Groaning in the Spirit

Groaning in the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priests on Retreat

Priests on Retreat

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

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

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

Becoming Fearless

Becoming Fearless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humble Unity

Humble Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Church re-born

A Church re-born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Director of Pastoral Formation

New Director of Pastoral Formation

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

The Power of Tenderness

The Power of Tenderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christus Vivit

Christus Vivit

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

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

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

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

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

Repent

Repent

IHow well do you know the LORD who spoke to Moses at the burning bush?  (Ex. 3:1-14)  Have you met the LORD who revealed himself at the burning bush?  Do you know what matters most to him? 

The passage of the burning bush is foundational for our understanding of God.  It is the beginning of a whole new experience of God in history.  If you understand what the LORD said to Moses at the burning bush, then you will better understand Jesus’ words and actions.

One of the first things that God tells Moses is, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” (Ex. 3:6)  In other words, the LORD of the burning bush is the God who journeyed with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God made a covenant with them.  Moses is being reminded of God’s fidelity and promise to be with them.  He is reminded of the promise that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and would inherit the promised land.   Those promises were made 400 years before God spoke to Moses at the burning bush.

That kind of God is different than the gods of other ancient cultures.  For other nations, God was totally transcendent, far off in the heavens.  Their gods did not journey with them; they were not close to them and guiding them each day.  They did not see God as being involved in their personal history or helping them in their struggles. 

However, the LORD of the burning bush is deeply concerned about his people.  He says, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.  Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex. 3:7-8)  This revelation was life-changing for the Israelites.  It was a revolution in their understanding of God.  The LORD is a God who hears their cries, knows their suffering and comes down to rescue them. 

When you pray, do believe that this is how God cares for you in affliction?  Or do you wonder if he hears you?  Do you just pray because you are supposed to pray, but without a sense that God is deeply concerned about you, your family, and those who suffer in our world? 

Many Christians do not pray to the LORD who said to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people and have heard their cries for help, so I know well what they are suffering.  Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.”  Instead, they pray to a God who is totally transcendent, who is far off in the heavens and has little or no concern for them.  Who is the God to whom you pray?

We are a lot like the Israelites who didn’t believe Moses.  He knew that this experience of God would be hard for them to believe.  So he said to God, Look, the Israelites are probably not going to believe me.  They will think that I had heat stroke or something, and imagined this whole thing.  “If they ask me, ‘What is this God’s name?’ what am I to tell them?  God replied, ‘I am who am.’ . . . This is what you are to tell the Israelites:  I AM sent me to you.”  (Ex. 3:13-14)

What does it mean when God says that he is ‘I AM’?  Biblical scholars have struggled to understand this name of God.  Many said that ‘I AM’ means that God is the essence of existence.  He is the source of existence, or the beginning of all things.  ‘I AM’ means that he is the Creator.

But in the Jewish culture, they understood something more.  God is not only the Creator, but also the Redeemer who rescues the oppressed.  When God said that his name is ‘I AM,’ it was not a philosophical way of describing his presence. Rather, the LORD’s presence was concrete in history and active in their midst.  God is saying,“I AM present for my people and with my people.  I AM with you in your distress.  I hear your cries and answer your pleas.  I will accompany you on your way.”

Do you pray to God as both Creator and Redeemer? When you pray, do you imagine God as far off in heaven or as One who is closer to you than your closest friend?  We should pray with both images.  Many relate easily to God as Creator, but you cannot stop there or else God is kept at a distance.  As the Redeemer, God comes down to rescue the afflicted.

The Israelites experienced the LORD as their Redeemer at the Red Sea.  As Christians, we experience the LORD as Redeemer in Jesus’ deep compassion for lepers, the blind, the crippled, the sick, the widow of Nain, and in so many other events.  By his life, Jesus helped us understand that this is what the name ‘I AM’ means.  He said, “I AM the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (Jn. 10:11)  I will protect you from wolves.  I will guide you and watch over you.  I will die for you.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, we experience how God pours himself out to be totally present in a mystical way.  Jesus opened our hearts to this mystery when he said, “I AM the Bread of Life.”  I exist to fill you with my Life.  I AM living in you.  I will always be with you.

During Lent, we are called to renew our relationship with God through repentance.  The first level of repentance is to be open to who God is and what God does.  Every one of us needs to a change of heart regarding God as both Creator and Redeemer.  If we don’t get that right, then we will fail to get the second level of repentance right, which is to let our relationships be transformed by this fresh experience of God’s love.   

At the first level, to repent means to believe that God hears my cry for help, knows my affliction and will rescue me; it means to listen to a God whose first concern is for those being oppressed.  At the second level, to repent is to bring that experience to the people around me.  For Moses that meant that he had to go back to Egypt and help free the Israelites caught in slavery.  He was called to be an agent of God’s redemption. 

For us, it means that we need to listen to the cry of the oppressed in our world and do something about it.  That includes the child in the womb who is helpless, as well as to the pregnant mother who often feels totally alone.  There are so many other kinds of people whom we are called to be agents of God’s protection.  One group is especially appropriate. 

We should recall God’s commandment regarding resident aliens (i.e., foreign immigrants without rights) to the people of Israel.  “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 22:20)   This commandment is tied directly to the revelation of God at the burning bush and how he rescued them at the Red Sea.  Throughout the Old Testament, it is repeated again and again to remind them and us that our treatment of others who are afflicted should reflect how God has rescued us. 

Suffering as gift for others

Suffering as gift for others

“Why is this happening?”  Whenever you speak with someone who has suffered a tragedy or a mysterious illness, they want to know “Why did God let this happen to me?” That is an excellent question because it expresses trust in God.  You don’t ask “Why did God let this happen?” unless you believe in God as good and caring.   Yet, often in suffering we are left in the dark.  God is silent.  The darkness and silence are disturbing.  We feel all alone.

Then, it’s important to remember the stories of faith.  Today’s Scriptures from Genesis 15:5-18 and Luke 9:28-36 offer two valuable stories that help us in dark times.  Abraham’s mysterious vision and Jesus’ glorious transfiguration give us hope in suffering.  Both stories inspire us to trust God in the darkness of suffering. 

Abe has no children, yet he trusts God who promises him descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky.  God tells him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.  Just so shall your descendants be.”  Then, God ups the ante.  He promises his descendants an enormous tract of land – even though Abraham is a foreigner.

The promises seem impossible! So Abraham asks, “How do I know this will happen?”  Then he is given a vision of God’s fidelity.  God tells him to take a heifer, a goat and a ram, and cut them in two.  That was the way that people made business deals.  They cut animals in two, then walked between them, shook hands and said, “If I break my promise, then let me die like these animals.” 

The Hebrew words here could be translated literally, “cut a covenant.” We say “Let’s cut a deal.”  God’s mysterious presence is seen as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces.  In a sense, God said to Abraham, “Let me be cut in two if I’m not faithful.”

This is not just Abraham’s story to assure him in his struggle.  It is a story of faith handed on to us.  God promises to be with you and me in the darkness of our journey.  He promises that this difficult and dark path will lead to glory. 

The Transfiguration is a similar story of glory in suffering.  Immediately before this, Jesus told his disciples about his suffering and death.  Now he is inviting them to trust that it will not merely be about suffering, but it will be an exodus – a path to glory and new life.  Moses and Elijah spoke of “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).  As Jesus shines in glory, we get a glimpse of the resurrection.  The Father teaches us to see Jesus’ suffering as a way to glory.  And God encourages us to see our life as an exodus.  We are on a journey that promises a share in his glory beyond our suffering.

The Father is with Jesus and will carry him through his passion and death.  God cut a covenant with Abraham, but the cross is the biggest deal God ever cut.  He promises to carry us through suffering, if only we listen to his Son. 

Immediately before the Transfiguration Jesus told his disciples that he would “suffer grievously, be rejected . . . and be put to death . . . and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:22).  Then he challenged the disciples to imitate this way to glory.  He said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.  Anyone who want to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it” (Luke 9:23-25).  The next passage is the Transfiguration, so these two texts should be read in tandem.

When God tells us “This is my chosen Son, listen to him,” we are being called to listen especially to those words — to take up the cross every day and to lose our life for his sake.  If we do what he tells us, then we will share his transfiguration.  Stay strong in trial every day.  Trust God in suffering hour by hour.  Lose your life for his sake.  Instead of doing what feels good, do what is helpful to others.  Serve selflessly.  Pray for those who hurt you.  Wash feet.  Forgive as he forgave.

Several years ago, I was serving a small parish where a lady named Alice was suffering from cancer.  She often did not feel well; yet, she came to Mass faithfully, even daily Mass.  You could tell she was not well.  She did not have good color in her face.  She was thin.  She had lost her hair.  Sometimes I looked out and thought, “Alice, what are you doing here today.” 

She probably wondered why this was happing to her.  But the way she suffered with faith was inspiring to everyone in the parish.  Her attitude was powerful.  Her frail but faithful presence inspired everyone.  God was using her for the good of others.  She was losing her life for Jesus’ sake. 

Often God uses our suffering for others.  If we think of what meaning it has for our life alone, we will not see the fullest meaning.  Remember Abraham never saw numerous descendants, nor did he inherit the land.  The Israelites were be led to the promised land about 500 years later.  His journey only makes sense when you see how he suffered for future generations. 

Similarly, Jesus’ suffering as the innocent Son of God makes no sense for his life alone.   Rather, God used his Son’s suffering to redeem the world.  Our suffering should be seen in this perspective.  We will not see the full meaning of our suffering in this life.

When you remember the stories of Abraham and Jesus, then you have the faith to live like Alice.  We are called to be witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection by how we suffer for others, and by how we suffer with faith in the resurrection.  With faith, our suffering is a gift for others.

Suffering itself is part of a longer journey to glory.  Stay strong in trial every day.  Trust God in suffering hour by hour.  Lose your life for his sake.  Instead of doing what feels good, do what is helpful to others.  Be a gift for others in your suffering.

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