miracle of new life given to you this Lent.  Pray the Stations of the Cross or go to confession, and receive the Life flowing from the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).  That gift is renewed at every Eucharist.  Let it refresh you.  Receive it as pure gift.  Let God re-create you in Christ Jesus for the good works of God.

Conscience Protection Act

Conscience Protection Act

Congress is considering whether to include the Conscience Protection Act in must-pass government funding legislation.  A decision will be made prior to March 23, 2018.

Currently, nurses and other health care providers and institutions are being forced to choose between participating in abortions or leaving health care altogether. Churches and pro-life Americans are being forced to provide coverage for elective abortions—including late-term abortions—in their health care plans.

This situation would be remedied by enacting the Conscience Protection Act.  I encourage you to pray and to act by emailing and calling Congress in the coming week, especially on Monday, March 12.  Please tell them that enacting the Conscience Protection Act is urgently needed to protect Americans from being forced to violate their deeply held convictions about respect for human life.

Members of Congress can be reached by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking to be connected with your representative or senator.

God’s Valentine

God’s Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Happy Ash Wednesday!  By the way, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday go together very well.  Maybe that doesn’t seem right because today is day of fast and abstinence.  Instead of eating a fancy meal or feasting on chocolates, we eat simply.

Yet, during Lent God gives us a huge valentine.  Often we fail to see that because we associate Lent with fasting, alms and prayer – all things that we do to work on our spiritual life.  But God gives us much more than we could ever give back.

Maybe it will help to fast forward to the end of Lent.  The end will help us understand the essence of Lent.  At the end of Lent, God showers us with his greatest gifts:

  • Jesus gives us his Body and Blood at the Last Supper.
  • He pours out his life on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them . . .”
  • The Risen Christ says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
  • Finally, God sends the Holy Spirit so that our hearts burn with his love.

Those events are the heart of the gospel, or the kerygma of the gospel.

As you are marked with ashes we will say, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  In other words, believe in the gift of Jesus’ life poured out in the Eucharist.  Believe in his death on the cross to free you from sin.  Believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit that keeps coming to you in prayer. Believe in the gospel.  Trust in Jesus’ mercy proclaimed in the gospel.

Lent is a time to stop and realize how good God is to us. The Opening Antiphon for Mass is all about GOD.  It says nothing about what we should do.  “You are merciful to all O Lord, and despise nothing that you have made.    You overlook people’s sins, to bring them to repentance, and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God” (Wis. 11:24-25, 27).  Those are the first words that we are supposed to hear as we begin Lent.

As you are marked with ashes we will say, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  The Hebrew word for repent means to turn.  There are two essential components of repentance:  Turn toward God, and turn away from sin.  We usually think of the second one, but the first one is more important.  Repent.  First, turn toward God, then turn away from sin.

This is exactly what God tells us to do in the first reading today.  The very first words of the Scriptures for Lent are these: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Joel 2:12-13).

Fasting is a way of returning to God with your whole heart.  We pray better when our stomachs are not filled with food.  Fasting makes us think of our deepest hunger.  Food can’t fill us……. nothing can really fill the heart except GOD.  Fasting is worthless unless it helps you meet God.  We fast to remind us that we live not on bread but on God’s Word.  We FAST so that we can FEAST on the Word of God.

Lent has one purpose – to renew our relationship with God. Turn toward God.  Accept the Valentine of God’s love.  “For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13).  Turn back to God’s merciful love.  Then you will have a deeper repulsion of sin.  Then you will see your sin more clearly and confess your sin more confidently.

If you do only one thing this Lent, do something that will renew your relationship with God.  But remember, God longs to renew the relationship more than you do.  Turn toward God.  Let God surprise you with sweet Valentines.  St. Catherine of Siena said: “Don’t you understand?  God is running after you day and night as though he has nothing else to do but simply to occupy himself with you.”

Lent has one purpose – to renew our relationship with God.  When you fast, let it be a way to empty yourself to focus on God, or see it as a discipline to help you be more selfless like God, more focused on living for others.  When you pray, read one of the readings for daily Mass.  Listen for how it speaks of God’s love for you, or for how the Word challenges you to imitate his love.  When you give alms or do good deeds, let them be inspired by God’s good deeds toward you.

But remember, fasting, prayer and almsgiving will be just a bunch of hard work.  They will become a burden.  They will be lifeless, unless you first open your heart to receive God’s Valentine.

St. Paul says it best: “We implore you, in Christ’s name, be reconciled to God!  For our sakes, God made [Jesus] who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20-21).

Being the Compassion of Christ

Being the Compassion of Christ

In 2005, I went to India with Catholic Relief Services to learn about the mission work they support.  CRS provides the Missionaries of Charity with funding for their ministries to the destitute.  We visited a leper community of men in Kolkata, India run by the Missionaries of Charity.  Many of the men were disfigured.  Some were missing fingers or parts of arms and legs.

Even though their leprosy had been healed through medical treatment, I was still nervous about touching them.  Nevertheless, we walked among them and shook their hands.  Like the lepers in Jesus’ time, they were isolated, so they responded with such gratitude to a simple handshake.  Their eyes lit up as we greeted them.

Today is World Day of the Sick, so the story of Jesus healing a leper fits well.  In 1992 St. John Paul II initiated World Day of the Sick.  He chose February 11 because on that day we celebrate the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Thus, the day calls to mind the sick people who travel to Lourdes for healing.  Also, Lourdes is a place where others go to minister to the sick.  They assist those who are otherwise unable to enter into the waters.  They pray for them and with them.  So today we remember the sick and our call to accompany them in their suffering.

How often do you visit the sick?  What is your attitude when you meet a person with cancer or a contagious illness?

  • Do you see yourself as one called to bring Christ’s compassion to them?
  • Do you see the suffering Christ in the sick person?

Recently, our attitude toward the sick has been influenced negatively in two ways.  First, we look at the sick from a distance.  The elderly are put in nursing homes, which is good because they need professional care.  But they experience isolation and feel forgotten.  Either we are too busy to visit the infirmed or elderly.  Or we say, “They won’t even remember if I visit, so what good will it do?”

We look at the sick from a distance

Second, our society says that suffering has no value.  The infirmed are encouraged to “end their suffering.”  Assisted suicide is growing.  Children in the womb diagnosed with an illness have a higher risk of being ‘eliminated.’  We value the perfectly healthy person more than the sick person.  We fail to see the suffering Christ in the sick.

Two temptations for us are:

  • To look at the sick from a distance, rather than reaching out to them with Christ’s compassion.
  • Failing to see the suffering Christ in the sick or not recognizing the dignity of the sick person.

Today’s gospel helps us see things differently.  “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and . . . The leprosy left him immediately” (Mark 1:40-41).

How could the leper dare to approach Jesus?  Lepers were supposed to walk around yelling, “Unclean, unclean!” so that people were warned from any possible contact with them. Today people are afraid of being touched by anyone with a cold.  Imagine how much more people were afraid of contracting leprosy.

What is amazing is that the leper felt so confident in approaching Jesus.  In this scene Jesus showed us is that God is so approachable.  Even lepers felt comfortable coming close to Jesus.  When the leper asks for healing, “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.”

Jesus could have healed the leper with his Word alone.  He did that in other situations.  But here he touches the leper.  Lepers were totally isolated.  They lived apart from others.  So touching a leper is an expression of solidarity and fraternity….. to help the leper feel that he belongs to the community.

Several years ago, Fr. Jerry Scherer described to me how he ministers to the elderly or infirmed by saying, “Whenever I visit a nursing home, I also make a point to touch each person.  Human contact is so important for them.  Even if they cannot understand what I say, human touch is therapeutic for them.” 

Pope Francis talks a lot about a spirituality of CLOSENESS.  In a homily he said, “Closeness and compassion: this is how the Lord visits his people.  And when we want to proclaim the Gospel, to bring forth the word of Jesus, this is the path.”  In his letter for 2018 World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis said that the Church needs to “bring the Lord’s own gaze full of tenderness and compassion to the sick.” 

Francis speaks often about the ‘tenderness and compassion’ of God.  Those are not simply some of his favorite words.  Rather, they translate the word for mercy in this gospel.  When it says that Jesus was “moved with pity,” the Greek word is splanknizomai.  It means his guts ached for him.  It is like a mother who sees her child suffering with cancer and her stomach aches, or a father who feels sick to his stomach when his child is injured in a car accident.

 Compassion means to “suffer with.”  That is what splanknizomai means – to look at someone who is hurt or sick and ache for them.  When Pope Francis says that the Church needs to “bring the Lord’s own gaze full of tenderness and compassion to the sick,” he has splanknizomai in mind.

What is your attitude when you meet a person with cancer or a contagious illness?

  • Do you see yourself as one is called to bring Christ’s compassion to them?
  • Do you see the suffering Christ in the sick person? ……. not only the suffering of Christ, but the suffering Christ?

He said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me” (Mt. 25:40).  When we visit the sick, we meet Christ there.

Lent begins this week.  People often ask, “What are you giving up?” A better question is, “What are you giving?” 

We are called to give alms.  Almsgiving comes from the word for being merciful, especially like God’s mercy to the oppressed and afflicted.  Almsgiving really means to imitate God’s mercy.  As we celebrate Eucharist today, remember how the Lord has been merciful to you.  Then ask for the grace to bring his tenderness and compassion to the sick and oppressed and afflicted.

Slaves of Christ

Slaves of Christ

I celebrated Masses last week with three Catholic Schools in our Diocese:  St. Mary’s School in Cheyenne (January 29), St. Anthony’s Tri-Parish School in Casper (February 1) and Holy Name School in Sheridan (February 2).  I also met with the priests and parish leadership in Sheridan because they are considering a building project for the school.  Then I went to St. Edmund’s in Ranchester to talk with a small group because that parish is formulating plans for upgrading their facilities.

On Sunday, I celebrated the morning Masses at St. John the Baptist in Buffalo, then I went to St. Hubert’s in Kaycee for an afternoon Mass.  The following is the homily for Sunday.

In today’s reading, St. Paul described why he was working so hard.  He wrote, “I have made myself a slave to all to win over as many as possible. . . . All this I do for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:19, 23).

If people observed how you work throughout the week, what would they say?  “He works like a dog.  He’s burning the candle at both ends.”  Would they say, “She’s really busy;” or “She has a mission in life.”  To be really busy means that work and family demands long hard hours.  But to have a mission in life has a whole different connotation.

How busy are you?  Are you busy with your business or God’s business?  When I was chaplain at the Catholic School in Rapid City, the students were stressed.  They were trying to find time and energy for academics, sports, part-time jobs, family and friends.  Parents seem to be busier and busier as they juggle work, family and an increasing amount of time accompanying kids to sports or other extra-curricular events.  Family life is often stressed and harried.  People have become slaves to their schedules.

What is the secret to living life with proper balance and the right attitude?  I don’t think that it is not the difference between being busy and not busy.  Rather it is a matter of being busy with a mission.  Paul was a man on a MISSION.  It is amazing to think that he traveled from Israel to Syria, Turkey, Greece, Crete, and Italy.  He was high energy!

To describe his mission, Paul often uses the term ‘slave.’ He begins his letters by writing, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus” (Rom. 1:1).  Why?  Through his death Jesus paid the price of our ransom (1 Cor. 7:23).  So Paul belongs to Jesus.  He owes everything to him.  When it comes to his relationship with Jesus, Paul is all in.  That is what underlies his approach to ministry as he says, “I have made myself a slave to all to win over as many as possible. . . . All this I do for the sake of the gospel.” 

Paul channels his energy as a slave of Christ Jesus.  His whole life is a mission for the Lord….. a mission for the sake of the gospel.  So Paul describes himself as a slave of Christ, but he never says that he is burned out or working like a dog.  He must have found it life-giving.

Do you relate to Jesus as a “slave of Christ”?  More often we live our spiritual life through the lens of being a child of God or a disciple of Jesus.  In addition to those dimensions of our relationship to God, we need to add the term slave of Christ.  For Paul, being a slave of Chr­ist is his response to the death of Christ.  His life poured out on the cross is what drove Paul to be a slave of Christ.  The term recalls the debt of love we owe to Christ.  It is a language of love, not servitude.

When I begin my day with this image it helps me to let go of my control.  Sometimes, I drive myself so hard.  But that’s the problem.  I am driving myself.  My focus is on what I want to accomplish.  That easily leads to feeling weary or burdened.  But when I re-focus and work as a servant of Christ, asking for the Holy Spirit to guide me, seeking to please God alone ….. then I might work very hard, but I’m more peaceful.  I end the day not feeling burdened, but what I would call a good tired.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) gives us a glimpse of a day in the life of Jesus.  After he finished preaching at the synagogue and casting out a demon (Mark 1:21-28), he healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  After sunset he cured many sick people and continued with exorcisms.  Then before dawn he went off to pray in a deserted place.  And that morning he left to do the same thing in nearby villages.

He had a grueling schedule.  But do you picture Jesus as stressed out or worn down?  Rather, we picture him as single-minded and peaceful, even though he may have been bone-tired.

Prayer early in the morning seems to be the secret to Jesus’ mission.  He is busy.  Yet he gets up before dawn for prayer.  We know very little about what Jesus did in that prayer.  But it’s obvious that he only prayed, whereas we might pray while being preoccupied with the rest of the day.  You know how that is?  You say some prayers, but the goal is to get done so that you can get to work.

We need to pray as if it is the most important thing that we will do all day – totally focused on God.  Early morning is the best time to do that.  You’re rested, not going in ten different directions.

What is the fruit of a solid prayer life?  Through prayer Jesus was zeroed in on God’s work, not what is popular and not what he might want for himself.  When Peter finds Jesus praying, he tells him, “Everyone is looking for you.”  But he says, “Let us go to nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose have I come” (Mk. 1:38).

Prayer engenders a sense of being sent by God.  It calls us to obedience.  Think of how unpopular that word is in American culture.  Obedience is also one of the main elements of being a slave of Christ.

If people observed how you work throughout the week, what would they say?  He works like a dog.  Or, He or she is on a mission for God.  Have you experienced the freedom of serving God alone?  When we are single-minded in being a servant of God, it engenders so much freedom.  We are free from what the desire to please others or from our own plans to be successful.

How free are you as a slave of Christ?  Are you on a mission for God?  Does your prayer life keep you grounded in working through each day as a servant of the Lord?

Acting with Jesus’ Authority

Acting with Jesus’ Authority

Over the last week, I have been on the road to central and western Wyoming.  I celebrated Masses with St. Margaret’s School in Riverton (January 24) and Holy Spirit School in Rock Springs (January 25).  I also visited the people of St. Christopher Parish in Eden and the parish leaders in Rock Springs because both communities are developing building projects.

Then I went to Jackson for an ecumenical prayer service, Friday Mass with the Latino Catholics and weekend Masses at Our Lady of the Mountains (OLM) in Jackson and Holy Family in Thayne.  As people gathered for the Saturday evening Mass at OLM, a moose wandered onto the church property.  It was a great photo op!  Following is the homily from the weekend Masses.

Imagine the astonishment of people as they saw Jesus cast out the demon in the possessed man (Mark 1:21-28).  The people said, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk. 1:27).  In chapter 2 of Mark’s gospel, we see that authority again as he forgives the sins of a paralytic, then heals him by saying “Arise, pick up your mat and walk” (Mk. 2:11).

Disciples of Jesus live in awe of his authority, and they act with his authority.  In Mark 3:15 and 6:7, Jesus chooses the Twelve and sends them.  Both passages state that “he gave them authority over unclean spirits.”  In John 20:23, the risen Christ gives them authority to forgive sins.  Disciples of Jesus live in awe of his authority, and they act with his authority.  This is true for all disciples, not just the clergy.  We are empowered with his Spirit from baptism.

What was the attitude behind Jesus authority?  What adjectives could we use to describe his authority?  What did it look like?  If we know that, then it will help us know what his authority should look like for his disciples.

The first way to describe Jesus’ authority is to call it a childlike authority.  His primary relationship was as the beloved Son of the Father.  At his baptism he hears God say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  As Jesus prays he says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt. 11:27).  He experienced the Father giving him all his gifts — the Holy Spirit, his power and authority.  His primary relationship was as a beloved Son of the Father.  This is his identity and the foundation of his authority.  It is a childlike authority.  Completely dependent on the Father.  Rooted in a deep relationship with the Father.  He was totally confident in his status as the Son.

If disciples are to act with Jesus’ childlike authority, then their most important relationship is as a beloved son or daughter of the Father.  That means they dedicate time in prayer every day to be with their best friend.  This is a challenge for everyone, myself included.  But is it crucial to develop a childlike authority.

Here are some ways that this kind of authority should be seen in us.  First, for the disciple with childlike authority there are no cliques.  No special groups that gather to gossip about others.  This applies to the pastor and to parishioners.  Instead, pastor and parishioners speak about every single person as brothers and sisters.

Second, when I act with childlike authority, I possess impartiality.  An impartiality of those who criticize me and those who praise me.  What others say does not define me, whether good or bad.  What matters is how God judges me.  I want to please God alone.

Another way to say this is that childlike authority gives the disciple internal freedom.  The disciple who has an identity as a son or daughter of God is free inside. Pope Francis is a good example of this freedom.  He doesn’t care what people think.  He doesn’t care what bishops or cardinals think.  He is not perfect, but he is free.  He was free enough to say, “Disciples build bridges not walls.”  Why?  Because disciples see others as brothers and sisters, as beloved children of their Heavenly Father.

Jesus had childlike authority.  Second, he had a servant authority.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus responds to disciples arguing about who is the greatest and tells them, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  We revere him because he died for us.  He did not die for perfect and smart disciples, but for weak, fickle and sinful disciples.

 Disciples acting with servant authority serve their enemies.  They definitely pray for them, as Jesus commanded.  They are generous to people who give nothing back.  They serve because Jesus love burns in them, not because of their own initiative.  Mother Teresa had authority because she served in this way.  People respected her authority because she poured her life out in imitation of Christ’s selfless love.

In addition to childlike authority and servant authority, Jesus acted with healing authority.  So often, he manifested his power by healing the broken — blind, crippled, lepers, etc.  Sometimes as a Church we have lost sight of his healing authority.  At times, we emphasize rules more than healing.  Pope Francis is in touch with this expression of Jesus’ authority, so he said, “The Church is a field hospital.”  

St. Frances Cabrini is a prime example of acting with Jesus’ healing authority.  She came to the United States in 1889 as a 39 year old religious sister to help Italian immigrants who were flooding to our nation in dire poverty.  Over the next 25 years she founded 67 institutions of mercy and healing — orphanages, hospitals and schools for poor kids.

The people in a parish ought to see in the clergy the authority of Jesus.  They need to see them acting with a childlike authority, as servants who extend healing.  But this should also be seen in every parishioner, in every disciple.  When the whole parish is alive with the spirit of Jesus’ authority, people are attracted to that faith community.  But if they are caught up with gossip, or cliques, or arguing over liturgical decorations, or other peripheral issues, then that parish has lost its way.

Where do you need to focus your growth?  Do you need to become more grounded in a childlike authority …… a servant authority ….. or a healing authority?  In your prayer, ask the Lord Jesus to give you his Spirit of childlike trust in the Father.  Ask for his generosity of service.  Pray for his readiness to bring healing to the broken.

Praying with Boldness

Praying with Boldness

This week, the Diocese of Cheyenne hosted the Southwest Liturgical Conference.  Over 400 people participated.  Many came from the Southwest Region which includes the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.  The following is the homily from the Mass we celebrated last Thursday.

When you pray at Mass, are you burning with faith, hope and charity?  Would someone look you and say, “She’s on fire with the Spirit,” or “He is burning with love for the Lord.”?

The phrase most quoted in regard to liturgical renewal is that the celebration of the Mass should lead “to a conscious, active and full participation of faithful.”  Most often, people end the quote there.  But the fuller quote is more powerful.  It says that the celebration of the Mass should lead to a “conscious, active and full participation of faithful, in body and mind, burning with faith, hope and charity” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 18).

When you pray at Mass, are you burning with faith, hope and charity?  In this gospel the fervor for Jesus is so strong that he asked the disciples to have a boat ready “so that they would not crush him” (Mk. 3:9).  How do we kindle that kind of burning faith in Jesus through our worship?

Yesterday Bishop Mark Seitz spoke about the ‘work of Liturgical Renewal’ needed, especially for music within liturgy.  He listed six obstacles to this work.  I want to focus on the first obstacle, which is the most important one – Lack of Conversion within the Assembly.  Bishop Seitz said, “If your heart is not in it, you will not sing.”  Better, if your heart is not burning with faith, hope and charity, you will not sing with fervor or enthusiasm.

We all suffer from this – priests, deacons and people.  All of us need a deeper conversion.  So often, our singing is lackluster because the fire of God’s love does not burn in our hearts.

Here is a time when I saw a man with a heart burning with faith.  For seven years, I served on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  In the mission parish at Bullhead, a young man named Clayton was in the Marines.  While home on leave, he was critically injured in a car accident.

Clayton went from being an amazing athlete to walking with a cane.  His head injury permanently affected his speech.  After several months of rehab in Bismarck, ND he came to Sunday Mass.  As a twenty two year old man, he could barely walk by himself.  But when I greeted him before Mass, he went on for ten minutes about how thankful he was to God for being alive.  I started Mass late because he was so on fire with gratitude that I could not interrupt him.

Often, his prayer was burning with faith, hope and charity.  During the Gloria, he would loudly proclaim, “For you ALONE are the Holy One, for you ALONE are the Lord, for you ALONE are the Most High.” You could see people looking at him like he was strange.

Clayton became a lector at Mass despite his struggle to walk to the lectern and his difficulty to speak clearly. Throughout the week, he worked on memorizing and internalizing the reading.  By Sunday, he proclaimed whole sentences while looking people in the eye, and the message was his.  When the Bishop came for Mass, Clayton read so powerfully that the Bishop said he was one of the best lectors in the diocese, not because he spoke so flawlessly, but because he proclaimed the Word with such faith.

Sometimes we need little people like Clayton to show us what conversion looks like.  To show us a heart that burns with faith, hope and love for the Lord Jesus.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear a similar kind of confidence in Jesus.  “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).  When you pray at Mass, do you present your prayers with total confidence that “Jesus is always able to save you . . . since he lives forever to make intercession for you”?

Several passages in Hebrews express a similar confidence in Jesus as our intercessor before the Father.  In Hebrews 4:14-16 it says, We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God . . . Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

The word for coming before God with “boldness” is the Greek word parresia. It also has the sense of being confident, fearless or to speak openly.  The word parresia means literally “to speak every word.”   You know when someone has had a powerful experience of healing and you cannot shut them up, like Clayton who spoke so strongly about being healed. That is the sense.  They speak every word.  They don’t care what anybody else thinks.  Pope Francis says that he wants us to recapture that kind of BOLDNESS in our prayer and in our witness.

How can we recapture that boldness?  First of all we need to keep fresh in our memory the saving acts of God.  If we forget what God has done for us, then we lose our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God.  Sometimes those God’s saving events are personal, like being healed or rescued from danger.  Other times, they are biblical, like the crucifixion and resurrection or another inspiring event in the Bible.

As you go to Mass, recall a powerful event of salvation – personal or biblical – and ask the Lord to make your heart burn with faith, hope and charity.  This is a simple prayer that God will certainly answer, if only we ask.

Second, “approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Heb. 4:16).  Ask for the Lord Jesus to bring healing to someone you know, or to intercede for the unborn as we recall the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Monday.   Be bold in asking him bestow his mercy and grace on you or on our whole nation.

Worshiping Christ as King of all Nations

Worshiping Christ as King of all Nations

Today we worship the Child Jesus as the King of all nations.  The magi from the east who worshiped the child Jesus are the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy which we heard in Psalm 72.

“The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;

the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.

All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”

The magi from the east “prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt. 2:11).  They worshiped Jesus as king.  They challenge us to kneel before Christ.  How will you worship Christ as king this year?  As I reflected on this passage, I felt called to pray with a greater sense that Jesus is LORD.  For the Hebrew people, the title LORD was used to translate Yahweh who created the world and who opened the Red Sea.

What does it mean to pray to Jesus as LORD?  First of all, not to tame Jesus into a nice guy who is a great teacher, but to pray before him as the LORD of the universe.  There are several scenes of Matthew’s gospel where people pray like this.  In chapter 8, a leper approached Jesus, knelt down before him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean” (Mt. 8:2).  Jesus immediately touched him and cured him.

Later, a Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter.  He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But the woman came and did him homage (or knelt down) saying, “Lord, help me.”  And he healed her daughter (cf. Mt. 15:22-28).

Both the leper and the Canaanite woman knelt before Jesus.  It is the same gesture as the magi, the posture of homage before a king.  They kneel before him as LORD with power over creation.  We get so busy that we often live as though we are carrying the entire burden of our lives.  We fail to hand over the burden to God or ask for his intervention.  Jesus is not really a king whom we worship.  Instead we often live as though we are masters of our destiny.

The goal of Matthew’s gospel is:  First, that we would kneel in homage before Jesus to bring our brokenness before him and with confidence ask for healing.  Second, that all the nations would worship him as king, and like the Canaanite woman experience his healing.

The Collect or Opening Prayer for this Mass says, “O God, on this day you revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.”  The NATIONS are the non-Jews.  Sometimes it is translated as Gentiles as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians.  “The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

We are part of the Gentiles.  Any person who does not have Jewish heritage is part of the Gentiles or nations.  Something new is being revealed to us as the magi do homage to the Christ child.  The Old Testament prophecy of God gathering all nations together to worship him has begun.  Think of how faith in Jesus has grown since that moment.  There are 2.2 billion Christians.  That number includes almost 1.3 billion Catholics.

Yet, recent violent international conflicts remind us that we are far from this unity.  We have so far to go in the fulfillment of the prophecy as we heard in the psalm, “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”  Do you dream to bring him to all nations?  Do you dream of unity among all people?

The Church’s mission to all nations contrasts the isolationist attitude in America these days.  FEAR seems to be ruling people’s hearts, rather than FAITH in Christ’s power to bring healing to all nations.  FEAR of immigrants rules in America, rather than seeing them as human beings ….. brothers and sisters in dire need.

In the Catholic Church, this week is National Migration Week.  In the last few years, there have been more people displaced people than ever before – surpassing even post-World War II numbers.  There are over 65 million refugees or displaced persons.  Most are women and children

In 2016, the 193 members of the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a declaration for refugees and migrants.  They pledged to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they had access to education and jobs.  They committed themselves to drafting and approving, before the end of 2018, two Global Compacts, one for refugees and the other for migrants.

Pope Francis urges us to pray for the success of this effort, and to encourage our leaders to address the needs of displaced people.  However, last month the U.S. pulled out of the talks on the Global Compacts.  It is a sign of the times.  A sign of the struggle with the topic of immigration.  There is a lot of work to be done.

Do you worship Christ as king?  Do you kneel before him with a sense of your poverty, yet with confidence ask him for strength and peace and joy?  Kneel in worship today.  And thank him for his presence among us.

As we worship Christ the LIGHT of all nations, we need to ask him to shed his light on our nation as it struggles with fear of immigrants.  In humility let us pray to ask him to make us servants of his dream to bring his light to all nations?

The Perfect Christmas

The Perfect Christmas

This is turning out to be the perfect Christmas.  On Christmas Eve I celebrated a home Mass for a woman battling cancer with a handful of family members gathered together.  I celebrated midnight Mass at the Cathedral in Cheyenne.  On Christmas Day, I drove to Lusk and celebrated Mass in the Wyoming Correctional Facility for the women prisoners.

It is the perfect Christmas – Masses in a home, a prison and the Cathedral.  To understand why I describe it that way, let’s go to the manger scene.  Look at who is gathered there.

First of all SHEPHERDS because they were the first to hear about Jesus’ birth.  Shepherds must have brought their SHEEP along, so you always find sheep near the manger.  By the feast of the Epiphany, the WISE MEN show up with their CAMELS.  The wise men were foreigners.  They are often depicted as a Black man, an Arab and one from the Far East, perhaps Chinese.  The magi were among the intelligentsia of the time.  They were counselors of kings.

By the way, sheep and camels are stubborn and stinky.  Gathered at the manger are ornery stinky animals with poor shepherds and top level advisors to foreign kings of completely different races.  It is the most eclectic group you might imagine.  If you visit Italy during Christmas, they add all kinds of other characters —  virtually every kind of person who lives in the village – bakers, blacksmiths, teachers, farmers.  You name it.  They are all at the manger.

Christmas is for everybody, no matter what level of your work, from shepherds to the magi, from local citizens to foreigners of every race.  People who have been away from the Church for decades should feel welcome.  Because Christmas is for everybody, saints and sinners alike.  The perfect Christmas includes those dressed in their Sunday best at the Cathedral and those stuck in prison.

In fact, Christmas is more for the sinner than the saint, more for the puny than the powerful.   The angel of the Lord spoke to shepherds.  They were specially chosen by God to be the first ones to hear this good news. 

My family raised sheep for several years.  When you work with sheep you smell just like them.  The oil from their wool permeates your clothes.  Shepherds stink.  Raising sheep is hard work.  If you can afford to do something else, you won’t raise sheep.  Shepherds were the first ones to hear about Jesus’ birth because God wanted the ordinary people to know first.  The angel describes Jesus’ birth as “good news of great joy that is for ALL the people” (Lk. 2:10).  

God sent his Son to be with ordinary shepherds “living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flocks” (Lk. 2:8).  People working at night.  Common folk who knew what it was like to struggle for a living — like so many blue collar workers on the fringes of society today working behind the scenes in construction jobs, in the service industry or as farm laborers.  Jesus was born among shepherds so that common ordinary people would know that God cares for them.  He came to encounter them and save them.

Christmas reminds us that God came to be with us, no matter how poor or rich, from the people who work at the top level of government to prisoners serving their time.  However, God’s first choice is to be with the least.

Later, the Pharisees and scribes complained about Jesus and said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:3).  Actually, he not only eats with them, but he feeds them with his Body and Blood.  The “infant lying in a manger” will end his life by feeding sinful unfaithful disciples with his Body and Blood.  Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that disciples in every age could encounter him in the depest way, and so that they would bring this encounter to the least.

Christmas is so powerful because it expresses the largesse of love….. not only the largeness of love, but also the largesse of love.  The abundance and bounty and gratuity of love.

  • How well do you live inside of this love?
  • Have you let God embrace you in your sinfulness and brokenness?
  • How well do you encounter the needy with the Father’s love?
  • How well does our nation extend the largesse of God’s love to the needy of the world?

God chose to lay his Son in a manger in order to call back the LOST and to encourage the LEAST.

The prophet Isaiah tells of God’s frustration with his people who have wandered, “The Lord says, I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.  The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know [me], my people do not understand” (Is. 1:3).  That is why manger scenes have an ox and a donkey.  Those animals know their master and his manger, the feed trough where they eat.  But like rebellious children, so often we stray from our Lord who wants to feed us with his life.

No matter if we wander.  Jesus was born among shepherds because his ancestor David was a Shepherd – King.  Jesus is the Shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the lost one.  He is the King who died on the cross to conquer sin and death in us.  He was laid in a manger to feed us with his Body and Blood and renew his life in us when we decide to obey  him as our master.

Accept this “Good news of great joy . . . for all people.”  Worship the Christ child as Savior and Lord.  He is so faithful to you.  Renew your fidelity to him.

Christmas is for everyone, saints and sinners.  As he fills you with his own Divine Life at this Eucharist, let the largesse of his love fill you. Then ask him for the generosity to bring that love to others.

The pace of John the Baptist

The pace of John the Baptist

How is your pace this December?  Are you caught up in the Christmas rush?  Or are you keeping an Advent pace?  With all of the Christmas glitz in stores, it is easy to lose sight of Advent.  We need an Advent pace more than the Christmas rush.  The pace of Advent is quieter.  It helps us focus on God.  It is life-giving, rather than draining.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist grabs our attention and invites us to some quiet time in the desert.  John was “in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4).  The desert is a place without distractions…. a place to focus on God.  John is fixated on God.   And he preaches repentance to focus our hearts on Jesus’ coming.

His clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt was like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:4).  John appears as the long-awaited Elijah-like prophet to announce the Day of the Lord.  He is a prophet in the desert.

“He fed on locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6).  This is the food of desert dwellers.  It must have taken a lot of honey to sweeten the bitter locusts!  John wasn’t afraid of roughing it.  He would have fared well in Wyoming.  Seriously, locusts and wild honey are the food of a poor man living in the desert ….. a man of humility, who depends on God for sustenance.  John lived simply.  He shows us a pace of simplicity and an attitude of humility. He has a single focus.   He is God-centered.

The Advent pace is one of simplicity, humility and being God-centered.

How can you adjust your pace in this way? …… to live in simplicity, humility and God-centered.

Find some desert time.  Take quiet time in nature where you are alone with God.  Eat a light lunch by yourself and read a Scripture passage.  Make space for God’s voice to be heard.  It will be life-giving.  Have you been eating lots of Christmas goodies?  How about simplifying your diet or fasting so that you get in touch with your hunger for God?

To eat “locusts and wild honey” is minimal nourishment.  Like the people of Israel who journeyed in the desert, John’s primary food was the Word of God.  John the Baptist ate God’s word.  He calls us to the desert to feed on the Word and experience anew the sustaining power of God.

He points toward Christ and says, “One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not fit to stoop and loosen the straps of his sandals” (Mark 1:7).  Little John is in touch with God Almighty.

An Advent pace restores our perspective.  We’re not in control.  We are puny people created to live for God alone.  Humility puts us back in touch with God’s greatness, and it eases our worries.  Then we realize that it’s not our work.  Rather, when I walk in humility, I put myself under God’s guidance.  I trust in his power to get things done.

Humility helps me be God-centered.  And being centered on God produces freedom.  Little John was free.  He didn’t care what anybody else thought.  This interior freedom is the opposite of constant worry of what others think or say about me.

He only cared about one thing – who he was before God.  He only did one thing in life – he pointed out Christ.  In religious art, John the Baptist is depicted as pointing to Christ.  He announced, “One mightier than I is coming after me.”

 The Advent pace is one of simplicity, humility and being God-centered.  Advent refocuses us on one thing.  On Christ who came with mighty power.  On Christ who is coming again.

Now and then we meet people like John.  They are so focused on God that they make you stare God in the face.  As a seminarian I had the opportunity to meet Mother Theresa.  While standing in line, she challenged the person standing in front of me with a stern question, “What are you doing for Jesus?”  Her question pierced my heart.  It stuck in my mind.

Mother Theresa was God-centered.  Like Little John, she was a tiny woman with a piercing presence.  Why?  She was totally focused on God, and she was free inside.  That is the fruit of an Advent pace.  It produces humility, a single focus and freedom.

Sometimes we see this focus and freedom in our youth.  Three years ago, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in Lead, SD.  In preparation for her confirmation, one girl wrote, “If I could do one thing to make myself a better follower of Jesus, I would dedicate more time to him.  I think the main reason people drift away is because they just ‘don’t have the time.’  There should ALWAYS be time for Jesus.  So I need to find more time than a prayer before bed for him.  He gave his life for me.  I should be able to give him more than five minutes of my day.”

The Advent pace is one of simplicity, humility and being God-centered.

What do you need to do to walk in the pace of John the Baptist?