Inspired by the Sacred Heart

Inspired by the Sacred Heart

Last Friday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I was in Casper, WY at Our Lady of Fatima Parish to celebrate Mass and dedicate a new statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  The next day I celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s Parish in Casper where I dedicated a Celtic cross donated in memory of all the foreign-born Irish priests who have served in this diocese.  It was so good to be in Casper and meet the people of the area.

If you know someone’s heart is to know the person.  Maybe that is why the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is so powerful.  By his pierced heart Jesus humbly invites us to know him and to be with him.  Praying with the image of Jesus’ heart is to have an intimate conversation with Jesus himself.  And through his heart Jesus shows us the Father’s heart.  He brings us to that place of abiding with the Father.

So let’s ponder the heart of Christ.  This passage from Matthew’s gospel is a rare moment when Jesus describes his own heart.  “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29). 

How often do you think of Jesus as “MEEK and HUMBLE”?  We think of him as almighty with power to heal, to calm storms, to cast out demons and to raise the dead.  Meek and humble are not the first words that come to my mind about Jesus, but here, that is how he describes himself.

In the Old Testament, the words meek and humble are used to describe the anawim, or the poor who trust in God to rescue them. The meek person has a gentle strength.  The meek man is often afflicted or beaten down; yet he knows that God has his back.  In the Bible, the meek have an acute sense of how weak they are by themselves, but they trust in God as their rock and strength.  That is why the meek person has a gentle strength.

We’ve all met people who are so strong and calm in distressing circumstances.  That is what I am talking about.  In my life one of those people was Leona Ryan, an elderly lady on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  When her husband Gene died I was working in Rome, so I called to offer my sympathy.  I said that I was sorry to hear of the loss of her husband, and she immediately replied in a matter of fact and almost forceful voice, “Father when you have God with you, you can do anything.” 

Now, if you didn’t know Leona you might think that she was avoiding the pain, or hiding in a false piety.  But her response was true to her spirituality, “When you have God with you, you can do anything.”   That is the kind of gentle yet fierce strength that Jesus had as he went to the cross.  Imagine what it was like the day of the crucifixion to hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they do.”  He does not have to force his way.  But with gentle strength, rock solid in the Father’s love, he offers us a fierce unfaltering forgiveness.

Today, we marvel at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a meek and humble heart. This is the secret to his greatness.  In his little book Poverty in Spirit, Johannes Metz said that Jesus’ poverty in spirit, or humility, was the secret to his greatness.  Because Jesus stood before the Father with open and empty hands, he was granted all of the Father’s gifts.  So he says in this gospel, “All things have been given to me by my Father” (Matt. 11:27). 

Jesus says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”  The meek and humble Jesus invites us to follow this way in the Beatitudes.

   “Blessed are the poor in spirit’ who humbly and totally depend on God.

    “Blessed are the meek”  who are gentle and unassuming before others.

Today, we ask Jesus for the grace to be meek and humble like him, to trust completely in the Father to carry us through every trial. The person with a meek and humble heart receives the immensity of God’s mercy and emanates that mercy to others.

Transformed by the Eucharist

Transformed by the Eucharist

A few years ago, a sixth grade boy was serving morning Mass.  Matt usually came barely awake with his hair uncombed.  He often forgot to bring me the book at the right times.  But he was very talkative.  After one Mass, he said, “I don’t understand why people don’t come to Mass.  Whenever I receive Communion I get this BIG HAPPINESS inside.” 

What did he mean?  He gave a simple description of how God dwells in us through the Eucharist.  Matt could not understand why anyone would not want to be filled with this “big happiness.”  Even when he came half-awake, he was aware of the gift.

 Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have LIFE within you”  (John 6:53).    

Today I would like to reflect with you about this LIFE we receive in the Eucharist.  Sometimes adults are numb to the gift.  In fact, most of us fail to appreciate the LIFE of the Risen Lord poured out in the Eucharist, or we would be better about telling others about it.  When was the last time that you invited someone who has drifted from the Church to come back, especially so that they might receive Communion?

How many youth have ever invited a non-Catholic friend to join the Church because you are so joyful about receiving the Eucharist?  How many adults have invited anyone to consider becoming Catholic? Maybe we fail to invite others because we do not really appreciate our faith, especially the Holy Eucharist.

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have LIFE within you”  (John 6:53).    

The LIFE that Jesus mentions is not normal physical human life.  Rather, it is his life….. the life that he received from the Father.  So he says, “Just as the LIVING Father sent me and I have LIFE because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have LIFE because of me”  (John 6:57).    

Here Jesus describes his Father as the “Living Father.”  The Living Father is one of my favorite terms for God.  As the Creator, he is the source of life.  He pulses with life.  Jesus had a keen sense of the Father’s life as the strongest power of the universe.  His life is stronger than sin or sickness, evil or death.

This is what he felt as he said to Martha whose brother Lazarus had been dead for four days, “I AM the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).   

Jesus felt this LIFE deep in his bones, and he longs to give us this life.  “I am the LIVING Bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread with live forever”  (John 6:51).    

The Bread of the Eucharist is filled with Jesus’ life.  When we eat it, it fills us with his power, the power of the Risen Lord.  Yes, it has the power to make us live with him forever, in eternity.  But it also has the power to make us live like him right now.  The earlier Church Fathers emphasized this latter point.

They used the metaphor of how nature transforms lower life forms.  Plants assimilate minerals.  Likewise, animals eat plants and assimilate their nutrients.  The stronger form of life assimilates the weaker.  When people eat vegetables or meat, they process the food into nutrients.  But the opposite happens when humans eat the life of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist.  Then we are made into him ….. because he is a higher form of life.

Thus, the Living Bread of the Eucharist forms us into Christ.   His LIFE, his goodness, his power over sin….. takes over our body and soul.  He gives us his attitude. That is why St. Paul wrote in the letter to the Philippians that we can have the same mind as Christ (Phil. 2:5).  He transforms our hearts to be like his heart.

This is not just a pious theory, but a practical truth.  Here is one story of how I have experienced it.  While I was a seminarian, my class was divided.  We were judgmental and critical of each other.  At one point, I was disgusted with the whole dynamic.  I realized how wrong it was to have such an attitude, and I decided to pray for each person at Sunday Mass.  I was seated near the front, and as each person came forward for Communion, I prayed for goodness toward each person.  Through the Eucharist, I experienced total transformation.  I walked out of Mass with a new heart.

The Eucharist makes the Church, as Henri de Lubac said.  It heals us of our sins.  It reconciles us to one another.  It fills us with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks by blood remains in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:56).

 Today marvel at the gift of the LIVING BREAD.  Thank God for how Christ dwells in you through the Eucharist.  Receive him with humble gratitude.  Let him transform you.

Where do you struggle with sin?  Ask the Lord to free you from the sin of gossip, holding a grudge, lust, pride.  In the mystery of the Eucharist, be open to the forgiveness that flows from the cross and the Risen Lord.  Don’t EARN it….. just RECEIVE it.

Jesus’ HEALING power is poured out at the Eucharist.  It not only forgives sins, but heals our hearts from the effect of sin.  We are given his charity ….. to speak like him, instead of gossip ….. to love like him, instead of lust.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, apply the healing power of Christ to your life.

The Father knows best

The Father knows best

 

Today I would like share my own journey to priesthood and to being your bishop. I am a native of Timber Lake, SD, almost 500 miles northeast of Cheyenne.  My family owned a farm and ranch. I still enjoy riding horse. I also like to hike and ski.  I have six brothers and six sisters.  Close to 100 family members were here this week for my episcopal ordination.  It has been such a gift to be part of a large family.

Why did I become a priest?  The most important factor in my vocation is that I was raised in a family of faith.  Our family prayed daily and attended Mass regularly, so I always thought about my life in terms of God’s plan.  In my growing up years, one of the recurring thoughts for me was, “I need to do what God wants.”

When I was 10 years old, I was riding a horse across a highway, and I failed to see a speeding car. My horse froze on the road, but at impact he reared up which saved my life. After being struck by the car, my horse wobbled off the road and died.  The car was totaled.  I escaped with some facial cuts and a broken collar bone, and I realized that God had protected me.  From that moment, I had a sense that my life was not my own.  God had a specific purpose for me, and I seriously thought about priesthood.

After high school I attended the School of Mines in Rapid City.  I enjoyed studying there, but at the end of that year, I realized that I did not want to be an engineer.  I asked God, “What do you want me to do?” and clearly heard a call to the priesthood.  But I didn’t want to do that.  I was afraid.  I especially didn’t like the idea of being celibate.  So I decided to return to our family ranch and work there for a while.  The thought of priesthood kept nagging me. God was patient, but persistent.

As I spent time in the quiet of nature I found myself praying in awe before the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, the northern lights and billowing thunderstorms.  I felt the call to be quiet.  Not listening to the radio in the tractor.  No TV at night.  SILENCE was key.   If you want to hear God’s voice, silence is key.

Eventually, I gave in and went to the seminary when I was 27 years old.  In the end, I had to trust that what God wanted for me would give me the greatest JOY and SATISFACTION.

As a priest, I learned to trust that the Father always leads me to the best place.  I was able to say YES to this call because over the last 30 years, as I said YES to celibate priesthood which I did not want to live, or to different assignments which I did not prefer, I gained greater and greater trust in the Father’s plan.  I have found that his way leads me to the fullness of life.

This ongoing process of dying to my own desires and doing what God wants is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE. It has led me to selfless joy.  I have found fulfillment in doing God’s will.  The Father knows best. I could say YES to being a bishop, not because I like wearing a miter or bishop’s clothing, but because I trust in God’s guiding hand.

Do you trust in God’s providence for your life?  God has a specific plan for your life.  Do you believe that?  Are you seeking to live according to that plan?  He will bring you to the best place.

Today is Trinity Sunday.  Let’s reflect for a moment on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who guide us.  In the reading from Exodus, Moses says that this is how God described himself. “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Ex. 34:6).

Do you know the CONTEXT? This is the second set of stone tablets that Moses took up the mountain.  He broke the first set when he came down from the mountain and saw the people worshiping the golden calf.  So this is Moses’ second trip up Mt. Sinai.  He is anxious about approaching God since the people strayed so quickly the last time.

Then God stuns him by declaring:  “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).

This is the main description of God in the Old Testament.  It is repeated several times in the psalms and the prophets.  God the Father is above all MERCIFUL.  It is impossible to express God’s mercy with only one word.  In this passage,  there are five adjectives.

He is MERCIFUL, or compassionate.  The Hebrew word rahum is closely related to the word rehem, the word for the intestines or the womb.  One way to define this word is “womb-love,” like a mother’s love for the child that she carried in her womb.  Or the love that brothers and sisters have for each other.  The father has merciful womb-love.  His deep compassion for us is like the tender love of a father or mother for their own children, so Our Father sent his Son to be our Brother.

Second, God is GRACIOUS.  This Hebrew word (hanun) is often translated as PITY.  This word is used for someone stronger who is lenient to a much weaker person.  Almighty God who could crush us for our sinful stupidity, instead pities us.  So the Father sent his Son to be crucified for us, to be the sacrifice that atones for our sins.   “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Lord is “rich in KINDNESS (hesed) . . . continuing his kindness for a 1,000 generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Ex. 34:7).  Another translation renders this phrase “abounding in steadfast love.”  God has unbreakable loyalty and love.  This Hebrew word (hesed) is used for God’s unbreakable covenant with us.  So he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always.

I have experienced God as a merciful Father who is so darn faithful despite my sin. The Lord Jesus has instilled in me his own selfless love.   The Holy Spirit constantly accompanies me to guide and strengthen me.  So I am confident in saying YES to this new mission in life.  The Father knows best.

Do you trust in God’s providence for your life?  As you celebrate the Eucharist today, remember with gratitude how God has guided you as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Simply be aware of the mystery of God’s presence and ask for a greater faith to follow the Lord as a faithful disciple.

Come, Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit

HOMILY AT VESPERS – 7:30 PM, SUNDAY, JUNE 4

It is good to gather in prayer tonight on the feast of Pentecost.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,

And kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

And you shall renew the face of the earth.

I would like to begin by thanking Archbishop Paul Etienne.  Paul, I appreciate your encouragement and guidance the last three months.  Also, it is a blessing to have so many family members here.  My family is large, supportive and entertaining.  I have 12 siblings, and sometimes they tell tall tales, so if they say something about me that seems crazy, just ignore it!

I bring to Cheyenne a strong sense of FAMILY.  My family of origin shaped my identity, instilled in me a strong work ethic and nourished the gift of faith.  What a gift my family has been!

For me, the CHURCH has become a second family.  It was bittersweet to leave S. Dakota because of such strong relationships.  In a special way, I have been blessed with the bond of brotherhood among the priests in Rapid City.  I have been in a Iesu Caritas fraternity with some of them for 24 years.  I hope to build on the gift of FAMILY here in Cheyenne.

To begin, I want to tell a story of a good brother priest.  He taught me what it means to live as a brother in a family of faith.  I spent six years on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation with Msgr. Bill O’Connell.  Ministry on the rez is so challenging because of the tragic suffering in people’s lives.  However, of all the assignments which I had, that one was one of the best.…. because we had such a good team spirit, not only as brother priests, but also with the sisters and deacon couples with us.

Often we were at a mission parish until late at night.  But in the morning Msgr. O’C made a point of discussing with me what time we would be back, so that we could plan the evening meal together, even if that meant that we waited to eat until 8 or 9 PM.  Whoever, came back first was on to cook.

When we drove for four hours to and from Rapid City, he stopped to see the priests along the way…. to show them his concern. He was a master at listening to people and asking about their family.

He often would call priests who had problems.  At times, he disagreed strongly with personal decisions that they had made, and he told them so in no uncertain terms.  But he never cut off the relationship, even when he felt that a man was wrong.

In The Joy of the Gospel (#169), Pope Francis said, The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5).”  Msgr. O’Connell initiated me in the “art of accompaniment.”  He listened to people, walked alongside them, encouraged, challenged and prayed for them …. as a humble, sinful and merciful brother.

As a bishop, I hope to practice the art of accompaniment both as a spiritual Father and as a brother in Christ.  In the ritual, the priest being ordained as a bishop is told, “With the charity of a father and brother, love all whom God places in your care.”

I have learned from Msgr. Bill O’C and from my own family the sustaining power of brothers and sisters who hang together…. who accompany each other.  But also I have known the discouraging division when siblings bicker & fight.  We all know this in our families, but I am especially speaking about it in regard to our family of faith.  One of the greatest delights of the Evil One is to discourage us or divide us through back-biting and bickering.

As a Church family, we need to pray for one another, speak about each other with goodness and reach out with compassion to brothers or sisters in distress.

This is the hardest work.

One of the benefits of coming from a large family is that you get lots of practice in disagreeing and compromising, in fighting and forgiveness. I have learned to never give up on this process, to never give up with family members and with my Church family.

But not giving up on family requires that I do not give up on myself, as a beloved son of a merciful Father.  I mean that I need to humbly accept God’s mercy each day, even when I fail to be a good brother to others.  The KEY to never giving up lies in what Jesus taught us about the Holy Spirit.

He said that the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  Paraclete means the “One who stands beside you,” or literally the “One whom you call to your side.”  The Latin word is Advocate, which we use for a lawyer who stands beside you to defend you.

I believe wholeheartedly in the Paraclete.  The Holy Spirit always stands with me when I am faithful and unfaithful, if only I cry out with humble trust. The Holy Spirit always stands with you when you are faithful and unfaithful, if only you cry out with humble trust.  This is one of the most important truths of the faith.  Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s gospel are, “I am with you always, to the end of time” (Matt. 28:20).

Pope Francis insists on the art of accompaniment…. of standing beside others and never giving up on them, even when they sin against us.  Why?  Because that is how God treats us.  We need to accompany one another with the same patient love as the Paraclete.  We must never give up on forgiveness and unity in our families and in our Church family.

This kind of UNITY is the work of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul says, “Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force” (Eph. 4:3). So tonight, let us pray for the grace to never give up on unity in our church family and to practice the art of accompaniment, like the Paraclete.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,

And kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

And you shall renew the face of the earth.

 

Call me Bishop Steven

Call me Bishop Steven

I understand that people in the diocese have been asking about how I would like to be addressed.  My preference is to be called “Bishop Steven,” rather than Bishop Biegler.  However, I will not be fussy about it, so please do not worry about it if you forget.

Why “Bishop Steven”?  Steven is my baptismal name, and the name that I was called by my family.  As a priest, I used Fr. Steve, so Bishop Steven is similar.  While I understand that using a Bishop’s last name for address is a form of respect, it might also create distance in a relationship which is meant to be fatherly and familial.

Also, I do not prefer titles like “your excellency,” etc.  Formal titles like that do not fit my personality.

“Bishop” is a title used in the New Testament.  The word in Greek is episkopos which means “overseer” with the sense of a guardian who is watching over others to guide and protect them.   St. Peter uses this word to describe Jesus’ care for us in 1 Pet. 2:25, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have returned to the shepherd and guardian (episkopon) of your souls.”

I am excited to be with you, and I look forward to serving the Lord with you.  In preparation for my episcopal ordination, I am required to make a retreat, which I will make next week May 22-26.  Please pray for me.

Peace in Christ,

Bishop-elect Steven