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”?