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Month: July 2017

Only Say the Word

Only Say the Word

This Sunday I celebrated Mass with the high school students from the Diocese of Cheyenne who are leaving for One Bread, One Cup conference in Conception, Missouri.  This was the homily for the teens and their family members.

How much time to you spend on your cell phone?  How many words and images flood your mind through social media each day?  The average teen spends more time on social media than they do sleeping.  This includes watching TV and videos, playing video games, listening to music and checking social media.  Teens in the U.S. spend about nine hours a day using media for their enjoyment.

Think of all the WORDS flooding your mind through social media.  It must be close to a gazillion words.

Yet, each day God is messaging us with even more images and words?  Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a farmer who throws seeds everywhere – on paths, on rocky ground, in thorns, and in good fields with rich soil (Mt. 13:1-9).  God is like a gardener who doesn’t sow seed in nice neat rows, but throws it everywhere.

God is always speaking to us.  God speaks to us with more words and images than social media.  But his Word is often ignored or blocked by the “evil one who comes and steals away the Word sown in our hearts (Mt. 13:19), or else the Word is choked by “worldly anxiety and the lure of riches” (Mt. 13:22).

One of the tactics of the evil one is to fill our hearts with worldly anxiety so that we lose touch with the Word sown in our hearts.  Worldly anxiety might be worrying about a sickness, or constantly being anxious about what others think of me.  It might be the desire for nice stuff or the greed to be more successful than everyone else.  Worldly anxiety leads us to be so focused on our problems that we lose our focus on God.

The danger is this.  God speaks constantly, but his Word can be blocked in so many ways.

In 2004, I was working at the North American College in Rome, and we took a summer trip to El Salvador with seven seminarians.  One day we visited the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, Gregorio Rosa Chavez.  He said that he had recently been in Washington, D.C. to speak to the U.S. bishops.  One of the seminarians asked him what he thought about the U.S.  He responded, “It is a country that has so much noise that there is little room to hear the Word of God.”  He said that in 2004.  How the words and noise have multiplied since then!

Does your use of a cell phone drown out God’s Word?  I’m not saying that cell phone use is evil.  Using social media does not necessarily block God from speaking to you.  But it can, especially if it becomes an addiction which is true for many people.  It can, if all those words leave no room for God’s Word.

The main question is this:  Am I always listening for God to speak?  In everything, do I listen for his voice?

As I send a message on the phone, am I prayerfully thinking how God would want me to speak?  Words can wound or bring healing.  They can build up people or tear them down.  I not only need to LISTEN for God’s Word, but I am called to be an AGENT of that word.  I am called to speak God’s word of hope to others.

Three weeks ago Pope Francis made Bishop Rosa Chavez a Cardinal.  One reason is because he speaks words of hope to the poor.  He visits Washington, D.C. to visit more than 250,000 Salvadorans who live there because they have fled the violence in El Salvador.  In 2016, it was named the world’s most deadly country outside a war zone because of its homicide rate, with rampant gangs terrorizing people, driving many to seek refuge abroad.  Many of the Latino people living in this state come here because of similar struggles to survive.  Teens have left El Salvador on their own, without any family members, because of the violence.  Do we speak a word of hope to them?   Or look at them with disdain, without any concern for their situation?

God’s Word is so powerful, if only we receive it with humble hearts.  The seed that falls on rich soil produces a hundredfold.  Do you know that the average yield for wheat is over 100 times what is sown?  Every seed of wheat planted by a farmer yields about 110 seeds.

Seeds have such power to produce.  And the seed of God’s Word is even more potent!  It heals people….. It is stronger than Satan…… It gives martyrs hope beyond death.

Before we receive Holy Communion we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the WORD and my soul shall be healed.”  That prayer is taken from a story in the Gospel where Jesus healed a servant.  A Roman centurion said this because his servant was close to death.  He had heard of how Jesus had healed others.  He was not a practicing Jew, but he believed in the power of Jesus’ words.

Each time you say those words before Communion, ask for a special grace.  Maybe for the power to be true to Jesus today.  Maybe for healing of someone who is sick. Trust in the power of his Word.

God is speaking to you every moment of the day.

Encouraging you when you are feeling down.

Whispering in your heart to do what is right.

Inspiring you to spend time with someone who is lonely.

Challenging you to witness to those who do not believe.

Make room for God’s Word, with time for silence each day.  Praying over a Scripture passage.  Listening to a beautiful song.  Walking in the beauty of nature.

The week before I was ordained as bishop, I was on a retreat and was praying over the Gospel of John.  This verse really captured my attention.  “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you may ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23).

So I have been asking the Father for all kinds of things in Jesus’ name.  I have been praying for peace in my heart or lifting up others who need prayer.  I trust in the power of that Word spoken to me.

Open yourself to the gift of the Word and let it fill you.  Then look for an opportunity to be an agent of God’s Word, through words that build up and simple deeds of goodness.

In the Spirit of Fr. DeSmet

In the Spirit of Fr. DeSmet

This Sunday I celebrated a Mass at the monument of Fr. DeSmet’s Prairie Mass site, near Daniel, Wyoming.   What drove Fr. Pierre DeSmet to come to Wyoming?  Was it the beauty of the mountains?  Did he want to be the first priest to attend a rendezvous?  Over his lifetime, Fr. DeSmet traveled roughly 180,000 miles.  He made at least 16 trips across the ocean to invite others to join him in his mission to the West.

As we recall the first Mass in Wyoming by Fr. DeSmet 177 years ago, I invite you to enter into the Spirit of Fr. Pierre Jean DeSmet.  Through Baptism we share in the same Holy Spirit who was the driving force in his life.

The readings today help us understand the power of the Holy Spirit at work in Fr. DeSmet and in us.  St. Paul tells us, “If the Spirit of the one raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

How did Fr. DeSmet experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a missionary?  How do we experience this LIFE of the Spirit given to us in Baptism?  The primary effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives is this.  We share in Jesus’ relationship with the Father.  Through Baptism and the gift of the Spirit, we have the right to speak to God face-to-face, just like Jesus did.

Listen to how Jesus prayed, “I give praise to you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the learned and clever you have revealed them to little ones.  Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Matt. 11:25-26).

 Jesus had total access to the Father.  Through his prayer, the Father filled him with every gift.  We can pray like Jesus.  The Father sees us as the ‘little ones’ whom he wants to give his blessings.

Recently someone told me that they were struck when a priest said in a homily, “When you pray always start by saying, ‘God, I know you love me.’”  That is another way of stating the reality of our relationship with the Father because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  St. Teresa of Avila taught her sisters to pray by telling them to begin prayer in this way: “See Jesus looking at you lovingly and humbly.”  She had a clear sense of being in a personal relationship with the Jesus and the Father.

Fr. DeSmet wanted others to know this powerful relationship with God.  This is a unique gift of Baptism.  We know that God loves all people, whether they are baptized or not?  But our relationship with God becomes more explicit through Baptism.  The initiative of God’s love is made concrete for us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.   Through Baptism we live in Christ (Col. 3:3).

Fr. DeSmet wanted to share that gift with the Indian people who had heard about this power.  That is why they sent representatives to St. Louis to ask that Black Robes (Jesuits) would be sent to them. Four times between 1831 and 1839, they sent representatives to St. Louis to request that the Black Robes would be sent to this area.

Sometimes we forget the difference that Christian baptism makes in our relationship with God.  We hear people claim that being ‘spiritual’ is the same as being ‘religious.’  Yet, through Baptism we are gifted with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  As you recall that gift in your life, give thanks to God.

How well do you attend to this relationship?  Do you pray with confidence of the Father’s gifts the way Jesus did?  He confidently said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” 

To be baptized is to be on FIRE with the Spirit…. and to bring that gift to others.  That is one of the reasons that I became a priest.  I had some powerful experiences of forgiveness or God’s presence, so I wanted to help others know those gifts.

Now I know the truth of St. Paul’s words, “The Spirit of the one raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me and you.”  Through this baptismal gift, “Almighty God who raised Christ from the dead gives life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

How well do you proclaim this new LIFE?  How well does your parish keep the mission of Fr. DeSmet alive?  We should not remember his first Mass in Wyoming as merely an historical event of the past.  But it should help you see that “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” 

 Fr. DeSmet realized that those who do not belong to Christ through baptism are missing a great gift.  Salvation is at stake.  So he went to the wilderness with a sense of urgency.  Pope Francis keeps saying that we need to go to the periphery, to the margins of society.  We need to bring the MERCY of God to the least. In a homily this May, he said that we need to send the best priests to the periphery.  I suppose that means the best bishops!

Who are the people on the periphery in your family, parish or state?  Who needs to experience “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead”?

This Spirit will free them from the selfishness of sin.  It overcomes racism which is alive and well in our nation.  It frees those trapped in porn, who have become “debtors to the flesh” (Rom. 8:12).

The Spirit gives new hope to those on the periphery.  Pope Francis reaches out to immigrants, prisoners and the disabled.  A few years ago, Francis embraced a disfigured man with sores covering his body.  Vinicio Riva has neurofibromatosis, and he had been shunned by the public.  But he felt such new hope after the encounter with Pope Francis.

As we remember the missionary spirit of Fr. DeSmet, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit who inspired him is alive and well in our world.  It shines out in people like Pope Francis.  It gives the marginalized new hope and transforms broken sinners.

At every Eucharist, this indwelling of the Spirit is poured anew into our hearts.  Who are the people on the periphery in your family, parish or state?  Who needs to experience “the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead”?

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