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?

 

 

 

Watching for the Lord

Watching for the Lord

If the Lord came today, would you be well prepared?  Are you watching for his coming?  What do Catholics believe about the end time?  How should we react when we hear Jesus say: “Be watchful . . . . You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33).

Are you watching for his coming?  Or do you never think about it?  Do you watch for the Lord with as much energy as you watch while hunting for a trophy deer? ….. or for bargains in the store?  Think of the time & energy spent watching your favorite football team?  Or for the latest news on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat?  Are we using as much energy to watch for the Lord?

“Watch . . . You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36).

In Mark’s Gospel, this is the last thing Jesus says before the Passion.  This is chapter 13, and in chapter 14 Jesus catches the disciples sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane even though he had urged the disciples three times to “be watchful.”  The last time he says, “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”   (Mark 14:38).  So one aspect of being watchful is to pray for strength against the evil one.

We begin every Advent with the challenge to watch for the Lord.  The opposite of being watchful is to sleep.  Sleeping is a metaphor for sloth.  Sometimes sloth is described as spiritual laziness.  The word for sloth is ‘acedia,’ literally “not caring,” which leads one to give up on the meaning of life.  It can also mean to give up hope when things get tough, or to lose trust that God is with you in the trials of life.

We are entering the darkest time of the year.  Some people naturally struggle with depression.  In addition, spiritual struggles are common in the dark of winter.  There are so many reasons to give in to sloth.

  • The boredom of the daily grind ….. at work and school
  • Sickness that has worn you down.
  • A family relationship that has gone sour and you are tempted to give up on forgiveness or a peaceful resolution.
  • Or maybe it is a recent death of a family member.

Being watchful and hopeful are advent virtues.  How do we stay watchful and hopeful?  How can we be a light in the darkness?

First of all, to be watchful means Keep your focus on God.  Be steady in your prayer.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).  In the 1st Corinthians, he says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.  Your every act should be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14).

To be watchful includes daily acts of love. It is a call to imitate both the prayer and charity of Christ.  It means to stand ready to give an accounting to him on his return.

As Catholics, we approach the End Times with the focus of being faithful disciples each day.  We do not know when he will come again, and we never propose a date.  In a verse that precedes today’s gospel, Jesus said,“As for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father” (Luke 13:32).

As we begin Advent, ask yourself: Am I living each day with my focus on God?  Or am I too caught up in the busyness of everyday life?  Have I allowed those around me who ignore God to deaden my watchfulness?  23% of U.S. adults self-identify as “nones,” or people who identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”  It is easy to be affected by those who are not active in a faith journey.

Here are a few ways to be watchful and hopeful this Advent.  First: Decide anew that Jesus really is the Son of God, the King of the universe who will judge all nations.  Then read the daily readings with this faith in your heart.

Today’s first reading says, “You, O Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.”  The word redeemer in Hebrew is go’el, or the nearest male relative who is obligated to rescue his family member who is destitute.  He pays the debts of a relative who has fallen into poverty.  He ransoms (or redeems) one who has been sold into slavery.

Jesus is not only the Lord of the universe, who transcends our world, but also he is with us in our struggles. He is our kinsman or redeemer who rescues us from sin, evil and death.   Read the daily readings with faith in Jesus as Lord of the universe, and as Redeemer who rescues you.

Second: Work your relationship with God each day.  Make a new commitment to pray each day.  If you don’t go to daily Mass, then try to go once a week.  Take a quiet walk three times a week … to center again on God.

Third, be other centered.  Keep your focus on the needs of others.  Watch for people who are isolated or needy.  Visit the elderly stuck in nursing homes or in their own homes.

“Watch . . . You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

Marriage Encounter at Ucross

Marriage Encounter at Ucross

I attended the Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend (WWME) at the Ranch at Ucross (northeast of Buffalo, WY) on November 3-5.  Sixteen couples attended from Wyoming and Montana.  The talks were given by three couples and a priest:  Tom & Mary Frances Burke (Casper), Paul & Tracy McElvery (Gillette), Phil & Lisa Beamer (Worland) and Father Tom Ogg.  The team couples spoke openly about their real-life struggles with communication and demonstrated the skills for authentic dialogue as a path to deeper intimacy.  Similarly, the priest on the weekend spoke of his relationship with parishioners by way of having a spousal relationship with them.

The presenters gave excellent talks, which helped the participants grow in genuine communication and intimacy.  I was encouraged by the depth of dialogue between the couples and their renewed hope.  At the end of the experience, many of the couples spoke of how much they appreciated the opportunity to step away from busy schedules and dedicate time solely to their relationship.

In addition to the talks and fellowship, we celebrated Mass each day, and Fr. Ogg was available for confessions.  I attended the weekend because priests and religious are welcome to attend and reflect on their spousal relationship with the people of their parish or community.  I was renewed in my own journey, and it was refreshing to see the couples beaming with joy as we departed.

We are blessed to have capable faith-filled leaders of WWME in this diocese.  I invite you to consider participating in a Marriage Encounter.  The next dates are January 26-28, 2018 in Billings, MT, and March 2-4, 2018 in Riverton, WY.  For information, call Paul & Tracy McElvery, 307-689-2820.  Other dates and locations can be found on the WWME website:  www.wwme.org.

Confirmed in Love to be Fearless

Confirmed in Love to be Fearless

Over the last week I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with the parishes in Cheyenne – St. Joseph’s (Tuesday), St. Mary’s (Wednesday) and Holy Trinity (Saturday).  This week I will celebrate Confirmation at St. Rose of Lima in Torrington (Monday), St. James in Douglas (Tuesday) and St. Anthony in Cody (Wednesday).  Please pray for the young people who are receiving this sacrament.  Below is the homily from the Confirmation Mass at Holy Trinity in Cheyenne.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of anyone.  He was fearless.  In today’s gospel he challenges the Pharisees by saying, “Why are you testing me you hypocrites?”  (Matt. 22:18).  He was fearless before them, like in so many other passages.

Whom do you fear?  How much of your energy is spent on worrying about what others think of you?  How often does fear paralyze you?  It is not only young people who struggle with fear; so do most adults.  Do you believe that you can be fearless like Jesus?

What made Jesus fearless?  He was fearless because of his relationship with the Father.  He was fearless because Holy Spirit filled him with the FIRE of the Father’s love.  One of my favorite Scripture passages deals with the freedom from fear.  In the First Letter of John it says, “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear . . . and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).

The opposite of fear is LOVE.  A little child who is afraid runs to its mom or dad because it knows that their love will keep them safe.  A child of God becomes fearless by having perfect love of God.

At Confirmation you receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  As Catholics, we define the Holy Spirit like this.  The Holy Spirit is the “personal love between the Father and the Son.”  So at Pentecost when the first disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, it means that they were filled with the love of God.  They had an overwhelming experience of being loved by God.  So they became fearless like Jesus.  In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles are described as “bold,” or “fearless” (cf. Acts 4:13-31).

The Jewish leaders were struck by their boldness, or how fearless they were.  After Jesus was crucified, they locked themselves in the upper room where they had eaten the Last Supper out of fear of the Jews.  But after Pentecost and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they were fearless.  They don’t care what anybody else thinks.  Because “In God’s love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear.”

God wants to make you fearless. The Sacrament of Confirmation is meant to make you strong in God’s love.  To be confirmed means to be strengthened.  With the gift of the Holy Spirit, you are given the power to be fearless.  But you have to have a healthy fear of God.  If you fear God alone, you will be fearless.  One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the fear of the Lord, or awe of God.

You know the story of Thomas who doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead?  Thomas is a good example of having awe or fear of the Lord.  The Risen Christ appears to him and says, “Put your finger into my hands and put your hand into my side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God.” 

 That is what “Fear of the Lord” looks like.  It helps us kneel in wonder before Jesus’ power over sin and death.  It is not fear of an angry God, but awe of a merciful Lord who was crucified for us and with gentle mercy shows us his pierced hands and wounded side.

If you fear God alone, you will be fearless.

St. Teresa of Calcutta was fearless because she feared God alone.  I met her when I was a seminarian.  My first memory of her was of her kneeling on the floor of the chapel in silent prayer before we celebrate daily Mass.  She always began her day with an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  Because she lived inside of God’s love, she was fearless.

Most people remember her for her works of mercy.  It is true that she was so merciful with the sick and abandoned.  But she was also fearless.  The day that I met her, we were waiting in line after morning Mass to greet her. Ahead of me was a man who was telling her that he was making a movie in India, and he was going on about his accomplishments.  She must have recognized that he was too focused on himself.  So she interrupted him and challenged him by asking, “What are you doing for Jesus?”   She nailed him to the wall by repeating that several times and asking him to think about serving God, not accomplishing things for himself.

I was struck by how strongly she spoke, and I was thinking that “maybe it’s not a good day to meet Mother Teresa!”  The strength of that tiny woman was intimidating. That was a striking experience of her fearlessness because she had the gift of the ‘fear of the Lord.’

The goal of Confirmation is to set your heart on fire with god’s love.…. to make you fearless.…. to make you bold witnesses.

But it doesn’t happen automatically.  In fact, you will not be much different than others who are not confirmed, unless you FEAR GOD above all things.  The grace of Confirmation can fade and become very weak if you are careless. Some Catholics don’t pray regularly.  They are careless about coming to Mass every Sunday.  They ignore the commandments.  And as a consequence, it is hard to tell that they are confirmed.

Confirmation will make you closer to God, but only if you do your part.  You have to work at the relationship.  If you do take time to pray, God will make you a SAINT.  The goal of Confirmation is to make you like Jesus.  The goal is to become as strong as Christ, as fearless as Christ.

One of the students wrote in their letter to me, “When I am wanting to quit I say the Hail Mary over and over in my head, or I say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in my head and that really helps make me stronger.”   That prayer is a quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:13.  Those prayers are simple ways of centering your heart in God, or being rooted in God’s love.  That power will be confirmed or strengthened tonight.  Trust in that grace.  Open yourself to the Love of God that raised Jesus from the dead.

Another person wrote about the struggles in your life.  The struggle to forgive your dad and other people close to you.   The struggle with depression or other dark thoughts.  Bring those weaknesses to God tonight.  Ask him to heal those parts of your life.  With his great strength, he will fill those places of darkness with light. “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).  The Love of the Holy Spirit drives out all darkness and fills you with light.  It gives you the grace to forgive like Christ.

God wants to confirm you in his love to make you so strong in his love that you are fearless.  Now open yourself to that love.

Gift of Faith in Latino Catholics

Gift of Faith in Latino Catholics

This weekend Hispanic Catholics from our diocese met at St. Patrick’s parish in Casper for the V Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.  This gathering is an opportunity for Hispanic Catholics to speak about their experience in our parishes and communities.  Similar gatherings are happening in dioceses across the United States. I participated on Saturday and celebrated the Mass.  Below is the homily from the Mass.

I am grateful for Fr. Emilio Cabrera & Eva Estorga for their good work in preparing for the V Encuentro.  We are blessed by their presence in this diocese.

I have been looking forward to being with you today.  In September, I had a meeting with the priests of the diocese.  We talked about the needs in our diocese, and I proposed that the top two priorities right now are:  (1) Well-being and Leadership of Priests, and (2) Hispanic Ministry.  I asked them to meet in October and discuss these two topics.  The information that comes from the V Encuentro is important for us, as we discuss Hispanic Ministry.  Fr. Emilio sent me the ‘Working Document’ for the V Encuentro, and I have read what you identified as “Obstacles, Needs and Situations that require pastoral attention and that prevent Hispanics/Latinos living on the periphery from reaching their potential in U.S. society.”

You spoke about language barriers which contribute to a loss of family communication, especially between grandparents speaking Spanish and children who speak only English.  You feel uprooted and isolated, not feeling home in the U.S. or in your country of origin.  There is a sense of being marginalized in political life and ecclesial life with no voice.  People speak about you, but your voice is often not heard.  In the struggle to survive, work becomes the highest priority over family and church.  The lack of legal status limits your work options.  You take the work that others do not want to do.  Not having a Social Security number prevents you from having health insurance.  The youth who are “dreamers” feel threatened.

You identified many other “Obstacles, Needs and Situations” that require pastoral attention and that prevent Hispanics/Latinos living on the periphery from reaching their potential in U.S. society.  This is helpful information for me as your bishop and for our diocese.  We want to listen to you and walk with you.

This September, I was in Rome for a conference for new bishops.  Pope Francis said that we need to listen attentively to our priests and people.  Why?  To discern what God is doing.  God is at work in every person’s life, and we need to hear your stories. I hope to take time next summer to study Spanish so that I can listen better.  To listen attentively includes accompanying you.  To walk together with Christ like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  We need to tell our stories in faith.  We need to speak about our suffering in faith so that we can see how God is working through us, just like he worked through Jesus in his suffering and death.

Pope Francis told the new bishops that we need to teach people how to discern.  To discern means to sort out what is from God  and what is from the Evil One.  In my discernment, here are some ways that God is working through you.

You have identified the need for Hispanic Leaders.  I encourage you to see that you have the gifts to lead.  God has gifted you with strong faith.  The main thing is to have a lived relationship with God and to speak about that with others.  One great gift that you did not speak much about is your Faith in struggle.  You live with strength and perseverance, despite great difficulty and suffering.  Your faith is a gift to share with the whole diocese of Cheyenne.  Be confident of that gift.

Latino popular devotions are a great gift which we often fail to appreciate in our white culture.  Thank you for helping us see that.  I will work with the leaders of our diocese on this.  Also, Latinos have a strong tradition in the Charismatic Renewal.  This gift can enrich our diocese.  I encourage you to trust this gift and help us learn how to be open to this great treasure from the Holy Spirit.  These are only a few of your gifts.  There are so many more.

Today’s Scriptures talk about being in the Vineyard of God.  The vineyard is a symbol of how God has gifted us, and how he wants us to produce fruit.  The prophet Isaiah says, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, the people of Judah, his cherished plant” (Isaiah 5:7).  We are his “cherished plant.”  God speaks to us about how constantly he loves us as he says, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” (Isaiah 5:4).

Today, remember how deeply God loves you.  Then ask God, “How do you want me to produce FRUIT in your vineyard?”  Every detail of our life is caught up in God’s providential plan.  This applies to the fact that you are here in Wyoming.  God has planted you here in the Diocese of Cheyenne.  You have special gifts to share with us.  Trust that God cares you as his “cherished plant,” as his beloved sons and daughters.  Then ask the Lord, “How do you want me to produce FRUIT in your vineyard?”  

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to walk together, forgive each other, be patient with each other, learn from each other, and recognize the gifts in each other.  As you continue your journey with Christ, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, keep in mind the encouraging words from St. Paul.

“Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”  (Phil. 4:6).

Gazing on the crucified Christ.

Gazing on the crucified Christ.

Today, I was at Holy Trinity parish in Cheyenne where seminarian Dylan Ostdiek was instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte.  Below is the homily from that Mass.

The Ministry of Acolyte is one of the steps for seminarians as they prepare for ordination.  Both permanent deacons and priests receive this ministry before they are ordained.  The Ministry of Acolyte includes serving at the altar, distributing the Eucharist at Mass and bringing Communion to the sick.  For Dylan, this is another step closer to priesthood….. and a step closer to the altar.  It is a step closer to standing at the altar as a priest.  The closer you get to the altar, the more you need to become like Christ.

That is true for Altar Servers and for lay Eucharistic Ministers.  To be an Altar Server or a Eucharistic Minister is to draw near to Jesus on the cross. As Catholics, we are required to have a crucifix near the altar.  The two go together.  The sacrifice of the cross is poured out on the altar.  The mystery of the cross is renewed at every Eucharist.  That is why we treasure the Eucharist as the greatest Sacrament.  We call it the most Blessed Sacrament.  It is the most powerful presence of God on earth.

To be near the altar is to be transformed by the mystery of the cross.  As Dylan steps closer to the altar today, he is being called to a deeper transformation in Christ.  That applies to every single person who approaches the altar to receive Communion.  St. Paul helps us to reflect on the mystery of our transformation in Christ.  His letter to the Philippians is one the most beautiful descriptions of Christ’s love and our call to imitate him.

“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness . . . .

he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). 

This is an early Christian hymn.  It was written around the year 50 A.D. and sung by the first Christians.  Even though he was GOD, Jesus emptied himself into weak human flesh.  He lowered himself to be with us in sickness, in the brokenness of sin, in the darkness of death.  As the first Christians looked at the crucified Jesus, they described his love by saying “He EMPTIED himself.”  He poured himself out for us.  He selflessly gave his life for sinful humanity.

“Taking the form of a slave, he humbled himself.”  God’s Son knelt down and washed the feet of those who would deny and betray him.  He washed unfaithful disciples in his Mercy.  He used his power as God to seek out wayward sinners and fill us with divine Life.  “He EMPTIED himself.”  That is the mystery of the cross, which we receive at every Eucharist.

In the summer of 2003, I learned about an Italian saint who as a little boy experienced the mystery of the cross.  Some Italians introduced me to St. Guido Maria Conforti.  As a little boy, Guido would stop in his parish church on the way to school.  He said, “On my way to school, I used to stop at the Church and gaze at the crucifix:  I looked at him and he looked at me, and it seemed as though he was telling me many things.”  This began when he was nine years old!

The crucifix in the church captured his heart.  As a nine-year-old boy, he was being transformed by the love that spoke to him from the crucifix.  Second graders who are being prepared for First Communion are capable of being transformed by the deep love of the crucified Jesus.  All they need to do is be silent and gaze at a crucifix each day.

As I visit homes of young families, I see fewer crucifixes these days.  The tendency seems to be to have decorative crosses like you might buy in a department store, but crosses without the body of Jesus.   The danger is to lose the stark beauty of the crucified Jesus who speaks so powerfully of the Father’s love.  Parents, in your homes do your children have a crucifix to gaze at?

As an adult, St Guido wrote, The Crucifix is the sum total of the wisdom and of the power of God, the summary of the Gospel.”  St. Paul speaks of how the cross should FORM us.  If we are not being TRANSFORMED by the cross, we are failing to be disciples.  St. Paul wrote,

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit,

and any compassion and mercy,complete my joy by being of the same mind . . .

Have the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus”  (Phil. 2:1-2, 5).

In other words, “If the mystery of Christ’s love has had any effect on you, if you have had any experience of his compassion and mercy, if the Holy Spirit has touched your heart, then have the attitude of Christ.”  EMPTY yourself by serving others.  Take the posture of a SLAVE.  Wash the feet of your enemies.

St. Guido wrote, “The crucifix is the master book from which saints were made and from which we also ought to be formed. . . . The crucifix speaks to us with the eloquence that has no equal, with eloquence of sacred blood.”

Let the mystery of the cross transform you.  Gaze at the crucifix each day.  As you share the one Bread of the Eucharist with your brothers and sisters in Christ, so you become one Body with them.  Show a sincere love for Christ’s Mystical Body, God’s holy people, especially for the weak and the sick.

Today’s Gospel reminds us of Jesus ministry to the weak and those despised as hopeless sinners – tax collectors and prostitutes (Matt. 21:28-32).  Ask the Lord Jesus to give you his attitude for his least brothers and sisters.  This is the challenge for all of us who come to the altar.

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit,

and any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind . . .

Have the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”

As Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” 

If he can capture the heart of a nine-year-old boy, who was transformed by gazing at a crucifix each day, then he can transform us.  As you receive Eucharist today, gaze on the crucified Lord who EMPTIES himself into your hands and hearts.  Then ask for the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.

Joyful and Fruitful Laborers in the Vineyard

Joyful and Fruitful Laborers in the Vineyard

On September 5-15, I was in Rome to attend a course for new bishops.  The course is held every September for the bishops named over the past year.  Some call it “Baby Bishops’ School.” There were 114 bishops with 21 from the U.S.A., 20 from Brazil, 12 Italians, and others from around the world.  We met with Pope Francis who had a black eye from hitting his head in Columbia.  As a young man he worked as a bouncer in a bar.  So he joked about his black eye by saying that someone punched him.

The focus of the course was on the Bishop as one who discerns, or who listens constantly for God’s will.  Pope Francis emphasized a few aspects of this discernment.  First, the Holy Spirit is the protagonist of discernment.  Only the Holy Spirit knows God’s will, so we need to be led by the Spirit.  He said, Only those who are led by God have the title and authority to be proposed as leaders of others.  One may teach and grow in discernment only if familiar with this inner teacher who, like a compass, offers the criteria to distinguish, for himself and for others, the times of God and His grace.”

He emphasized the need to PRAY, to bring the situations of our diocese to prayer.  That has been one of my practices…. to pray over the situations that arise.  People have told me that they are praying for me, and that encourages me.  Please pray that I will be “led by God.”

Second, Pope Francis said that discernment is given by the Holy Spirit as a gift to the whole Church, so as a bishop I need to listen to other bishops, our priests and lay people.  On the one hand, as a bishop I need to listen to others in the Church.  On the other hand, it means that all of you need to be strong in prayer, so that you will speak as people guided by the Holy Spirit.  We need to pray daily, so that together we can help each other walk with the Spirit.

Do you pray every day to be “led by God” in your work or at school?  Do you ask God to lead your family?  Do you pray for God to guide you as a disciple in the Church?

The Pope invited us to cultivate an attitude of LISTENING so that we “grow in the freedom of renouncing our own point of view, and seek God’s point of view.”   We find God’s point of view in the Gospel.  Reading the Gospel keeps correcting my attitude. Do you read the Gospel daily so that you live by God’s point of view?

Francis said, “Discerning therefore means humility and obedience. Humility with regard to one’s own projects. Obedience to the Gospel [is] the ultimate criterion. . .”  Let’s take a few minutes to be obedient to the Gospel so that we are renewed in God’s perspective.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who hires workers for his vineyard.  Biblically, to “work in the vineyard” is to belong to the people of God.  It is to live in the covenant of his faithful love and imitate his justice (Is. 5:1-7).  To work in the vineyard is to drink from the chalice of mercy and to pour out his mercy for others. God wants his people to taste the JOY of his wine and commands them to bear fruit by loving one another after the example of Christ (Jn. 15:11-13).

Because God wants us to taste the JOY of his wine, he urgently hires laborers for his vineyard. I remember the urgency of my dad at harvest time.  We pushed hard from dawn to dusk, which meant that we worked many 12 hour days.   But there is an interesting twist in the Lord’s vineyard.  God works the hardest.  He goes out again and again to find laborers ….. at dawn, at 9 o’clock, at noon, at 3 PM and 5 PM.  God is constantly searching for more laborers.  Why?

Not because he is greedy for grapes.  Rather, he wants everyone to experience the JOY of life in the vineyard.  God doesn’t want anyone to miss out.  He longs for us to drink deeply from the life of his Son.  As Jesus said, “I have come that you may have LIFE and have it in abundance” (Jn. 10:10). Another time he said, “I have told you this so that my own JOY may be in you and your joy be complete (Jn. 15:11).

As a new school year starts and you are busy with so many activities, do you take time to be quiet in prayer each day?  NOT because you have to pray as a duty before God, BUT to rest in his peace … to find strength in turmoil … to be guided by his light.

Jesus tells us that God constantly invites people to work in his vineyard.  He is always seeking to get our attention.  Catherine of Siena said it this way, “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.”

Do you see God’s initiative in your life?  The Holy Spirit is constantly whispering in your ear:  “Let me guide you.  Take some time to read the Gospel today.  Stop and pray so that I can help you.”  God takes that initiative with everyone …. even those who have been standing around idle all day.  To be IDLE in the vineyard is to fail to produce fruit (2 Pet. 1:8).  It means to be living without God and acting selfishly.

Even if you are not hired until the last hour of the day, even if you have been idle or living without God, you still get full pay when you agree to work in the vineyard.  This is another parable on Mercy.   God bestows his Life and Mercy on anyone who responds to his invitation.  That makes the workers hired at dawn grumble: “The last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.”

Do I see myself as an equal with every person?  Or do I see myself as better than others who may not have been raised with the gift of faith that I have known?

Jesus’ response gives us the greatest lesson here.

“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 

Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 

Are you envious because I am generous?”

Have you let the generosity of Christ sink into your heart?  God keeps on loving you even when you ignore him.  Today at the Eucharist, let that generosity fill you.  Second, ask for the grace to bear fruit in the vineyard – to love selflessly and generously.