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Month: October 2017

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.