Walk in the Spirit

Walk in the Spirit

This Sunday, I celebrated Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral for people from the three parishes in Cheyenne.  Below is the homily.

Do you see Pentecost as a one-time event, as something that happened long ago and out of reach for us? Do you see it as only something that happened to the first disciples, while we get just a small taste of the Spirit at Confirmation?

Pentecost unleashed the Holy Spirit in the Church, like the wind that blows in Cheyenne.  You cannot get rid of it.  You cannot stop it.  Wind is a great image for the Spirit because it is a constant force in creation.  In the Old Testament, the word for spirit also means breath or wind.  It is often the breath of God.  God is always filling his people with the breath of life.  Even when we are unaware, the Spirit is moving in our hearts.

St. Paul uses several verbs that signify this constant action of the Holy Spirit.  In this passage from the Galatians he says, “Live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).  A more literal translation is “Walk by the Spirit.”

‘Walk by the Spirit’ implies that every step of your life should be under the influence of the Spirit.  In the Old Testament, Moses told the Hebrews to “walk in God’s ways” or “walk in the commandments” (Deut. 8:6).  But Christian morality is to ‘walk by the Spirit.’   That’s why Paul says, “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).  The Christian does more than just obey laws or commandments.  Rather, he or she listens to the Spirit.  The Ten Commandments are no longer enough.  Now we are to be guided by the Spirit, so that we can act just like Jesus.

Paul uses four similar verbs as he urges us to be tuned into the Holy Spirit.  He says, “Walk by the Spirit…. Be guided by the Spirit…. Live by the Spirit.  Finally, he ends with, “Let us follow the Spirit.”  Remember, for Paul, Jesus and the Spirit are the same presence.  So to ‘follow the Spirit’ is to be a disciple who follows in Jesus’ footsteps.

Even the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit expresses this constant guidance.  He calls the Spirit the Paraclete.  Often the word is translated as Advocate, which is the Latin word.  Paraclete is Greek for someone “called beside” you.  The Paraclete is the one whom you call to your side to help you, to guide you, to defend you.  Another term for a lawyer is advocate, because a lawyer stands beside someone in court to help them.

The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, the One whom we call to our side to help us.  The Spirit will guide every step, if only we ask for that guidance.

  • Are you constantly aware of the breath of God whispering in your ear?
  • Do you call the Spirit to your side for help?
  • Are you following the Spirit? Or merely obeying the commandments?

Recently, I have been reading Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation, GAUDETE ET ESULTATE, on the call to holiness.  He says that the Holy Spirit guides us in every moment to do little deeds of holiness.  This is how he describes it.

“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.  Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart:  “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness.  Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness.

Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness.  Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.”  (16, Gaudete et Esultate).

That woman is not merely deciding on her own.  Rather, she is being guided by the Holy Spirit.  She is walking by the Spirit:  One step is to refrain from gossip; another step is to be patient with a child; another step is to show kindness to a street person.  With each step, she is walking by the Spirit, or living by the Spirit.  Her holiness grows in small steps.

The person who is in tune with the Spirit is constantly being transformed.  Paul speaks of the Christian as being transformed into the image of the Lord, from one degree of glory into another (2 Cor. 3:18)….. from one degree of goodness to another, from one degree of selfless love to another.

Transformation into Jesus is one of the effects of Confirmation.  The Spirit conforms us to Christ, or makes us more like Christ.  Maybe the best way to describe the change is by reflecting on the fruit of the Spirit.  Think of how the fruit of the Spirit describes the attitude of Christ:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).  Ask for the fruit of the Spirit today.  Ask God to make them shine out in you – Love, Joy, Peace etc.

As we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with you, open yourself the great gift of the Holy Spirit.  First of all be open and humbly acknowledge such a gift!  “The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

Realize that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed like the wind.  It is always blowing.  It is unstoppable.  God is always breathing his Spirit into our hearts.  Walk in the Spirit.  Be guided by the Spirit.  Step by step the Holy Spirit will transform you.  You will be conformed to Christ Jesus.

A few years ago, a lady told me that her coworker was struck by how peaceful she was.  The coworker, who was not baptized, noticed that this other woman was so peaceful despite the stress of her job.  So she asked her, “Where do you get your hope and peace?”  I have seen people who suffer with cancer stay upbeat and strong because of their prayer.  That kind of peace and strength is the fruit of the Spirit.  I know people with marriages that are strained who work at forgiveness and not be imprisoned by bitterness.  They are not perfect.  But they are working at being merciful and patient.  That is the fruit of the Spirit.

 Step by step the Holy Spirit will transform you.  You will be conformed to Christ Jesus.  Realize that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed like the wind.  It is always blowing.  It is unstoppable.  God is always breathing his Spirit into our hearts.  Walk in the Spirit.

New Chancellor

New Chancellor

Today Patti (Patricia) Loehrer begins as Chancellor of the Diocese of Cheyenne.  It is a joy to have her with us.  She is excited to be here, and we are grateful to the Lord for the gifts that she brings to the People of God in Wyoming.  As expected, the next few months will be a time of learning new things and meeting new people.  Please pray for her.

Patti’s education includes a BA in English/Political Science from St. Ambrose University, Davenport, IA; an MA in Systematic Theology (2009) from Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, Hales Corners, WI; and a Masters of Church Administration (2017) from Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.  For the past 15 years, she has worked as the Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of Milwaukee.

 

Carried home by the Good Shepherd

Carried home by the Good Shepherd

On Sunday morning, Carol DeLois breathed her last.  The Lord took her home on Good Shepherd Sunday, a fitting day for a woman who lived as a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus.  She served the Diocese of Cheyenne for 27 years, first as the secretary to the bishop, then as chancellor.

In her final months, she shared in the passion of the Lord, and she was blessed with the grace to endure her suffering with faith-filled perseverance.   Carol was known as a woman of faith, service, integrity and strength.  She will be missed dearly.

A Vigil Service will be at 7:00 PM, Thursday, April 26 and the funeral Mass will be at 10:00 AM Friday, April 27 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  Please remember her family in your prayers.

Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.  May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

The Fragrance of Christ

The Fragrance of Christ

Last weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming.  On Friday, twenty six students were confirmed at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Worland which included youth from the neighboring parish of St. Francis Parish in Thermopolis.  On Saturday, twenty three students were confirmed at St. Joseph Church in Lovell which included youth from Sacred Heart Parish in Greybull.  The homily from that Mass is below.

What is the most important lesson of the resurrection stories?  If you were to sum up the message in one point, what would it be?

It is not the fact that the disciples’ failed.  There’s no scene where the disciples sit around and lament their weakness by saying, “We failed!”  How could we have been so weak?  And how embarrassing that one of the Twelve betrayed Jesus.”  Peter could have said, “I’m devastated because I promised to be true to death and chickened out when a slave asked me if I knew him.”

They mention the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter and the treachery of the religious leaders.  But only briefly.  The focus is not on their sin, shame, failure, or deceit.  The sins and betrayal of the disciples and Jewish leaders are only mentioned so that the power of God shines more brilliantly.

With that in mind, Peter says, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15).  His message is this: “We are witnesses of how God is greater than my denial and Judas’s betrayal.  God is greater than our worst sins.”

The most important lesson of the resurrection stories is to bear witness to Jesus’ victorious suffering.  The victory of the cross is greater than sin and Satan and death.  Jesus’ victorious suffering reveals God’s Goodness, Fidelity, Generosity, Mercy, and especially his omnipotence over evil.

 As he reflects on Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter’s goal is not to have them feel terrible about sin, but to inspire repentance.  So he says to the Jewish people, “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance . . . but God has brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the prophets, that his Christ would suffer.  Repent, therefore, and be converted” (Acts 3:17-19).

Peter’s goal as a witness of the resurrection was repentanceThis is the goal for us.  To be amazed by a suffering Savior.  To have our hearts turned inside out when we consider their crass denial of Jesus, on the one hand, and God’s victory over sin and death, on the other.  To be bowled over by the forgiveness of the crucified and risen Christ.

The best question about your readiness to be confirmed is about repentance.  Have you learned the most important lesson of the resurrection stories?  First, are you in awe of Jesus’ victorious suffering?  Second, have you repented?  That is, have you let God’s faithful love pierce your hearts?  Third, are you willing to tell others?  Are you willing to witness through the power of the Holy Spirit?

Peter speaks boldly because of the Holy Spirit.  But it’s not enough to read about this in the Bible.  Every age needs to have new witnesses.  To be a disciple is to be a witness to Jesus’ victorious suffering.  The grace of Spirit poured out in Confirmation not only fortifies us to tell his story, but also empowers us to imitate his victorious suffering.

We see this in the saints.  One young person wrote in her letter, “I chose St. Maximilian Kolbe because his actions reflect what I would like to be like, as I continue my journey in life.  He would to anything so that anyone who wanted to worship God could.  He sacrificed his life for many people.” 

When the Nazi soldiers chose twelve men for the starvation bunker, St. Maximilian volunteered to take the place of a man who cried out for mercy because he had a family.  Maximilian said, “Let me take his place.”  About twelve years ago, I visited the cell where he died in Auschwitz.  They have an Easter Candle burning in the cell.  It is a powerful statement that says, “The Light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it” (John 1:5). 

St. Maximilian became the Light of Christ in Auschwitz.  He sang songs with the other men in the starvation bunker.  He had an indomitable spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave him the power of Jesus’ victorious suffering.

The saints inspire us!  I like to read the stories of the saints because they show me that I can be a strong witness too.  They show me that the Holy Spirit is just as powerful today as it was with the first disciples.  The saints remind us that we can be saints.

When you are confirmed, I will anoint your forehead with Holy Chrism.  The Chrism is a combination of olive oil and balsam, a perfume.  So you will smell very nice!  Do you know why we use a perfume like balsam for the Chrism?  St. Paul said, “We are the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15).  The Holy Spirit makes you smell beautiful like Christ.  Your goodness will be an aroma of Christ’s love in the world.

St. Maximilian was the fragrance of Christ in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  His prayer and the sacrifice of his life was a perfume that permeated the air of the starvation bunker.  As you are anointed with the fragrance of Christ, ask for the grace to serve like Christ.

  • To sit with kids who are lonely at lunch.
  • To stand up for kids who are being bullied.
  • To forgive others the way Jesus forgave his disciples.
  • To volunteer to serve your families at home.

In addition to asking for the grace to serve like Christ, ask God to make your heart overflow with his love.  Even if you don’t deserve it, just ask.  Even if you struggle with selfishness and sin, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  Remember how God chose weak disciples and made them strong with his Spirit.  He will do the same with you.

The Holy Spirit will give you the power to be saints,to do a MISSION that you feel too weak to do.  The Spirit gives us the power that flows from Jesus’ victorious suffering.

Begotten by God

Begotten by God

Last weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with young people in Laramie, Glenrock and Casper.  Below is the homily from the Mass at St. Patrick’s, Casper.

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

But Jesus says nothing about Peter’s denial or the others abandoning him.  Instead he expresses mercy.  He reassures them that his relationship with them is solid.  Twice he says, “Peace be with you.”  As you are confirmed, I will greet you by saying “Peace be with you.”  Actually Christ confirms you, and he greets you the way he greeted his disciples to reassure you that he is stronger than death and that he will always be with you.

In that first encounter with the Risen Lord, Peter must have been flooded with feelings of unworthiness, forgiveness and mercyThen something more unbelievable happened.  Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).  God’s plan was to send mercy-filled disciples.

Do you believe that God’s mercy is greater than your sins?  Do you believe that God pours his Holy Spirit into your heart, while knowing full well how weak and sinful you are ….. then he sends you to be like Christ?

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  One of the most important qualities of Divine Mercy is steadfast faithfulness.  You see it all through the Bible, but especially in Jesus’ relationship with the disciplesJesus knew Peter would deny him, but he was steadfast in his relationship with him.  Even when Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is risen, he is patient with him and gently urges him to believe by saying, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe” (John 20:27).

When you receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, you are conformed to Christ like the apostles.  Think how Peter was conformed to Christ.  First of all, he was transformed by Jesus’ faithful love.  His heart was burning with Jesus’ mercy.  That mercy re-shaped Peter’s heart.

As we heard in the First Letter of John, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God” (John 5:1).  Another translation says, “is a child of God.”  Being conformed to Christ is to be a child of God – to have the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has, to be rock solid in the Father’s love.

That relationship with the Father is only possible with the Holy Spirit.  As St. Augustine said, the Spirit is the mutual love between the Father and the Son.  The Spirit gives us the Love of God.  The apostles had an initial experience of the Holy Spirit the evening of the resurrection, but at Pentecost they were flooded with the Love of the Spirit.

At Pentecost, everything changed.  Peter went from being fearful to fearless…… He was changed by the Holy Spirit.

If you are confirmed and you’re not changed, then something is wrong.  People should see some basic changes in you.  For one thing, that you are stronger, more courageous.  That you are joyful because you feel God’s faithful mercy, like Peter felt his heart burning with Jesus’ mercy.  Also, that you are bold.  You speak out about the truth.

One person being confirmed this weekend chose as a saint Blessed Chiara Badano.  As a teenager, she showed amazing strength and joy despite great suffering.  Here is what a confirmation student wrote about Chiara.  “One day as Chiara was playing tennis she felt a pain in her shoulder.  She was rushed to the hospital where she found out she was diagnosed with bone cancer. . . . A lot of patients would spend their time in the hospital being sad and wondering if they were ever going to get better.  Blessed Chiara was the exact opposite.  There was not a day that went by when she didn’t make someone smile or laugh; she was always happy.” 

 Once she said to her mom, “I suffer so much physically, but my soul is singing.”  Someone nicknamed her ‘Luce,’ the Italian word for ‘Light’ because she was always so joyful in her suffering.  The doctors and other patients liked to visit her because she was so joyful.

Chiara was so strong in her suffering and so joyful.  But she knew that her strength and joy were gifts from God.  Shortly before she died, she said to her mom, “I feel so small and the road that I have to walk is so difficult.  But my Spouse [Jesus] is coming to get me.”  This girl who enjoyed playing tennis was reduced to nothing and died at 18 years old.  Yet, she was joyful right up to the moment of her death because she lived inside of the Love of the Holy Spirit.

Confirmation gives us the grace to be as bold as Peter, and as joyful as Chiara.

Tonight God gives you the best of his gifts.  He longs to fill you with his Spirit.  He wants you to feel the Risen Jesus close by your side, and dwelling in your heart.  But you need to long for that gift.  You need to open your heart to God and desire his help.  It is possible to be confirmed and not be changed.  You must desire to be changed.  You need to believe in the gift of the Spirit and want it.  You need to engage your own heart with faith.

The main way to pray is to simply ask God with faith and to be receptive.  The more you ask, the more God will give.  Ask for great things.  Dare to ask God to make you a saint.

Pray in two ways.  First, where do you need his power over your sin?  Being rude or selfish to your parents or peers?  Being a gossip?  Struggle with impurity?  Being lazy about coming to Mass or praying?  Ask God to free you from sin and from the habit of sin.

Second, ask God to freely give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Piety, Fear of the Lord.  Or the fruits of the Spirit:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, Chastity, Humility, Perseverance.

The goal of Confirmation is to make you like Jesus. The goal is to become as strong as Christ, as fearless as Christ.  God wants to confirm you in his Love, to make you so strong in his Love so that you are fearless.  Open yourself to that gift…… not only today, but as you pray each day.

Rejoice and Be Glad

Rejoice and Be Glad

Today, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Exhortation titled, GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE (Rejoice and Be Glad) which he wrote as a contemporary reflection on the universal call to holiness.

In the Introduction, Francis wrote. “My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love.’”

Like his previous writings, the 40 page text is easy to read and comprehend.  In this Easter season, it is a great source for meditation.  The exhortation can be found on the vatican website (vatican.va).

Walking in Christ

Walking in Christ

Did you hear about the elderly couple who went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land?  They were fighting and bickering with each other, so they thought that a pilgrimage might help.  Then the wife died in Jerusalem.  When her husband met with the undertaker, he was told that it would cost more than $3,000 to ship the body home, but it would only cost $500 to have the burial there.  He thought about it for a few minutes, then stated adamantly, “I can’t risk having her buried here.”  The undertaker asked him, “What was the risk to have her buried in Jerusalem?”  He said, “Well, I heard that 2,000 years ago a man died and they buried him, but after three days he rose from the dead.  I just can’t take that chance with my wife.” 

Do you think that the husband had a good understanding of the Resurrection?  He saw it as a power that revives us physically, but without changing us and our relationships.  He had no idea of how it transforms us.

What is the Life of the Resurrection like?  What does a person act like who believes in the Resurrection?

When St. Paul wrote his letter to the Christian community at Rome, he was concerned that they did not know what it means to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They failed to understand the consequences of being baptized into his death and resurrection. He says, “Do you not know that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  (Rom. 6:3).

The word baptized here means immersed.  By baptism we are immersed into Christ Jesus.  We live inside of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Early Christian baptismal fonts were shaped in the form of a cross.  There were steps down into the font.  The person being baptized knelt in the middle of the cross filled with water, while the priest poured water over their entire body.

You who are being baptized this Easter will be immersed into Christ Jesus.  In the baptismal formula the priest says, “I baptize (immerse) you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  ‘Name’ is the biblical term for ‘person’ or ‘presence.’  So you will be “immersed into the presence” of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

St. Paul described one of the effects of baptism by saying, “Our old self was crucified with Christ so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.”  (Rom. 6:6).  Where have you been in slavery to sin?  Open that place in your heart to Christ Jesus, so that you will experience freedom from sin.

Easter is the anniversary of our baptism.  So each of us should ask the same question.  Where has sin enslaved me?  Where do I feel trapped by sin?  On Easter Sunday, we sprinkle the congregation with holy water to renew your baptism.  As you are sprinkled, expose your sinful heart to the Risen Lord so that you will be healed by the water flowing from his open side.

St. Paul says, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live (literally, ‘walk’) in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

Through baptism, we are BURIED with Christ and RAISED to new life with him.  What does that newness of life feel like?  Are you living it?  The image Paul gives is that we should be “walking in newness of life,” walking in the resurrection.  Every step we take, every word we speak, every action done with Christ.

One sign of this newness of life is bearing witness to forgiveness.  When Peter describes his experience of Jesus death and resurrection, he talks about forgiveness.  He realized that God’s love was stronger than his triple denial.  Peter says, “Everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43).

The person who lives the newness of life proclaims God’s forgiveness.  Tells other people how readily God forgives, how constant his mercy is.  As God says in Isaiah, “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you, nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you” (Is. 54:10). 

But forgiveness is only possible if we are walking in Christ.  Then his grace flows through us.  This is described so clearly by Corrie Ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place.  Corrie lived in Amsterdam during WW II and her family sheltered Jews from the Nazis.  Eventually, they were discovered and deported to a concentration camp.  Her sister Betsie died in the camp, but Corrie survived.

After the war, Corrie toured throughout Europe speaking about forgiveness.  After one talk, a man approached Corrie and thanked her.  She was horrified because she recognized him as one of the SS who had stood guard at the concentration camp.  He started thanking her for her message that Christ washed away his sins.  Then he extended his hand to shake her hand.  She froze, unable to act, because the horror of her sister’s death flooded her mind. She was repulsed and could not forgive him.  Even though she tried to convince herself to do it, she could not extend her hand.

Praying silently, Corrie told Jesus that she could not forgive the man and begged Jesus to give her his own forgiveness.  Immediately, she felt something like a current flow through her shoulder, down her arm, and toward the man.  As she shook his hand, Corrie felt an overwhelming love for this man springing from her heart (The Hiding Place, pp. 214-215).

If you are walking in Christ, the power of his death and resurrection flows through you.  He empowers you to bear witness to forgiveness.

Christians are resurrection people.  We share in Christ’s power over sin, evil and death.  Here and now we live beyond sin and death.  One sign of newness of life is bearing witness to forgiveness.  Other signs that we are walking in the Risen Christ might include:

  • Being JOYFUL in tribulation.  Sick people with great faith have such joy.
  • Being PEACEFUL in a crisis.
  • Showing PATIENCE every day to family members

If you are being baptized or confirmed this Easter, ask God for his gifts.  In my prayer, I often ask the Lord to give me the fruits of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, chastity, humility, perseverance.

Ask for God’s gifts.  Then keep your connection to Christ strong.  The two main ways to develop a strong relationship are the Eucharist and daily prayer.  Be faithful to the Eucharist every Sunday and come daily if possible.  In the Eucharist we receive the Living Bread, filled with the Life of the Risen Lord.  The Blood of Christ give us his power flowing from the cross.

Second, pray with the Scriptures, especially the gospels where the Risen Christ speaks to us.  In Mark’s scene of the resurrection, an angel says, “Jesus has been raised.  Go and tell others about this new life. He is going before you to Galilee” (Mk. 16:7).  Galilee was their home.  So God told them, “The Risen Lord will be with you when you go home.  He will walk ahead of you and guide you.”  And God tells you and me, “The Risen Christ will be walking with you when you go home.”

 

 

Stupendous Love

Stupendous Love

Today we take a good hard look at sin while we marvel at salvation.  The gloom of sin is a foil for the brilliance of salvation.  We stare in wonder as the Lord Jesus conquers the treacherous betrayal of a disciple through the stupendous love of the cross.  On Passion Sunday the crucifix is decorated with palms!  It signifies the suffering caused by sin and the victory won by Christ.

Let’s take a few minutes to stare sin in the face not only the sin of Judas and Peter, but our sin.  As he sits at table with the Twelve, Jesus says, “One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me” (Mark 14:18).  This saying is vague, so each one of the Twelve begins to say, “Surely, it is not I?”  We know that Jesus is talking about Judas, but he is also talking to all those “eating with him.” 

As we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we should always remember that Jesus was betrayed by one of the Twelve who ate with him at the Last Supper.  The stories in the Gospel are not merely a record of history.  They are also our stories.  Jesus is addressing us when he says, “One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”

Jesus continues to offer his Body and Blood to us, even though we sin against him.  We gossip and betray one another almost daily.  We fail to love Jesus in the least among us – whether the unborn, sick, elderly, prisoner or immigrant stranger.  We hold grudges, harbor anger, look with lust, and tell lies.

To proud Peter, Jesus says, “This very night before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:30).  There is a little bit of Peter in all of us.  Even when we fully intend to be faithful to Jesus, we stumble and fall.  He knows that we will deny him in times of temptation.

With full knowledge of our sinfulness, he keeps pouring out his love.  In Baptism he washes us with the water flowing from his side; in Confession he says, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34); in Holy Eucharist he graciously feeds us with his mercy.  Today, as you receive Communion, marvel at his faithful persevering insistent love.

Learn from his love.  He loves so well because of his deep relationship with the Father.  As he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you.  Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  Jesus is fully confident in the Father’s almighty power over the universe.  “Father, all things are possible to you.”  The Father is in control ……. not Judas, or the chief priests, or Pilate.

Jesus’ love is rooted in faith that the all-powerful Father is with him and that his providence is guiding him in the darkest hour.  We also can win the battle over evil if we have that kind of faith.

More than anything else, the cross is an event between Jesus and the Father.  So he says to him, “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”  Jesus wants one thing, to do the Father’s will.  His love is perfectly obedient.  “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).  Today, ask God for obedient faith, for the grace to seek God’s will alone.

As you deal with an illness or cancer, or if you have been wronged or betrayed, or if you feel helpless because of your own sins, don’t focus on the sickness or your enemy or your sin.  Rather, focus on the Father’s almighty providence.  Ask the Lord Jesus for obedient faith to trust that his grace conquers all evil.

On Passion Sunday the crucifix is decorated with palms.  It signifies the suffering caused by sin and of the victory won by Christ.  Stare in wonder as the Lord Jesus continues to conquer the treacherous betrayal of mankind through the stupendous love of the cross.

The Miracle of Spring

The Miracle of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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