Marriage Encounter at Ucross

Marriage Encounter at Ucross

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

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

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

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

Confirmed in Love to be Fearless

Confirmed in Love to be Fearless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you fear God alone, you will be fearless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift of Faith in Latino Catholics

Gift of Faith in Latino Catholics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gazing on the crucified Christ.

Gazing on the crucified Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyful and Fruitful Laborers in the Vineyard

Joyful and Fruitful Laborers in the Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus tells us that God constantly invites people to work in his vineyard.  He is always seeking to get our attention.  Catherine of Siena said it this way, “Don’t you understand?  God is running after you day and night, as though he has nothing else to do but simply to occupy himself with you.”

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

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

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

Jesus’ response gives us the greatest lesson here.

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

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

Are you envious because I am generous?”

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

 

Responding to DACA

Responding to DACA

President Trump announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which affects roughly 800,000 youth who arrived in the USA prior to their 16th birthday.  Many have lived in this country since they were small children.  Often they know the United States as their only home.

Some will respond with anger and outrage.  Others who support the President’s position will react with satisfaction that he has fulfilled his campaign promise.  However, our country is still suffering from the division experienced in the last election, and fostering greater division will not be helpful.  Nor will it necessarily help the DACA youth.  Reckless speech is the language of fools.  That way of speaking has become popular, even among our leaders.

But we are called to speak in the fiery tongue of the Holy Spirit, not allowing free rein to our wills, but seeking the guidance of the Lord.  Strong words and firm resistance are needed, but in a prayerful spirit which seeks what is best for the youth affected.  Let us use our energy to search for a new solution for this issue through prayer and the hard work of collaboration.

Please pray for the gifts of wisdom, courage and justice for members of Congress.  Contact them and urge them to work together for the good of our nation, and the future of DACA youth.  The USCCB published a statement regarding the cancellation of DACA, which has been posted on our website, dioceseofcheyenne.org.

New Bishops in Rome

New Bishops in Rome

Every September in Rome, the Vatican hosts the newly ordained bishops from the past year.  Some refer to this gathering as “baby bishops school.”  I am in Rome for this purpose, along with about 115 other new bishops from around the world.  We begin tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 PM with an hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

Each day a speaker will present a specific topic.  Over the next three days the topics are as follows.

Thursday:  “Episcopal Ministry as a Journey of Collegial Discernment” with Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  I remember him from when I was a seminarian in Rome 25 years ago, because he taught one of our theology courses at the Gregorian University.

Friday:  “The Bishop and the Comprehensive Care of Priests” with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster in England.  I am aware of how important this topic is.  The lives of priests are stressful, and I see their care as a top priority.  I am looking forward to hearing more about this topic.

Saturday:  “Pastoral Discernment in a Media Culture” with Monsignor Lucia Adrian Ruiz, Secretary for Communication.

 

 

New beginning for WCC

New beginning for WCC

On Sunday, I celebrated Mass at the Holy Rosary Church in Lander for the opening of the school year with Wyoming Catholic College.  It was a joy to be with the students and faculty.  The freshmen class of 59 students is the largest since WCC began in 2005.  Others who attended the event and interacted with the students said, “I found these young people to be a source of encouragement.  Their faith and goodness are inspiring.”

Molten Rock from the Fire of Mercy

Molten Rock from the Fire of Mercy

This Sunday I celebrated Mass at the Ascension Parish in Hudson where we dedicated a new altar, then I went to Holy Rosary Parish in Lander for the opening Mass of the school year with Wyoming Catholic College.  We had a wonderful celebration for each community, and I enjoyed meeting so many new people.  The homily for Mass, based on Matthew 16, follows below.

St. Peter is an interesting choice for the Rock of the Church.  So often his mouth gets him into trouble because he speaks before he thinks.  At times, Peter is strong, impetuous and proud.   Other times, he is cowardly, humble and repentant.  He is so normal.  If the Lord Jesus could transform him and make him a great witness, he can make any of us into faithful disciples.

Peter professes such confident faith in Jesus as he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 16:16).  Another time he asserted, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.  We are convinced and we believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 6:68).  Yet, rock-solid faith crumbled with a triple denial.  That is whom Jesus chose to be the rock of the Church.

What made Peter the rock?  What is it that formed him into the rock of faith, the rock of the Church?  It is important to reflect on that because it will guide our journey of faith.  It will help us to be rock-solid in the faith, despite our sins and quirky personalities.

First, he is the ROCK because that was his call.  Jesus told him, “Simon, son of Jonah . . . You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt. 16:18).  Jesus made SIMON into PETER, the rock.  In a biblical name change, God bestows a mission through a new name.  But his identity and mission as rock would need to mature. It is Peter’s process of maturity which will help us live our faith.  We need to undergo the same process.

Imagine for a moment that Peter was a ‘soft’ rock, but eventually he would become a ‘hard’ rock.  For example, the granite of the Wind River Range is igneous rock.  Igneous rock is literally ‘fiery rock,’ taken from ignis, the Latin word for fire.  Igneous rock is formed from the molten rock in the fire of a volcano.  Peter’s faith became like granite because of the fire of Jesus’ passion.

This fiery transformation is most pointed in John’s Gospel, where Peter denied Jesus at a charcoal fire (John 18:18), then at another charcoal fire Jesus asked Peter if he loved him (John 21:15-17).  Those are the only two charcoal fires mentioned in the Gospels.  So the fires are intentionally linked.  At the first charcoal fire, Peter melted with fear.  At the second charcoal fire, he became molten lava infused with Christ’s mercy.

As Jesus asked him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was like clay being fired in the volcano of God’s fierce love.  That merciful encounter with the Risen Lord hardened his faith like granite.  He became a rock with a deep red vein of mercy running through it.  Now, Peter’s strength was not based on his own stubborn will or quick wit.  Rather it was grounded in Christ’s unfailing mercy.  With steadfast love, Jesus confirmed him as the lead disciple.  It must have blown Peter’s mind.  It definitely transformed his heart.

In the end, Peter was a rock because Christ was his rock.  That is what we find the First Letter of Peter 2:4-5.  There Peter describes Jesus as the rock foundation of the Church, not himself.  He says, “Come to Him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:4-5).

 Peter himself speaks of Jesus as the LIVING STONE of the church.  In the Catholic Tradition, Christ the living stone is symbolized by the altar.  The Church directs us to use natural stone for the altar top, as an image of the place of Christ’s sacrifice, and as an image of Christ himself.  Peter had to stay close to the sacrifice of Christ’s mercy in order to be a rock.

Perhaps you know that the bones of Peter are directly beneath the main altar at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  That is the perfect place for Peter.  He is the Rock of the Church because he is below the Rock of the Altar of Christ.  The early Christians placed the bones of martyrs under the altar, not because the martyrs’ bones make the altar holy, but to remind them that the mystery of the altar makes martyrs.  This tradition is attested to in the Book of Revelation.  “I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God” (Rev. 6:9).  Similarly, St Ambrose wrote, “He who suffered for all is on the altar; they who have been redeemed by his sufferings are beneath the altar.”

 In the end, Peter is a rock because Christ is his rock.  He belongs under the altar.  So do we.  The mystery of Christ that we celebrate on the altar molded Peter into a Rock, and it will mold us.  It will make our faith rock-solid.

The ritual for dedicating an altar describes the Christian altar with two images.  It is:

  • A unique altar on which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated in mystery
  • A table at which the Church’s children gather to give thanks to God and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.”

 The altar is supposed to be fixed or immovable, attached to the floor.  If possible, the top is to be made of “natural stone.”  Thus, the altar is meant to be solid as rock, a place of sacrifice in biblical imagery.  The Altar of Sacrifice fixes our hearts on the cross.  At every Eucharist, we enter into the mystery of the cross.

Yet, the ritual states that it is also supposed to be “freestanding so that the priest can walk around it facing the people.”  Perhaps this is because it is called the Table of the Paschal Banquet, which recalls not only the Last Supper, but also the meals of the Risen Christ when the disciples felt their hearts “burning” with the fire of Christ’s love and where they “recognized him in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:32-34).

 Thus, the paschal banquet goes beyond the Sacrifice of the Cross.  The Risen Christ presides at our paschal banquet, which points beyond to the marriage feast of the Lamb with all the saints in heaven (Rev. 19:9).  Through the Eucharistic mystery, we enter into the mystery of Jesus’ sacrificial death; we are filled with the LIFE of his Risen Christ and we taste the glory of heaven. The Church’s reform of the liturgy at Vatican II recaptured both images, of the ALTAR of Sacrifice and of the TABLE of the Paschal Banquet.  At times, some have overemphasized the table image and have lost the sense of sacrifice.  Other times, the table image has been lost.

As you approach the altar to receive Holy Communion, come like Peter did to that charcoal fire at the Sea of Tiberius.  With humble faith, come aware of your frailty and sin, but more keenly aware of Lord’s steadfast mercy.  Ask Christ to make your heart burn with the fire of his love – burning away all sin, and molding you into a living stone.

Peter gives us so much hope that God can work with our humanity with all of its foibles and make us rock-solid disciples, if only we stay close to the Rock of Jesus Mercy.

Responding to Racism

Responding to Racism

The recent events in Charlottesville revealed a new level of racism in our land.  Consequently, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today announced the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.  It will focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our Church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions.  Please pray for the victims and their families in Charlottesville, and for our nation that we may live as brothers and sisters in Christ.