Hired Hand or Child of God?

Hired Hand or Child of God?

On Saturday night, I was at St. Anthony’s Parish in Casper to celebrate the Ministry of Lector for the the six men in formation for the permanent diaconate.  This Sunday, I will be in Kaycee for Mass.  Following is the homily for today’s readings.

Do you understand why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees?  Why were they always so upset with him?  Today’s gospel begins, “The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’  So to them he addressed this parable.” (Lk. 15:2-3)

Their grumbling is the context of the parables in Luke 15.  It is essential to understand what is behind their grumbling.  This is crucial if we want to be true disciples.  To gain insight into the Pharisees’ grumbling, let’s look at the two sons.  Have you ever noticed how they relate to their father?  The sons do not really relate to him as a loving father, but more like a business man. 

 The younger son said to him, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” (Lk. 15:12)   Give me my share!  He just wants his inheritance.  He relates to his father not with loving respect, but out of selfish gain.  Then when he came back destitute, he said, “I don’t deserve to be called your son; treat me like a hired hand.” (Lk. 15:19)  The older son isn’t much different.  The first words out of his mouth are about serving his father like a slave.  “All these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders.” (Lk. 15:29) Another translation says, For all these years I have been working like a slave for you.” 

 Neither son relates to him as a loving father.  Instead they see him as an employer or even a task master.  The younger son said, “Treat me like a hired hand.”  The older son said, “I have been working like a slave for you.”

As a child, I often saw my dad as a business man.  He was always in debt. He had huge loans on land and cattle.  He constantly worried about debt and talked about money problems. But one experience showed me a different side of my dad.

One night I was in a neighboring town for a dance and dared a classmate to drag race.  While racing, I hit a black angus cow on the highway and totaled the pickup.  When I came home, I woke up my parents and told them that I wrecked the pickup.  My dad sat up in bed and asked, “Did anyone get hurt?”  When I said “No,” he replied: “Okay.  We’ll talk about it in the morning.”  Then he laid back down.

As I walked upstairs to my bedroom I was stunned by his concern for me.  The only important thing to him was that I returned home safe and sound.  I still remember lying awake and feeling overwhelmed that his main concern was my safety.  The same concern has been expressed by countless parents; their greatest concern is for the well-being of their children.

Can you imagine how much more that is true for God the Father?  His only real concern is our safety, to have us back home safe and sound.  In the parable, the servant explains to the older son the reason for the celebration.  He says, “Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” (Lk. 15:27) 

Now, the next morning I never explained to my dad that we were racing.  Do you think that would have changed his reaction?  Now imagine this. What if I told him that we had been racing, and he ran over to me and hugged me with tears in his eyes and said that the only thing that mattered was to have me home perfectly healthy?  Then he said, “We’ll slaughter the steer that we have been fattening and have a huge party.”  Then he announced that he would get a loan to buy a new pickup, and I would be given my own set of keys for it.

I suppose you’re thinking, “Nobody would ever do that!  Nobody is that naïve.  Only a parent who is a total idiot would do that.”  But that is how Jesus describes the father of the prodigal son.  He gave him his best robe, a ring and sandals to reassure him that he’s not a hired hand but a son, and everything he has is his son’s.

The father is not an idiot.  Nor is he a strict business man!  Rather, he is a merciful father!  His love for a lost son rules his heart.  “He was moved with deep compassion” for his wayward son. (Lk. 15:20)   The verb means that his ‘guts ached.’  And they were aching since his son left home.

How do you think that God looks on you when you sin?  Do you believe that God is like a Father who constantly watches down the road for his lost son or daughter to return?  “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” (Lk. 15:20)  He saw him coming because he was always watching for him.

When we have sinned, normally we concentrate on our sins.  We beat ourselves up with how stupid we acted, or how selfish we are.  But Jesus insists that God does something entirely different.  Yes, he sees our sin and all the damage is does to our relationship with God and others.  But that is not the main thing God sees.  The heavenly Father sees a lost son or a wayward daughter, a beloved lost son and a beloved wayward daughter.

Do you understand why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees? The Pharisees tried to be the best Jews!  They tithed faithfully.  They fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays to show penitence and to pray for Israel and its salvation.  They were committed to perfect observance of the commandments.  But in all of this, they saw God as a business man.  This was their mindset, “If I do my part, then I will earn God’s reward.”  So Jesus’ image of God as a merciful Father was blasphemy.

Today, some people in the Church are so upset with Pope Francis.  They think that he is acting wrongfully by his insistence on mercy.  In the past year, a deacon in this diocese told me that the pope is wrong in this area of his teaching toward the divorced and remarried.  Some lay people are saying that he is a heretic because of the mercy he proclaims for those on death row. Two former Catholic college professors from our diocese signed a document stating that he is a heretic for this reason.  This should not surprise us because some Catholic media sources as well as bishops and cardinals are saying similar things.

Many people in our Church relate to God as a business man.  This outlook is as old as the parable of the prodigal son.  Can you imagine how angry the Pharisees were after they heard the parable of the prodigal son?  If the pope is proclaiming the Gospel, then people should be grumbling.  It is a sign that the Risen Lord is speaking among us.

In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis wrote, “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. . . . At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.  We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance.  This is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. . . . We should always consider inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy.”  (Amoris Laetitia, 310-311)

How do you see God?  As a business man or as a merciful Father?  Are you living as a hired hand grumbling like the Pharisees?  Or are you living as a child of the merciful Father humbly rejoicing in his gracious love?

If you struggle to be that humble child, then make a habit of reflecting on the Gospel each day.  Let Christ teach you about the merciful Father.  This is what Pope Francis shows us.  He is first of all a man taught by the Gospel.  That is what rules his heart.

Let the words of Jesus transform you.  Then you will be able to say what St. Paul said in his letter to Timothy.  “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost. (Another translation says, “I am the worst sinner.”) But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him.”  (1 Tim. 1:13, 15-16) 

 As we are fed with the Eucharist, may our hearts be inflamed with mercy so that – like St. Paul – we might be an example of the Lord’s inexhaustible patience for others.

Fierce Disciples

Fierce Disciples

At times, people must have thought Jesus was crazy!  The gospel passage we just heard is a great example (Lk. 14:25-33). What did people think when he said, “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:25-26)  The parallel to this passage in Matthew’s Gospel is not as harsh.  It says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:37)

The ‘hating’ language challenges us to love and obey God above everyone else. He used shocking language to grab our attention. This is hyperbole.  Do you think that Jesus thinned the crowd that day?  I wonder how many walked away saying to each other, “This is just too much!  He’s crazy!  Why does he say such things?”

He wants to know if we’re totally committed.  To be Christian is to make a definitive choice to serve the Lord. To be Christian is to be totally obedient to God.  Does your obedience to God make you say crazy things?  Things that make people take a step back and wonder if they want to be associated with you?

It reminds me of when I first met Mother Teresa as a seminarian.  When I heard her speak to the person in front of me, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to meet her.  I worked as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity at a soup kitchen and shelter for homeless men.  When Mother Teresa came to visit, the Sisters would call and say, “Mother is here.  If you come to morning Mass, you could meet her.” 

After Mass, people lined up to meet her, and a man introduced himself and told her that he was making a movie in India.  She interrupted him with a blunt challenge, “What are you doing for Jesus?”  She repeated that question several times.  Then she spoke sternly to him and told him that he was too focused on himself.  I was stunned at how tough she was with him.  Why did she react so harshly toward him?  I thought that maybe this was not a good time to meet Mother Teresa.  I wasn’t sure what she might say to me. 

Mother Teresa was a tiny person, about shoulder height to me.  Yet, she was a formidable presence.  She was fearless.  Why was she so strong?  She had total obedience to God. She made a definitive choice to serve the Lord.  It made her fearless.

For Jesus and St. Teresa of Calcutta, total obedience was rooted in total love of God. It is essential to see the love behind the fearless obedience.  Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. . . . As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”  Total obedience to the Lord is rooted in total love for God.

Have heard about Franz Jaggerstatter? He was an ordinary lay man who was declared a martyr of the faith in 2007.  Franz lived in Austria during World War II. He was a farmer, with a wife and three children.  He was beheaded because he refused to serve in the army with the Nazis. He was a conscientious objectorof the Nazi regime.

However, his parish priest, his wife and his lawyer all tried to change his mind.  The bishop of the diocese said that he had a responsibility to obey legitimate authorities and to give greater weight to his family’s needs.  Jagerstatter said, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, he is free to offend God by lying.  Did not Christ himself say, ‘He who loves father, mother, or children more than me is not worthy of me?”

In a letter to his godchild Franz wrote: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living. . . . Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith.”

Are you living as a hero of the faith, or a halfway Christian?  A hero’s life is rooted in God.  Mother Teresa spent the first hour of the day in prayer.  Franz went to daily Mass.  Their total obedience to God was rooted in total love for God.  You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.

You might be strong and forceful, but the danger is to be driven by your own convictions. Sometimes, we are driven by our personality, rather than impelled by the love of God.  I notice that tendency in myself at times.  That kind of energy is mixed up with pride and domination, instead of a humility and gentle strength. 

In contrast, Teresa of Calcutta, Franz Jagerstatter and Jesus had a humble and gentle strength. It was bigger than their own desires because they were impelled by God.  They were worked tirelessly, but were never burned out. They were not fearful or harsh, but calm and confident because they knew that God’s Providence would prevail. 

Yet, their love for God made them do crazy things.  Their love was fierce.  It pushed Franz to take a stand that separated him from family.  It gave him the strength to be beheaded. You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.

One of the main things people say in confession is, “I have not kept God as my first priority. My prayer life is weak.” As a new school year begins, we need to re-prioritize.  There are so many activities that compete for our time.  Make the love of God your top priority.

  • Do you willingly join in the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist?  Is Mass the center of your entire life because you realize that without it you can do nothing? 
  • Is daily prayer more important than brushing your teeth or taking a shower? Do you pray each day, no matter what? 
  • Have you made a daily commitment to prayerfully read the Scriptures?  Is the voice of God more important than your favorite website?  People spend 6 ½ hours a day online: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  How would your attitude change if you spent 10% of that time or 39 minutes a day in silence with the Scriptures?

When you get the Love of God right, then you will be a little crazy…. at least, a little crazy.  Then you will be a hero of the faith, instead of a halfway Christian.  At Mass today, ask for the grace to be centered in God’s love.  Then ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to be a fierce disciple.

Hurricane Aid

Hurricane Aid

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the USCCB, has issued the following statement regarding Hurricane Dorian that left seven people dead in the Bahamas and is moving closer to the southeastern United States:

“As we continue to be vigilant for the effects of Hurricane Dorian as it approaches the U.S. coast, we are extremely mindful of the dire need faced by the community in the Bahamas so devastated by this catastrophic storm. We pray for all effected and invite Catholics and all people of goodwill to donate to Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.”

The donations to CRS can be made at: https://support.crs.org/donate/hurricane-dorian

Donations to Catholic Charities USA can be made at: https://app.mobilecause.com/form/RTKRvQ?vid=1snqm

Be Humble

Be Humble

Have you ever walked into a big celebration and seen someone sitting by themselves and obviously a loner?  Students, how often do you notice the kid who is off alone in the cafeteria?  It happens in Hartmann Hall here at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  During Fellowship after Mass some people sit by themselves.  They don’t enjoy much fellowship during Fellowship.

Public meals reveal social structures.  Jesus was keenly aware of that as he said, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” (Lk. 14:13)  He told us to associate with lowly people.  In this context he taught one of his most important lessons for disciples: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:11)

There is an explicit call to be humble at least a dozen times in the gospels.  On three different occasions Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (see also Lk. 18:14; Mt. 23:12).  Other times he put it in stronger terms.  Twice he said, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be slave to all.” (Mk. 10:44; Mt. 20:27; cf. Lk. 22:26)

At the Last Supper, his actions of humility were more striking than his words.  He knelt at the feet of the disciples who would deny and betray them, and he washed them with mercy.  Then he said to them, “If I, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet.” (Jn. 13:14) Here he models humility before friends who stab you in the back.

Jesus modeled humble fellowship during the most important meal of his life.  This is the kind of humility people ought to experience from us at Mass.  And it should be how we treat others at weddings, the cafeteria at school, in Hartmann Hall or around the dinner table at home. 

Why does he insist so often that disciples must be humble?  First of all, he said that it is the way to experience the kingdom of God right now.  He said to the disciples, “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:2-4)

Little children are totally dependent on their parents and trust completely that their mom and dad will take care of them.  Humble disciples are totally dependent on God and trust that the Lord will provide.  So they are lighthearted and joyful.  They experience the kingdom of God here and now.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:3)  Right now! 

They might live in dire poverty, but they are joyful.  Ten years ago, I went on a mission trip to El Salvador with college students.  We lived with the people in their simple homes with no running water, and the electricity was on for only about 4-6 hours a day.  After the trip, I asked the students what was most memorable.  They said, “How joyful the people are, even though they are so poor.” 

It wasn’t merely that they are poor.  In their poverty, they depend on God. They have humble faith.  They are dependent on God and confident that the Lord will provide.  This lesson is expressed clearly in Luke’s gospel, where the first beatitude is: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” (Lk. 6:20)

In the 1990’s, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the all the people in the Americas, that is, North America, Central America and South America.  He said that the poorer countries have a humble faith that is a valuable gift for the richer countries.  Today, there is discussion about establishing policies to deny permanent legal immigration status to the poorest people, or to those without higher education.  Some are advocating that we should accept only those who can contribute to our country because of their level of education, training and wealth.

But this attitude fails to acknowledge the spiritual gifts that St. John Paul II encouraged us to receive from the poor.  Their humble faith can enrich us.  Their perseverance in adversity can inspire us.  I do not know about you, but my ancestors came to this country with little education or wealth.  They were dirt-poor farmers.  But they were rich in faith and strong in perseverance. 

Some of our leaders have a narrow vision for the future of our nation, a vision focused primarily on material wealth.  They are like the rich Pharisee and his friends vying for places of honor at a banquet.  They know how to hobnob with the wealthy for worldly honor.  They use fancy dinners to make connections and to further business deals.  They would look at you like you were crazy, if you said to them, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind:  blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” (Lk. 14:13-14)

The danger is to think like the arrogant rich who are independently wealthy, who in their arrogance feel like they don’t need any help from anyone.  They have no idea what it means to depend on God for everything, like the humble poor.  Jesus warns his disciples not to act that way.  Those who act like that will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  They will have fleeting happiness in this life.  People might honor them with status at banquets, or vote for them in popular elections, but they will miss the joy of the kingdom of heaven, here and in the hereafter. 

Do you think that Jesus told his disciples to associate with the lowly so that they could teach us how to be real disciples?  So they could enrich us with their humble faith and inspire us with their example of perseverance in adversity, and show us how to be generous to those who cannot repay the gift?  Obviously, he told us to associate with the lowly so that we could feel the joy of ‘paying it forward.’  He said, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”

We are filled with such joy by surprising others with goodness with no expectation of repayment.  Is there anyone who would know this better than Jesus?  He was the master of gratuitous mercy; that is why he washed the feet of Peter and Judas.  That is the joy he wants for us.  “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:11)  Jesus was exalted with the resurrection and being seated at the right hand of God.  He longs for us to share in those gifts.

At this Eucharist, be humble enough to receive that pure goodness from the Lord.  Let him surprise you with his goodness, even though you do not deserve it.  This is the key to a humble spirit, simply being open and receptive to God’s mercy. 

Then ask for the grace to be humble at school with kids who are outsiders, or at your job with co-workers who have the lowest positions.  Ask the Lord to guide our nation as it wrestles with how the complex issues of immigration or abortion, where the lives of the least are at stake.  He expects us to associate with the lowly and stand up for their dignity.

Pray with humble faith.  Trust that the Lord will not only show us the way, but provide us the courage and strength to do the right thing ….. if only we are humble and shun worldly honor. 

“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind: blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” (Lk. 14:13-14)

Migrant Children will suffer most.

Migrant Children will suffer most.

The following excerpt was taken from an article issued by Catholic News Service on August 26, 2019, then it appeared in America Magazine online.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee said Aug. 23 sees “heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children” in a final rule issued by the Trump administration that allows the federal government to hold immigrant children in family detention indefinitely.

The new rule was issued jointly by the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services that will end a long-standing legal agreement put in place in 1997– known as the Flores Settlement Agreement — to ensure the safety and care of children in immigration detention settings.

Pope Francis has deemed immigrant children “the most vulnerable group’ among migrants,” and they will be most affected by this new rule, said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

(This) is an attempt by the administration to circumvent existing obligations and undermine critical protections for these children,” the bishop said in a statement. “This rule will jeopardize the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention.

“We oppose this rule that we believe is unlawful and inhumane. Countless children will be harmed by this new rule and this is simply not acceptable,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also opposed this rule when it was initially proposed by DHS and HHS by submitting comments Oct. 23, 2018, detailing concerns with the rule and urging it be rescinded. The government received more than 98,000 comments in response to the proposed rule-making.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. said it likewise submitted comments, calling the proposed rule “unlawful and immoral” as it negates “the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement.”

Said Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director: “This rule would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts. There is no justification to keep families and children in immigration jails longer. Separation of children from their parents is inherently wrong. The same is true for keeping children in detention.”

Read more.

Striving to be like Christ

Striving to be like Christ

This Sunday, I celebrated the opening Mass for the faculty and students at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander. Below if the homily.

How did your parents discipline you as a child?  In our family of thirteen children, we kept our parents on their toes with lots of behavior that needed correction.  As a child, I remember my mother’s loving approach to discipline.  Since dad was often out in the field, mom usually refereed fights and doled out the daily discipline.  Before she spanked us she would say, “Now you know that this hurts me more than it hurts you.” 

As we reflect on the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today (Heb. 12:5-7, 11-13), remember the loving discipline of a mother or a father. That is how God disciplines us.  “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. . . . For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:5-7).

For the person of faith, even the trials in life are seen as coming from the hand of a loving God who is teaching lessons to a son or daughter.  It is the same love he had for his beloved Son whom he allowed to be scourged in the passion.  God “scourges every son [or daughter] he acknowledges.”  Even the pains and trials in life are part of our education from God.

This is the perfect reading for the beginning of the school year.  In Greek the word for discipline (paideia) comes from the same root word as that for a little child (paidion).  The word means not only discipline, but also upbringing or training. It includes much more than punishment for wrongdoing.  It involves the discipline of good study habits, the rigor of physical training as an athlete, and self-control as we grow in the virtues. 

In the Letter to Hebrews, it involves the instructiongiven to a person to help them grow in being a son or daughter of God.  It is training in discipleship.  First of all, such a person has a disciplined prayer life.  He or she strives daily to imitate the Lord who cared for the least.  The disciple serves selflessly like Jesus who humbled himself and washed feet, even of those who would deny or betray him. 

Finally, this discipline includes staying the course in the trials of life.  It means persevering to the end – not by our own strength, but by the grace of God.  Earlier in the Letter to the Hebrews, that kind of discipline is described for Jesus.  “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8)

Some of the greatest lessons of life come from suffering.  In suffering we learn to lean on God with complete humility.  It forces us to be puny creatures before the all-powerful Creator.  Have you ever noticed how suffering calls forth an inner strength that you may not have known was possible?  Suffering is one of the greatest teachers.

This is the formation of the whole person that Catholic education seeks.  We form a young person in body and mind, heart and soul, faith and reason.  We seek to form disciples who think, speak and act like Christ.  That is why Catholic education includes helping young people learn how to pray the way Jesus prayed, to forgive with his mercy or to serve the less fortunate with his compassion.

As students, see yourselves in a school of discipleship.  See yourselves as a beloved son or daughter learning from God.  See your journey as being guided by our loving Father in heaven.  Seek to grow as a disciple of Jesus. 

As teachers, see yourself as a parent figure.  Help young people recognize the loving hand of God guiding their steps.  Help them listen to the voice of the Lord, more than your voice.  Remember, you are training disciples. 

The Gospel gives us an image that intensifies this training as disciples.  Someone in the crowd asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few in number be saved?” (Lk. 13:23) Sometimes we ask a similar question:  What does it take to get to heaven?  This gospel urges us to see our daily discipline in the context of the final judgment.  In your daily studies, keep in mind the end of your life.  It’s a healthy spiritual exercise.  It puts everything in perspective.  It points us to the end goal.

Jesus responded by saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many . . . will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Lk. 13:24)   The verb means to ‘struggle continuously,’ or strive with everything you’ve got.  The word is used for athletic training in 1 Cor. 9:25 as St. Paul wrote, “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” 

Think of how young people train for sports.  They get up early for morning practice.  They might practice twice a day for several hours.  They are striving for a trophy, a perishable crown.  But we are striving for the crown in heaven.

What kind of spiritual discipline do you have?  Do you pray every day?  Are you willing to get up 15 minutes earlier to pray?  Olympic athletes follow a special diet of highly nutritious food.  Do you feed your mind and heart the best images and words?  Do you end your day with an examen by reviewing your conduct in the Light of Christ?

Do you sacrifice in your spiritual life as much as you do to be good at sports, or have a sleek figure, or score high in a test, or be popular among peers? St. Paul agonized for his own spiritual life, he strove like an athlete. He said, “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

But he also used this image for his effort to train others in discipleship.  Paul agonized to bring others to Christ.  In the letter to the Colossians he wrote: “It is Christ whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Col. 1:28-29).

For Paul, all this hard work is done in the context of grace.  He said, “I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.”  He never strove on his own.  Perhaps, he said it best when he said, “I have toiled harder than all of [the apostles]; not I, however, but the grace of God with me”  (1 Cor. 15:10). 

Paul strove to form others in Christ because he was transformed by God’s mercy.  In contrast, some people work really hard at their spiritual life, but it is ‘their’ work.  Be careful not to strive in this way, but always with a humble awareness of God’s gracious mercy.  Then we maintain a gentleness and kindness toward ourselves in our striving for discipline, as well as toward others.

Prayer Requests

Prayer Requests

The women belonging to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites will have their annual retreat this weekend in Douglas, WY. I will be with them for Mass on Friday evening. In Casper, there will be a Men’s Retreat at St. Patrick’s Church from Friday evening to Sunday. I will join them for part of the time to hear confessions and celebrate Mass on Saturday. Then on Sunday, I will be in Lander to celebrate the Mass for the opening of the school with Wyoming Catholic College. Please pray for everyone gathering on retreat and the students and faculty of the College, as well as all those who are beginning a new school year.

Throw Fire

Throw Fire

Do you think that Jesus got in trouble by being too mischievous as a little boy? Did he play with fire as a child? In today’s Gospel he said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish that it were already blazing.”  (Lk. 12:49)  A literal translation is: “I have come to throw fire on the earth.”

As an adult, Jesus was a fire thrower.  He was dangerous and disturbing.  He could ‘put your feet to the fire.’  One day he said, “Follow me” to a potential disciple who responded by asking for permission to go and bury his father first.  But Jesus replied, “Let the dead their dead, but you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 9:60)  The man must have thought: “Seriously!  Let the dead bury their dead! That’s your reply when I say that I want to go and bury my father?”

Good public speakers know how to get people’s attention with shocking images.  Jesus was a master at it.  But there was something more than just being a master communicator.  He had a fire in his bones, and he threw that fire at others.  His thought-provoking words reveal a fire burning deep inside.  Jesus was a fire thrower.

We often think of him as a nice Jesus — loving, gentle, never speaking harshly.  But at times, he was a tough Jesus, unnerving and disturbing.  Today he tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No I tell you, but rather division.  From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Lk. 12:51-52)

Have you met Jesus, the fire thrower?  John the Baptist said, “Someone is coming who is more powerful than me . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Lk. 3:16)  The fire of the Holy Spirit was alive in his heart.  He was on fire with God’s presence, consumed with the fire of God’s love.

The fire of the Holy Spirit made Jesus fearless.  He wasn’t afraid to offend anyone, not even his closest friends.  It drove him to tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan.  You are not thinking like God, but like human beings.”  Yet, he also burned with the Father’s merciful love as he washed the feet of Peter.

Have you met Jesus, the fire thrower?  He will put your feet to the fire.  Yet, he will wash your feet and make them burn with mercy.  Have you let the fire of his mercy wash over your heart?

He wanted one thing: to center our lives in the fiery love of the Father. That is what it means to be baptized.  Baptism means to be dunked or immersed.  Jesus said, “Baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19)  Literally, it means “immerse all people into the presence or name of the Father . . .”

When the baptismal candle is lit and handed to the parent of a child, or the baptized adult, the priest says, “Receive the Light of Christ.  This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly.  This child (or adult) has been enlightened by Christ.  He or she is to walk always as a child of the Light.  May she keep the flame of faith alive in her heart.”

Do you live in the fire of your baptism, just as Jesus lived in the fire of the Father’s presence?  Or is baptism something that happened to you with little consequence?  Through baptism we become adopted children of God.  The word ‘adoption’ emphasizes God’s merciful initiative in our lives.  We do nothing to earn baptism.  However, an adopted child can be a brat, with little appreciation for the gift.  Lots of baptized Christians live like brats.  They have not responded to the gift.  They have not actualized their baptism. 

What does it mean to actualize your baptism?  Rather than using concepts to explain it, you might understand it better by example.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is a great example.  She lived in the fire of the Father’s love.

Elizabeth Ann Seton’s family was among the wealthy of New York City in the late 1700’s.  Her husband’s family owned a commercial shipping firm, and they associated with the upper crust.  The Episcopal Bishop of New York City, who had presided over George Washington’s inaugural prayer service in 1789, conducted the Seton’s marriage ceremony.  They were wealthy upper class early Americans.

However, her husband William became seriously ill.  Hoping to recuperate, they went to Italy and stayed with Catholic friends whom they met in their business.  But he died in Italy at the age of 36.  She was 29 years old, with five children from two to nine years old. 

Yet, during her stay in Italy, she was drawn to the Catholic faith.  And within a year of returning to New York, she joined the Catholic Church.  Catholics belonged to the lower class.  They were thought of as poor, uneducated and unwashed (or dirty) because most of them were poor immigrants.  Because of her conversion, the Seton family dropped all financial support.  And she was shunned by most of her wealthy friends.  This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No I tell you, but rather division.”

She wrote in her diary, “I seek but God and his church, and expect to find my peace in them, not in the people.”  When she received First Communion she said, “GOD IS MINE and I AM HIS.” The fire was burning brightly, and she began to throw fire. She was centered in God’s love, and it made her stand apart from others.

Soon she moved to Emmitsburg, MA where she started a school for poor girls, then she founded a religious order of Sisters to care for the children of the poor.  That’s right.  A widowed mother of five became a religious sister and foundress of a new religious community.  The school she started was the first free Catholic school in the United States, and it marked the beginning of the Catholic school system in the USA. 

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton found a treasure in the Eucharist.  That was where the fire of God burned for her.  That was where she drew strength to throw fire.  Have you let God’s love consume your heart?  Do you throw fire?

Sometimes that means being tough with the people whom we love the most.  But being tough is not the goal.  The goal is to be on fire with love for God.  When the fire of God burns in our hearts, it causes division.  Are you willing to stand alone because the fire of God burns in your heart, like the prophet Jeremiah who was thrown into the cistern?  They wanted to kill him.  (Jer. 38:4-10)

As a new year of faith formation begins, how will you kindle the baptismal fire?  How will you throw fire?  Faith formation is not just for young people, but every single disciple. 

For St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the fire was kindled with the Eucharist.  It was the Word of God for Jeremiah.  He wrote, “If I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire shut up in my bones . . . I cannot hold it in.”  (Jer. 20:9)

Have you actualized the fire of your baptism? Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the whole world on fire!”St. Catherine of Siena

Growing in Intimacy

Growing in Intimacy

This weekend, I will be at a retreat in Rapid City, SD at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center for deacons and their wives, as well as those who are in diaconate formation. The participants will be from the Diocese of Cheyenne and the Diocese of Rapid City. The retreat directors are Matt and Mindy Dalton, who are the co-founders of Marriage Missionaries. The theme of the retreat is: Growing in Intimacy: Strengthening Marriages to Strengthen Ministry. Please pray for all who are attending.

%d bloggers like this: