Only by Mercy

Only by Mercy

On Saturday, I was at Immaculate Conception Church in Green River for married couples celebrating their anniversaries, and on Sunday I celebrated the De Smet Mass near Daniel, WY.  Below is the homily from Sunday.

Everyone knows the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37), even those who are not Christian.  But how many of us live it?  As I reflected on it this week, I found myself wanting.  As I measured my life against the Good Samaritan, I felt terribly inadequate. 

This parable challenges us.  Jesus is constantly pushing us to go deeper, to do more.  As he began his public ministry, he said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Mt. 5:20)  The scribes and Pharisees were very careful about obeying the commandments.  Jesus wanted something more.  This is obvious in parables like the Good Samaritan. In this gospel, he was pushing the scholar of the law to do so much more than just obey the commandments. 

What MORE does he want of you and me?  As we listen to the parable of the Good Samaritan, what more does he want in how we treat family and friends, the broken and abused in society, or foreigners and migrants?

Let’s reflect on this parable to see how Jesus describes the righteousness which surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reveals his own code of ethics which far surpasses the law.  He reveals his own merciful heart.  He is the Good Samaritan.  Remember, as Jesus describes the Good Samaritan, he is describing what drives him. 

He said, “Now a Samaritan traveler came upon the man beaten and half-dead, and he was moved with compassion at the sight” (Lk. 10:33).  The word for compassion is splanknizomai (σπλαγχνίζομαι).  In Greek, ‘splankna’ is the innards or guts, so splanknizomai means “his innards moved” or “his guts ached.”  In the gospels, this is the main word to describe Jesus’ mercy. Normally, it is translated as “his heart was moved with pity.”  But it could be loosely translated, “He was sick to his stomach with compassion.”  Think of what a parent feels when their little child has been seriously injured or diagnosed with cancer.

Therefore, the first lesson in the parable is – “Listen to your guts.”

My family lived in the middle of two Indian reservations.  Our ranch was on the northern edge of the Cheyenne River Reservation and just south of the Standing Rock Reservation.  At times, my dad picked up hitch hikers who were Native American.  As a young child, I often heard him say that he gave someone a ride, even though he knew that it was dangerous.  But his explanation was clear.  It was such a cold day, or they were out in the middle of nowhere.  He had a tenderness for them.  His guts ached for them.

Dad never read the Bible, but he listened to his guts.  He grew up on a reservation where people were prejudiced against Indians, and he wasn’t immune to that prejudice.  Yet, he listened to his guts when he saw one walking along the road. 

Jesus said to the scholar of the law, “When I see someone hurting, I hurt with that person.  I look at a man beaten and stripped, and my guts ache for him.  I don’t see him, and ask, ‘I wonder if he is my neighbor according to the Law.’”  That was a question debated in Jesus’ day.  The rabbis taught that in the Law, a‘neighbor’ included all Jews (Lev. 19:17-18) and foreigners who were living according to the Jewish Law (Lev. 19:34).  But all other foreigners were not seen as neighbors.  Gentiles were not considered neighbors.  Enemies were not neighbors.

We can be like those rabbis who quibbled over the definition of neighbor.  Sometimes we become desensitized by our culture.  We don’t see the person in dire straits with compassion because our culture says they don’t’ deserve it.  They’re bad people or dishonest.  They don’t belong here. 

If you have become desensitized by the culture, then learn from Jesus’ gut reaction.  So often Jesus felt splanknizomai.  His guts ached for people.  The same word is used for how Jesus reacted to the widow of Nain (Lk. 7:13) whose only son had died, and to a leper (Mk. 1:41) and the blind men (Mt. 20:34) who begged for healing.  Whenever he looked on people in dire straits, his guts ached for them. 

Jesus looked on all people with mercy, especially outsiders.  The man stripped and left for dead had no ethnicity.  In that culture, there were two ways that you knew someone’s ethnicity – by the way they dressed and the way they talked.  This naked man unable to speak is simply a human being.  Jesus commands us to look on all human beings with mercy.

In this gospel, Jesus challenges us to evaluate whether we are treating people like the Good Samaritan.  That begins at home.  How do you treat your spouse, or children, or elderly parents?  Next, how do you look at people in your school or place of work?  Finally, as our nation discusses the plight of refugees and immigrants, what cultural norms blind us or make us look the other way?  Are we influenced more by cultural norms, or by Jesus’ mercy?

The second lesson in the parable is – “Learn from outsiders.”  Sometimes, they model compassion better than scholars of the Law.  Maybe that is because they have been beaten up themselves.  I noticed that while serving as a priest on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  Many of the Lakota people are models of compassion.  In some ways, they taught me more about Jesus’ compassion than I learned from studying the gospels.

The Samaritan was traveling outside of his country, while the priest and the Levite were in the heart of their homeland.  So it is more likely that they were neighbors to the dying man, than the Samaritan.  Yet, the priest and Levite reacted with cold insensitivity, while the Samaritan responded with heartfelt compassion,

Samaritans were considered heretics, people who had abandoned the faith.  In the Jewish mindset, ‘Good’ and ‘Samaritan’ did not go together.  In 721 B.C. when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, the Samaritans intermarried with the enemy and compromised true Jewish religion.  They were considered traitors and heretics.  When Jesus told this parable, Jews had hated Samaritans for 750 years because they betrayed the faith!

Yet, Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the parable.  When the scholar of the Law asked, “And who is my neighbor?”,  Jesus resplied, “He is the enemy whom you have hated for 750 years.  You see him as a heretic. But the goodness of God works in his heart better than it does in the priests and experts of the law.”

Every single one of us fails to live the parable of the Good Samaritan.  As we listen to this parable, we stand convicted.  When we compare our lives to the example of the Good Samaritan, we are terribly inadequate.  Here’s the good news – Jesus continues to be the Good Samaritan, for all humanity.  He is so merciful to us in our brokenness.  Think of how often the Lord has forgiven you.  Think of how often your spouse or parent or child has forgiven you because he or she was inspired by God’s mercy. 

The kingdom of heaven is first of all an experience of mercy.  A disciple lives only by mercy.  As disciples, we are graciously forgiven by the merciful Lord.  Yet, Jesus also challenges us to be merciful like the Father is merciful.  He wants us to do more than just obey the commandments. 

Today, remember with gratitude the mercy you’ve been granted, over and over and over again.  Second, ask God to make your heart overflow with generous Love for family and friends, the broken and abused, foreigners and migrants.  Ask for the grace to be just like Jesus, the Good Samaritan. 

The disciple lives only by mercy – filled with God’s gracious Love and driven by the Lord’s gut-wrenching compassion. That is what a Good Samaritan looks like.

Resolute Determination

Resolute Determination

Does Jesus’ commitment disturb you?  His expectations for disciples are harsh.  They seem unreasonable.  We see that in the gospel this Sunday (Lk. 9:51-62).  When he told a person, “Follow me,” the man replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”  But Jesus told him, “Let the dead bury their dead.  But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:59-60). 

In Jewish culture, burying your parents was one of the strongest moral obligations. To disregard that was unthinkable, just as it would be today. Does Jesus’ commitment disturb you?  If it does, that’s good.  Then you are getting it.  Jesus made people shake in their boots.  At times, it was scary to be around him.  As he spoke, his gaze must have been like steel.  Luke opens the scene with this description of Jesus: “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” (Lk. 9:51) The text is literally, “he set his face to journey to Jerusalem.”

What did that face of steel say about Jesus’ heart?  Let’s start there.  Not with what he asked of others, but with what was going on inside of him.  If we understand what’s going on in his heart, then we will understand what he demands of us as disciples. 

Jesus lived with a singular focus on God’s will.  His commitment to the Father was greater than allegiance to his family.  Later, he says, “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple.  No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26).  On the one hand, this saying is hyperbole.  He doesn’t want anyone to hate family members.  Yet, he is dramatic to emphasize a point. 

Again, think of what was going on in Jesus’ heart when he said this.  What did those demanding words tell us about his singular focus on God’s will?  He would not let anything get in the way of his relationship with the Father.  You could see it in his face of steel as set off for Jerusalem.  To look toward Jerusalem was to face the crucifixion. 

His one goal in life was to be faithful to the Father.  Everything else was secondary – his relationship with friends or family, even his mother.  Jesus lived with total commitment and a singular focus on God’s will. 

I want to contrast that with what we see in so many people today.  For example, researchers say that Millennials have commitment phobia.  They fear commitment.  One sign is in their reluctance to marry.  In 2004, 52% of 18-29 year olds were single.  In 2014, 64% of the same age group were single. 

Why the phobia to commitment?  Researchers list several factors.  First, they want to keep their options open.  Today, young people have endless options.  Why settle down when you can move from one option to the next?  Today young people are told that they can choose to be whoever they want to be.  It’s up to them to decide.  The mentality is that I can choose my own destiny, and the options are endless. 

But that mindset ignores that God created me for a particular vocation.  Rather than a choice that I make based on my desires, a disciple listens for the will of God, then chooses to do that one thing.  We make that concrete by saying to God, “Lord, what do you want me to do?  You created me, and you have a plan for me.  What do you want me to do?”

Jesus had the talent and power to do anything, yet he had only one choice.  The only option for him was to do the Father’s will.  Jesus was zeroed in on one goal, and he challenges us to have that singular focus.  Do you view yourself as having endless options in life, or a singular focus on the Father’s will?

A second reason for the fear of commitment is a lack of trust.  Commitment requires trust.  Surveys show that young people lack deep bonds of friendship.  Many of them rely on technology for personal connection, rather than connecting person-to-person.  With less of a bond, they have less trust.  But commitment requires trust – not only for marriage, but for all of life’s decisions.  To make a commitment we need to trust in human relationships.  Even more, deep commitments require trust in GOD. 

Young people often ask me, “Do you ever doubt your decision to be a priest?”   I think that they are asking, “Do you ever second guess the decision to commit your life to God once and for all?”

I don’t second guess that decision.  Primarily because the decision is based on a deep relationship with God.  I trust the Lord.  He knows what is best for me.  My commitment to be a priest was made with prayer.  It was made inside of a relationship with God.  And it is sustained by a daily discipline of prayer, an ongoing relationship with God.

Let’s come back to Jesus.  He would let nothing get in the way of his journey to Jerusalem.  He had a singular focus.  He was “all in.”  Why?  Because he had a deep relationship with the Father.  He trusted that the Father knew what was best.  He knew that the Father had his back.

Even as he faced the cross, he could say with the psalmist that we heard today, “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence because you Lord will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.  You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence.” (Ps. 16)

Commitment requires trust.  And Jesus lived with perfect trust in the Father that God would lead him on the “path of life” and that he would fill him with the “fullness of joy.”

Two things coincide in our world today.  First, many people have a fear of commitment.  Second, more and more people are less religious, or agnostic or atheist.  They say that they are ‘spiritual’ not ‘religious.’  But when the rubber hits the road, they have little commitment to daily prayer.  They are less rooted in a relationship with God through daily prayer.  Fear of commitment and being irreligious go hand-in-hand.  Without a deep relationship with God, commitment is frightening.  Then I am all alone on a tumultuous sea in a troubled world.  But the disciple who has a strong friendship with God is calm in commitment, even in the turmoil of life.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ said the person who prays well, falls in love with God and it decides everything.  He said:   “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” 

The person who prays well, fall in love with God, and it decides everything.  “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”  Then you will be disturbing to others…… like Jesus who disturbed people with his resolute determination to do the Father’s will.

Groaning in the Spirit

Groaning in the Spirit

If you are in tune with the Holy Spirit, then you should feel the groaning of the Spirit.  St. Paul said, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom. 8:22) Do you experience the groaning of the Spirit in your soul?

All creation is groaning because it is broken by sin and longing for redemption.  It is “groaning in labor pains,” because God is bringing us to new birth.  It’s not just hurting, but it is hurting with hope.  In our day, the groaning of creation has intensified due to indifference to the least.  Let’s look at three areas of indifference in our contemporary world – the unborn, refugees and people sold in human trafficking. 

Recently, 8 states have initiated legislation to broaden access to abortion. Meanwhile, 9 states have passed laws to outlaw or forbid abortion past a certain point in pregnancy.  In February, the Senate failed to pass a measure to require that babies born alive after an abortion be given medical attention and “the same protection of law as any newborn.”  The Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act failed in a 53-44 vote.  It needs 60 votes to pass.

The legal battles are one way that “creation is groaning in labor pains.”  There are over 600,000 abortions a year in the USA.  Some are groaning over these children while others manifest a growing indifference to them. 

God is deeply concerned for both the children and the mothers, and so are we.  As a Church, we groan with labor pains for the unborn children and the women involved in abortion.  We groan with the Spirit who “intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Rom. 8:26)  Since the Spirit is groaning for us, we should pray with great hope. 

God has the same concern for people already born and living in dire straits. In the world today, there are 25.4 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced persons who have not left their country’s borders but were forcibly moved from their community often due to violence or war. Yet in the last two years, the whole world is accepting fewer refugees. Since 1980, the U.S.A. has always led the world in accepting refugees, but we have declined drastically, from resettling 84,994 in 2016 to only 22,491 in 2018.

Pope Francis says that there is an indifference to the poor today. The last five years have seen the greatest rate of increase of refugees on record, but throughout the world, nations are accepting fewer and fewer.

However, some small countries are showing amazing generosity in temporarily hosting refugees.  Turkey hosts 3.5 million.  Jordan hosts 2.9 million.  And Lebanon hosts 1.4 million, which is 16% of its population.  Imagine the burden on a little country like Lebanon.  Cheyenne has 63,000 people.  If we were hosting 16% of our population, we would have over 10,000 refugees in some kind of temporary shelter.

If we are groaning with the Holy Spirit for these people, then at minimum, we would be supporting agencies like Catholic Relief Services which provides basic needs to refugees in their camps.  Even more, we should advocate for them and ask our legislators why our country is not welcoming more refugees.  If you are united with the Spirit, then you groan to give new life to the poor.  The opposite of that groaning is indifference.

I mentioned abortion and refugees together because Catholic moral teaching urges us to see the dignity of every human person.  In his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Pope Francis wrote: “Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, [and] the victims of human trafficking.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 101)

Many religious Sisters have been working against human trafficking. In May 2019, Pope Francis launched the “Nuns Healing Hearts” campaign in honor of the tenth anniversary of Talitha Kum, the international network of women religious against human trafficking.  According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year – 80% are female and half are kids. 

Over the last ten years, two thousand women religious have ministered to survivors of human trafficking.  The sisters live in their poor communities, meet the victims in the streets, and help them begin a new life. The Sisters are in tune with the Holy Spirit.  They feel the groaning of the Spirit to redeem those being trafficked. 

Are you in touch with the groaning of the Spirit, or are you indifferent to the millions of people in dire straits or being killed as refugees, the unborn and their mothers, or slaves of human trafficking?  To be confirmed with the Holy Spirit means to hear the cries of these people.  And it means to pray with great hope and endurance because God is greater than sin and evil.

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied with hope to the people of his time.  They had been defeated and taken captive to Babylon.  They were crushed.  Listen again to what God told the prophet Ezekiel.  “These people have been saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.’  Therefore, prophesy and say to them:  Thus says the Lord GOD:  O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.”  (Ez. 37:11-12)

We have a greater gift than the people as exiles in Babylon.  The Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has been poured into our hearts.  It fills our dry bones when terrible things happen.  It gives us hope and endurance.

Last Sunday, an old friend texted me about her newborn granddaughter.  Prior to birth the baby had aspirated meconium, and she was in serious condition.  Her grandmother was groaning in prayer for this child.  God groans for refugees and the unborn with the same affection, and more.  God’s groaning is filled with hope – with the power of the resurrection.  The Lord says to us, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”

First of all, let that hope be yours.  Where are you feeling like your bones are dried up?  Is there a sin that has darkened your heart?  Is there a relationship that feels irreparable?  Does a close friend have cancer?  Are you disheartened by the struggle of evil in the world?  Brings your dry bones to the Lord.  Ask the Spirit to breathe new life into you.

Then bring the Spirit’s message of hope to the world ….. like the sisters who are working against human trafficking.  God gives us his Spirit to say, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”

 “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;            and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom. 8:22)

Priests on Retreat

Priests on Retreat

The priests of the Diocese of Cheyenne are on retreat this week at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center in Rapid City, SD. In these days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost, the Church traditionally prays for the Holy Spirit. Please pray for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit for our priests.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. 

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Becoming Fearless

Becoming Fearless

Last weekend, I celebrated Confirmation in Pine Bluffs, Wheatland and Casper. This weekend, I confirmed young people in Pinedale, Kemmerer and Evanston. Please pray for all of the young people receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in these weeks. The homily for the Mass at St. Mary Magdalen, Evanston is below.

The one thing you never see in Jesus is fear.  He felt perfectly safe in the hands of the Father.  He felt protected by the Father as his Shepherd, so he had no fear.  But our hearts are preoccupied by so many worries.

What fears occupy your mind?  Are you afraid of what others think of you, or what they say about you?  Maybe someone you love has cancer or a life-threatening illness, so you are troubled.  Parents are anxious about their children and their future.  And many people worry about money, or having a stable job.

How can you and I live fearlessly like Jesus?  1 John 4:18 contains the clearest path to living without fear.  It says, “In [God’s] love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear. . . . and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.”  Fear is the opposite of God’s love.  Jesus lived safe inside of the Father’s love.  When we come to perfection in God’s love, then we will be fearless.

Think of how enormous the universe is.  Astronomers say that there are about 100 billion stars in one galaxy, and there are more than 100 billion galaxies.  That means that there are approximately 100 billion x 100 billion stars out there, give or take a few billion!  Astronomers have found stars that are 40 million times brighter than the sun.  They discovered quasars that emit the light of a trillion suns.

Almighty God who created such an enormous universe sent his Son to tell us.  “No one can take [my sheep] out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hands.  The Father and I are one” (Jn. 10:28-30).  Jesus shares God’s almighty power, and he holds us in his hands.  He was safe in the Father’s hands, and he invites us to live inside those hands.

To be fearless does not mean that everything in the world is just fine.  There is a huge battle between good and evil.  Jesus hinted at this battle a few verses earlier when he said, “The hired hand . . . sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (Jn. 10:12).

There are plenty of things to fear, if you are not in the hands of the Father.  The wolf or Satan is prowling to attack the flock.  Sin has wounded us, so we easily give in to despair or temptation.  All kinds of illnesses wear us down physically and psychologically.  Mass shootings or acts of terrorism preoccupy our minds. There are plenty of things to fear, if you are not in the hands of the Father.

However, we are in the hands of the Father.  That’s what it means to be baptized.  We are immersed into the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Through Confirmation the grace of the Holy Spirit is strengthened.  We have the strength of Jesus.  We have his power to stand strong.

In addition, we have the protection of saints and angels.  A few students chose St. Michael the Archangel as a confirmation saint.  One student wrote: “I chose St. Michael because he symbolizes ‘strength’ to me.  He is the patron saint of soldiers, police and doctors who give protection.  One of St. Michael’s responsibilities is to combat Satan whom I know is alive and well.  What better name than to be confirmed in other than St. Michael who is already a champion for me.  He is the most powerful angel of the Lord.  I chose St. Michael as a constant reminder of ‘strength,’ to help combat Satan in my life as I journey toward my eternal life with Jesus and God the Father.” 

No matter what happens God holds us in his hands; his angels accompany us, and his saints show us that we can be fearless in the worst situations.  St. Maximillian Kolbe sacrificed his life at a Nazi concentration camp to save a man who begged not to be killed because he had family.  The guards told Kolbe not to look at them because his eyes were so strong, so fearless.

Often we don’t see that fearless strength in baptized and confirmed Christians.  Sometimes they act just like others who are not baptized.  Why?  The grace given in these sacraments can lie dormant.  It is there, but not active.  It is like a seed that lies in the desert without rain.  What do we need to do to activate the grace of Confirmation?  What do we need to do so that we will be fearless like St. Maximillian Kolbe?

First, realize that we are given God’s power through the Holy Spirit.  We share in Jesus’ own power.  We have his strength.  He said, “I give [my disciples] eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:28).  Most people think of ‘eternal life’ as something we experience after death.  They think of it as ‘everlasting life.’  But it is so much more.  Eternal life is ours right now.  It is the life of the eternal one – the life of the Risen Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.

First, realize that you have Eternal Life right now.  Second, work your relationship with God.  Live inside of the Father’s hands.  One essential way is through daily prayer.  This is what one student wrote about her daily prayer.  “On a daily basis I spend about ten minutes in prayer.  I usually turn to God when I feel that I have said or done something wrong and need forgiveness, or when I feel that I will need help from God to complete something.  I also sometimes pray when I feel scared or I need guidance in a situation.  When I’m scared I pray so that I will be able to be strong and able to overcome any obstacles or challenges in my way.  When I need guidance I don’t know what I should do, and I pray that God will help me make the decision for me.” 

That is a pretty good example of working the relationship with God in prayer.  It is as simple as bringing our troubles to God and asking for help.  One way to make it better is to have absolute confidence that God is with you.  Trust that you have the Eternal Life of Christ – his wisdom, courage, strength and perseverance.  Pray daily and come to the Sunday Eucharist where we have a keen sense of the Father’s protection, and where the Life of the Risen Lord is poured into our hands. If we make a practice of daily prayer and Sunday Eucharist, we become more and more aware that we are held in the hands of God.  Then we know the truth of Jesus’ promise, “No one can take [my sheep] out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hands.  Then we become fearless like Jesus.

Humble Unity

Humble Unity

This weekend, I celebrated Confirmation for 77 students in three parishes: Holy Name, Sheridan (Friday), St. Matthew, Gillette (Saturday) and St. John the Baptist (Sunday). Please pray for these young people and the many others who will be confirmed in the next several weeks. The homily for this Sunday is below.

Put yourself in the place of the apostles in this scene (John 20:19-31).  What went through Peter’s mind when Jesus appeared in the upper room?  The last time he was with Jesus he swore up and down that he never knew him.  As Jesus stood in their midst, he must have felt like hiding behind the others in shame.

But Jesus said nothing about Peter’s denial, or the others abandoning him.  Instead he greeted them with mercy as he said, “Peace be with you.” He reassured them that his friendship with them was rock solid.  In that first encounter with the Risen Lord, Peter must have been flooded with simultaneous feelings of unworthiness, forgiveness and joy.

Then Jesus did something even more shocking.  He said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”  I often imagine Peter hearing this and thinking, ‘We failed you.  How could you send us?’  Jesus never gave up on Peter and the other disciples.  That is one aspect of mercy.  God never gives up on us; he knows that we are so much more than our sins.  As St. John Paul II said at World Youth Day in Toronto, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures.  We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and of our real capacity to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Mercy means to never give up on the person who sins against you because God never gives up on us.  When we give up on someone and say, “He’ll never change,” then we are following the voice of the Evil One.  But grace is stronger than sin.  As Paul said to the Romans, “However much sin increased, grace was always greater.” (Rom. 5:20)

The disciples were sent with new hope that emanated from Christ’s mercy.  It impelled them to tell others.  Mercy means to be steadfast in showing goodness – even to those who deny us in the darkest hour – so that they are inspired to imitate such goodness.

It is important to learn the secret to Jesus’ mercy.  He never reacted to how others treated him.  Rather, he acted out of his relationship with the Father.  Mercy means to act with the Father’s love, not to react out of hurt or revenge.  The Risen Christ didn’t appear to the disciples and say, “Where were you? Peter, you said that you would go to death with me.  Where were you?” Jesus didn’t react to what they did; rather, he acted out of the Father’s love.

We saw this same dynamic on the cross.  He didn’t say, “What a bunch of losers I chose for disciples!” Instead he said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34)  He was centered in his relationship with the Father.  He acted out his new commandment, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.” (Lk. 6:36)

One of the confirmation students chose a saint who was acted like that, St. Maria Goretti.  She was a champion of mercy.  She acted out of her relationship with God.  The student wrote this: “I chose St. Maria Goretti because she is the patron saint of forgiveness, purity, chastity, teenage girls and more.  Being the patron saint of forgiveness and purity really stuck out to me.     This stuck out to me because I have a hard time forgiving people.” 

When Maria was 11 ½ years old, a farmworker for her family tried to force himself on her.  She resisted, and he stabbed her 14 times.  As she was dying, she forgave him saying: “For the love of Jesus, I forgive him … and I want him to be with me in paradise.”  While in prison several years later, he had a dream in which Maria handed him 14 white flowers that burst into flame. The flowers represented the 14 stab wounds he had inflicted upon her; the flames symbolized forgiveness. After being released from prison, he became a lay Franciscan and attended Maria’s beatification, alongside her mother.

This is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Have you allowed the mercy of the Risen Lord to sink into your heart, despite your sins?  Do you react to others with God’s mercy?  Are you merciful as the Father is merciful?  The first Christians were a community whose hearts had been transformed by Jesus’ mercy. 

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles says about them, “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles.” (Acts 5:12)  Some of those “signs and wonders” were miracles of healing.  Just like Jesus, they did signs and wonders.  The disciples performed miracles in his name.  Another sign was the mercy they showed to each other.  Peter was still revered as the leader of the apostles, even though he denied Jesus.  Despite his weakness, they didn’t give up on him.

That reading also says, “They were all together in Solomon’s portico.”  (Acts 5:12)  At first, this sounds pretty normal, like they were just ‘together’ in a group.  But another translation says, “With one heart, they all met in Solomon’s portico.”  The Spanish translation is, “Estaban todos unánimes en el pórtico de Salomón”

Several different places in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes the disciples as unanimous, of one accord, with one heart.  They had an intense unity that was rooted in their common experience as sinners who were blessed with mercy.  One of the fruits of Jesus’ death and resurrection was a humble unity.  A profound sense of being united in his mercy.

A Church re-born

A Church re-born

Yesterday, we celebrated the Passion of the Lord. The homily is below. I encourage you to find 15 minutes of quiet today to reflect on the gracious death of Christ, in preparation for our sharing in his resurrection.

Do you understand the power of Christ’s blood?“When the soldiers saw that Jesus was already dead …. one of the soldiers thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” (Jn. 19:33-34) Do you understand the power of the blood and water flowing from Christ?

We do not merely remember an historical event today.  Rather than historical memory, this is a sacred memory.  In a sacred memory God continues to be present with the very same power.  Christ is present to us just like the day he died on the cross.  We stand with Mary and the beloved disciple at the cross.  Today we enter into the event of the cross.  We not only recall how blood and water flowed from his side, but also the blood and water continues to flow out for us. 

Do you understand the power of the blood and water flowing from Christ?  The Church was born from the blood and water flowing from Christ.  These are symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist.  If the water symbolizes the baptismal water, then Christ’s death is the birth of the Church.  St. John Chrysostom said that just as God fashioned Eve from the side of Adam, so the Church was born from the side of Christ. 

Let’s remember what this birth looked like.  Who was born from the side of Christ?  It happened with weak and sinful disciples.  Peter denied him three times.  He was one of the stronger disciples!  Most of the others were not even brave enough to deny him.  Peter and one other disciple followed Jesus after his arrest.  Because they followed him to the courtyard, Peter was questioned about being a disciple.  So the disciples were virtually all unfaithful to Jesus.  Not just Peter and Judas.

The Church was born with weak unworthy disciples.  So what did these disciples look like after Jesus’ death?  First of all, they were humbled by his faithful love.  Even though they were so unfaithful, he stayed true to them.  Jesus’ faithful love was shown in the beauty of his suffering.  The prophet Isaiah captures the beauty of suffering love, the amazing love of one who suffers for others, and who stays true to his mission when everyone else goes astray.

“He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.  We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.” (Is. 53:5-6)

The beauty of suffering love pierced the disciples’ hearts.  It humbled them. They were bowled over by mercy.  He was a faithful strong suffering servant.  As a result, they were inspired to be servants like him. 

Do you understand the power of the blood and water flowing from Christ?  Do you see what it did for the first disciples?  What should our Church look like today as it is re-born from the blood and the water flowing from Christ?

Over the last year, we have seen that the Church’s leaders have been weak and sinful.  Yet, Christ still goes to the cross for us.  His death is still stronger than all of our horrible sins.  The blood and water flowing fromChrist is the greatest force in the universe.  So we can be re-born.

What does that re-born Church look like?  It has humble leaders. Like the first disciples, we are humbled by Jesus’ faithful love.  Even though we have been so unfaithful, he still offers us his merciful love.

Humble leaders do not have fancy titles, like ‘Your Excellency.’  In fact, titles like that should be banned.  In a Church that is re-born, clericalism is crushed.  Priests are no longer put on a pedestal, but they are suffering servants.  We humbly stare upon the crucified Christ and seek to imitate him who “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.”

Second, in a Church re-born, those who were harmed are restored.  They experience their own re-birth.  They are restored as we listen to their stories and tell them, “I believe you.”   They are restored as we acknowledge their injuries and help them with counseling.  Mostly, they are restored by the blood and water flowing from Christ.  It is more powerful than sin, sickness, evil and death.  Only Christ can give birth to his Church, only Christ can bring those harmed to re-birth.

Finally, the re-born Church is bold in prayer.  That may sound odd. How can the Church be humble and bold?  The reading from Hebrews describes this boldness.  It says, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16)  

The word for coming before God with “boldness” is parresia; it has a sense of being confident, fearless or to speak openly.  This Greek word means literally “to speak every word.”  You know when someone has had a powerful experience of healing or a life-changing event and you cannot shut them up.  That is the sense.  They speak every word.  They don’t care what anybody else thinks.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples spoke fearlessly or with boldness.  You couldn’t shut them up.  They didn’t care what anybody else thought.  They prayed with boldness because they were stunned by his love on the cross and by the power of his resurrection.  As it says in Heb. 10:19, “Through the blood of Jesus, we enter the sanctuary with boldness.”

His blood poured out on the cross washes over us with perfect mercy.  We can approach God with confidence because we know that he so graciously died for our sins.  “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16)      

New Director of Pastoral Formation

New Director of Pastoral Formation

Recently, we were pleased to hire Mr. Joseph Wotawa as the new Director of Pastoral Formation for the Diocese of Cheyenne. A native of St. Louis, MO, Joe has experience as a teacher, campus minister and coach in a Catholic High school and as a catechist in parishes. He has served in a variety of Catholic faith communities in the United States and Central America. In addition, he was in formation with the Society of Jesus (i.e., Jesuits) for eleven years. Joe has a B.A. in English and Philosophy and a Master of Divinity. He will begin his ministry here near the end of June 2019. Please pray for him in this time of transition.

The Power of Tenderness

The Power of Tenderness

On Saturday and Sunday, I participated in the Search Retreat conducted by the Newman Center in Laramie. I joined Fr. Rob Spaulding, Lillie Romeiser and 48 college students. It was a wonderful experience. The homily for the Mass is below.

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  How can we be “light in the Lord”? St. Paul does not merely tell us to be light, but to be “light in the Lord.”  As humans, we cannot create light.  We can only receive it and let it shine through us.  Jesus alone could say, “I am the light of the world.”  (Jn. 9:5) Have you learned how to receive the LIGHT of Christ so that you become “light in the Lord”?

In this gospel scene for this Sunday (John 8:1-11), the woman caught in adultery and the scribes and Pharisees are exposed to the Light of Christ.  Let’s look at how Jesus shines his light on both parties, the accusing scribes and the adulterous woman.  Then we will know better how to live as children of light. 

Can you imagine what it was like for the woman when the Pharisees and scribes made her “stand in the MIDDLE [of the crowd]and hear them tell Jesus, “This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery” (Jn. 8:4).  Can you imagine the public embarrassment? This is one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences imaginable.

The scribes and Pharisees focused everyone’s attention on this woman.  The spotlight was on her.  But Jesus turned the tables.  He focused his light on those who accused her.  He said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7).  He reminds them and us that in God’s light, we are all sinners.  The focus shifted from her sinfulness to everyone’s struggle with sin.  Christ invites us to see each other as broken brothers and sisters.  Do I see myself as better than others?  Am I self-righteous?  Or do I see myself as a fellow sinner? Then I am humble and grateful for God’s constant mercy toward me.

In Jesus’ Light, we are all sinners who have been rescued by his mercy.  Imagine what it was like for the woman to hear Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin so more” (Jn. 8:11). 

St. Augustine says of this scene, “Only two were left, misery and mercy.”  A woman in misery and Christ overflowing with mercy.  She came before Jesus in such misery.  She left filled with his mercy.  Can you image what went on in her heart?  It was filled with the soft Light of his mercy.

Several years ago, in a small community I met with a young girl who was much like the woman caught in adultery.  Sally (not her real name) was pregnant as a junior in high school.  She came to Mass every Sunday with her family, but now she felt so judged when she came to Church.  She felt horrible.

I told her, “Sally, your sin is public.  Everybody in town knows your sin. Their sins are more private.  But they are sinners just like you.  In fact, many of them have the same sin.  It’s just that their sins are not as public as yours.”  I encouraged her to go forward with God’s forgiveness and to focus on God’s mercy.  In other words, she needed to walk inside of God’s merciful light, and ignore the public spotlight.

Have you let Christ’s mercy sink into your heart this lent?  Do you treat others with his mercy?  The two go hand-in-hand.  If you have not accepted God’s mercy, then you will not be able to show mercy.

We are more like the Pharisees than we like to think.  They were reluctant to accept the mercy Jesus offered to sinners.  So are we.  Have you ever said to yourself, “I know God can forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.”?

Sometimes that attitude reveals a form of pride.  Why?  Because it is a way of saying, “I will determine what should be forgiven.  I will define forgiveness!” But that is God’s job. Our role is not to define forgiveness, but to accept it.  In this case, the way to forgiveness is to become like a little child who knows how to receive God’s love.  That is why Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). 

Other times, the reluctance to accept forgiveness might be the effect of sloth. Sometimes we have given up on God’s grace.  Kathleen Norris says in her book Acedia & Me (p.205), “When we are convinced that we are beyond the reach of grace, acedia [or sloth] has done its work.” John Climacus speaks of sloth as “a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for [us].” 

Sloth is not just laziness in the spiritual life.  It is giving up on myself and giving up on grace because a dark spirit whispers in my ear, “You’ll never change.”  The evil one says, “See how you keep saying that you will stop sinning or pray more faithfully, but you don’t do it….  You can’t do it…. Give up!”  In this instance, sloth leads us to give up on ourselves and on God’s loving mercy.

The secret to having a new start in our spiritual life is humility and perseverance. Humbly accepting the Light of God’s mercy day after day.  And persevering in prayer.  Never giving up on prayer and its power to transform me. Standing in the Light of God’s transforming love day after day.

Imagine the tender and humble mercy that the woman experienced as she was alone with Jesus and he said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.” Pope Francis said, “Jesus expects us . . . to enter into the reality of people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness.” (Amoris Laetitia, 308) I wonder if he had this gospel scene in mind when he wrote that.

Marvel at the power of tenderness that Jesus showed this woman.  Then bring the same power of tenderness to others.  “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  Let yourself be soothed by the Light of God’s mercy.  Receive it freely, humbly and gratefully.  Then invite others into the light.

Christus Vivit

Christus Vivit

Yesterday, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation CHRISTUS VIVIT of Pope Francis to young people and to the entire people of God was made available on the Vatican’s website. 

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the USCCB, Cardinal Joseph Tobin and Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a joint statement on the release of Christus Vivit.  They said: 

“This exhortation is a wonderful summons to the whole Church to more vigorously invest in youth and young adults, especially those on the peripheries and those who are disconnected from the Church. . . . Now more than ever, we must turn our attention to our young people and engage them as ‘protagonists’ of the Church’s mission. Their insights can help us grow as a Church and guide us as we all learn to become better missionary disciples in an intercultural and intergenerational context. . . .”

“The Synod of Bishops met in October 2018 on the theme ‘Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.’ Bishops, clergy, religious, and lay people, including a number of young people, together with Pope Francis, addressed the challenges facing younger generations today and ways in which the Church can best respond. Now the work of the Holy Spirit, manifest in the sessions of the Synod, will bear fruit in the dioceses of the United States.”

I encourage everyone to read the Apostolic Exhortation.  The document can be read in English or Spanish by clicking on this link: Christus Vivit.

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