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Month: January 2018

Acting with Jesus’ Authority

Acting with Jesus’ Authority

Over the last week, I have been on the road to central and western Wyoming.  I celebrated Masses with St. Margaret’s School in Riverton (January 24) and Holy Spirit School in Rock Springs (January 25).  I also visited the people of St. Christopher Parish in Eden and the parish leaders in Rock Springs because both communities are developing building projects.

Then I went to Jackson for an ecumenical prayer service, Friday Mass with the Latino Catholics and weekend Masses at Our Lady of the Mountains (OLM) in Jackson and Holy Family in Thayne.  As people gathered for the Saturday evening Mass at OLM, a moose wandered onto the church property.  It was a great photo op!  Following is the homily from the weekend Masses.

Imagine the astonishment of people as they saw Jesus cast out the demon in the possessed man (Mark 1:21-28).  The people said, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk. 1:27).  In chapter 2 of Mark’s gospel, we see that authority again as he forgives the sins of a paralytic, then heals him by saying “Arise, pick up your mat and walk” (Mk. 2:11).

Disciples of Jesus live in awe of his authority, and they act with his authority.  In Mark 3:15 and 6:7, Jesus chooses the Twelve and sends them.  Both passages state that “he gave them authority over unclean spirits.”  In John 20:23, the risen Christ gives them authority to forgive sins.  Disciples of Jesus live in awe of his authority, and they act with his authority.  This is true for all disciples, not just the clergy.  We are empowered with his Spirit from baptism.

What was the attitude behind Jesus authority?  What adjectives could we use to describe his authority?  What did it look like?  If we know that, then it will help us know what his authority should look like for his disciples.

The first way to describe Jesus’ authority is to call it a childlike authority.  His primary relationship was as the beloved Son of the Father.  At his baptism he hears God say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  As Jesus prays he says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt. 11:27).  He experienced the Father giving him all his gifts — the Holy Spirit, his power and authority.  His primary relationship was as a beloved Son of the Father.  This is his identity and the foundation of his authority.  It is a childlike authority.  Completely dependent on the Father.  Rooted in a deep relationship with the Father.  He was totally confident in his status as the Son.

If disciples are to act with Jesus’ childlike authority, then their most important relationship is as a beloved son or daughter of the Father.  That means they dedicate time in prayer every day to be with their best friend.  This is a challenge for everyone, myself included.  But is it crucial to develop a childlike authority.

Here are some ways that this kind of authority should be seen in us.  First, for the disciple with childlike authority there are no cliques.  No special groups that gather to gossip about others.  This applies to the pastor and to parishioners.  Instead, pastor and parishioners speak about every single person as brothers and sisters.

Second, when I act with childlike authority, I possess impartiality.  An impartiality of those who criticize me and those who praise me.  What others say does not define me, whether good or bad.  What matters is how God judges me.  I want to please God alone.

Another way to say this is that childlike authority gives the disciple internal freedom.  The disciple who has an identity as a son or daughter of God is free inside. Pope Francis is a good example of this freedom.  He doesn’t care what people think.  He doesn’t care what bishops or cardinals think.  He is not perfect, but he is free.  He was free enough to say, “Disciples build bridges not walls.”  Why?  Because disciples see others as brothers and sisters, as beloved children of their Heavenly Father.

Jesus had childlike authority.  Second, he had a servant authority.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus responds to disciples arguing about who is the greatest and tells them, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  We revere him because he died for us.  He did not die for perfect and smart disciples, but for weak, fickle and sinful disciples.

 Disciples acting with servant authority serve their enemies.  They definitely pray for them, as Jesus commanded.  They are generous to people who give nothing back.  They serve because Jesus love burns in them, not because of their own initiative.  Mother Teresa had authority because she served in this way.  People respected her authority because she poured her life out in imitation of Christ’s selfless love.

In addition to childlike authority and servant authority, Jesus acted with healing authority.  So often, he manifested his power by healing the broken — blind, crippled, lepers, etc.  Sometimes as a Church we have lost sight of his healing authority.  At times, we emphasize rules more than healing.  Pope Francis is in touch with this expression of Jesus’ authority, so he said, “The Church is a field hospital.”  

St. Frances Cabrini is a prime example of acting with Jesus’ healing authority.  She came to the United States in 1889 as a 39 year old religious sister to help Italian immigrants who were flooding to our nation in dire poverty.  Over the next 25 years she founded 67 institutions of mercy and healing — orphanages, hospitals and schools for poor kids.

The people in a parish ought to see in the clergy the authority of Jesus.  They need to see them acting with a childlike authority, as servants who extend healing.  But this should also be seen in every parishioner, in every disciple.  When the whole parish is alive with the spirit of Jesus’ authority, people are attracted to that faith community.  But if they are caught up with gossip, or cliques, or arguing over liturgical decorations, or other peripheral issues, then that parish has lost its way.

Where do you need to focus your growth?  Do you need to become more grounded in a childlike authority …… a servant authority ….. or a healing authority?  In your prayer, ask the Lord Jesus to give you his Spirit of childlike trust in the Father.  Ask for his generosity of service.  Pray for his readiness to bring healing to the broken.

Praying with Boldness

Praying with Boldness

This week, the Diocese of Cheyenne hosted the Southwest Liturgical Conference.  Over 400 people participated.  Many came from the Southwest Region which includes the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.  The following is the homily from the Mass we celebrated last Thursday.

When you pray at Mass, are you burning with faith, hope and charity?  Would someone look you and say, “She’s on fire with the Spirit,” or “He is burning with love for the Lord.”?

The phrase most quoted in regard to liturgical renewal is that the celebration of the Mass should lead “to a conscious, active and full participation of faithful.”  Most often, people end the quote there.  But the fuller quote is more powerful.  It says that the celebration of the Mass should lead to a “conscious, active and full participation of faithful, in body and mind, burning with faith, hope and charity” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 18).

When you pray at Mass, are you burning with faith, hope and charity?  In this gospel the fervor for Jesus is so strong that he asked the disciples to have a boat ready “so that they would not crush him” (Mk. 3:9).  How do we kindle that kind of burning faith in Jesus through our worship?

Yesterday Bishop Mark Seitz spoke about the ‘work of Liturgical Renewal’ needed, especially for music within liturgy.  He listed six obstacles to this work.  I want to focus on the first obstacle, which is the most important one – Lack of Conversion within the Assembly.  Bishop Seitz said, “If your heart is not in it, you will not sing.”  Better, if your heart is not burning with faith, hope and charity, you will not sing with fervor or enthusiasm.

We all suffer from this – priests, deacons and people.  All of us need a deeper conversion.  So often, our singing is lackluster because the fire of God’s love does not burn in our hearts.

Here is a time when I saw a man with a heart burning with faith.  For seven years, I served on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  In the mission parish at Bullhead, a young man named Clayton was in the Marines.  While home on leave, he was critically injured in a car accident.

Clayton went from being an amazing athlete to walking with a cane.  His head injury permanently affected his speech.  After several months of rehab in Bismarck, ND he came to Sunday Mass.  As a twenty two year old man, he could barely walk by himself.  But when I greeted him before Mass, he went on for ten minutes about how thankful he was to God for being alive.  I started Mass late because he was so on fire with gratitude that I could not interrupt him.

Often, his prayer was burning with faith, hope and charity.  During the Gloria, he would loudly proclaim, “For you ALONE are the Holy One, for you ALONE are the Lord, for you ALONE are the Most High.” You could see people looking at him like he was strange.

Clayton became a lector at Mass despite his struggle to walk to the lectern and his difficulty to speak clearly. Throughout the week, he worked on memorizing and internalizing the reading.  By Sunday, he proclaimed whole sentences while looking people in the eye, and the message was his.  When the Bishop came for Mass, Clayton read so powerfully that the Bishop said he was one of the best lectors in the diocese, not because he spoke so flawlessly, but because he proclaimed the Word with such faith.

Sometimes we need little people like Clayton to show us what conversion looks like.  To show us a heart that burns with faith, hope and love for the Lord Jesus.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear a similar kind of confidence in Jesus.  “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).  When you pray at Mass, do you present your prayers with total confidence that “Jesus is always able to save you . . . since he lives forever to make intercession for you”?

Several passages in Hebrews express a similar confidence in Jesus as our intercessor before the Father.  In Hebrews 4:14-16 it says, We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God . . . Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

The word for coming before God with “boldness” is the Greek word parresia. It also has the sense of being confident, fearless or to speak openly.  The word parresia means literally “to speak every word.”   You know when someone has had a powerful experience of healing and you cannot shut them up, like Clayton who spoke so strongly about being healed. That is the sense.  They speak every word.  They don’t care what anybody else thinks.  Pope Francis says that he wants us to recapture that kind of BOLDNESS in our prayer and in our witness.

How can we recapture that boldness?  First of all we need to keep fresh in our memory the saving acts of God.  If we forget what God has done for us, then we lose our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God.  Sometimes those God’s saving events are personal, like being healed or rescued from danger.  Other times, they are biblical, like the crucifixion and resurrection or another inspiring event in the Bible.

As you go to Mass, recall a powerful event of salvation – personal or biblical – and ask the Lord to make your heart burn with faith, hope and charity.  This is a simple prayer that God will certainly answer, if only we ask.

Second, “approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Heb. 4:16).  Ask for the Lord Jesus to bring healing to someone you know, or to intercede for the unborn as we recall the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Monday.   Be bold in asking him bestow his mercy and grace on you or on our whole nation.

Worshiping Christ as King of all Nations

Worshiping Christ as King of all Nations

Today we worship the Child Jesus as the King of all nations.  The magi from the east who worshiped the child Jesus are the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy which we heard in Psalm 72.

“The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;

the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.

All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”

The magi from the east “prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt. 2:11).  They worshiped Jesus as king.  They challenge us to kneel before Christ.  How will you worship Christ as king this year?  As I reflected on this passage, I felt called to pray with a greater sense that Jesus is LORD.  For the Hebrew people, the title LORD was used to translate Yahweh who created the world and who opened the Red Sea.

What does it mean to pray to Jesus as LORD?  First of all, not to tame Jesus into a nice guy who is a great teacher, but to pray before him as the LORD of the universe.  There are several scenes of Matthew’s gospel where people pray like this.  In chapter 8, a leper approached Jesus, knelt down before him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean” (Mt. 8:2).  Jesus immediately touched him and cured him.

Later, a Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter.  He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But the woman came and did him homage (or knelt down) saying, “Lord, help me.”  And he healed her daughter (cf. Mt. 15:22-28).

Both the leper and the Canaanite woman knelt before Jesus.  It is the same gesture as the magi, the posture of homage before a king.  They kneel before him as LORD with power over creation.  We get so busy that we often live as though we are carrying the entire burden of our lives.  We fail to hand over the burden to God or ask for his intervention.  Jesus is not really a king whom we worship.  Instead we often live as though we are masters of our destiny.

The goal of Matthew’s gospel is:  First, that we would kneel in homage before Jesus to bring our brokenness before him and with confidence ask for healing.  Second, that all the nations would worship him as king, and like the Canaanite woman experience his healing.

The Collect or Opening Prayer for this Mass says, “O God, on this day you revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.”  The NATIONS are the non-Jews.  Sometimes it is translated as Gentiles as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians.  “The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

We are part of the Gentiles.  Any person who does not have Jewish heritage is part of the Gentiles or nations.  Something new is being revealed to us as the magi do homage to the Christ child.  The Old Testament prophecy of God gathering all nations together to worship him has begun.  Think of how faith in Jesus has grown since that moment.  There are 2.2 billion Christians.  That number includes almost 1.3 billion Catholics.

Yet, recent violent international conflicts remind us that we are far from this unity.  We have so far to go in the fulfillment of the prophecy as we heard in the psalm, “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”  Do you dream to bring him to all nations?  Do you dream of unity among all people?

The Church’s mission to all nations contrasts the isolationist attitude in America these days.  FEAR seems to be ruling people’s hearts, rather than FAITH in Christ’s power to bring healing to all nations.  FEAR of immigrants rules in America, rather than seeing them as human beings ….. brothers and sisters in dire need.

In the Catholic Church, this week is National Migration Week.  In the last few years, there have been more people displaced people than ever before – surpassing even post-World War II numbers.  There are over 65 million refugees or displaced persons.  Most are women and children

In 2016, the 193 members of the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a declaration for refugees and migrants.  They pledged to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they had access to education and jobs.  They committed themselves to drafting and approving, before the end of 2018, two Global Compacts, one for refugees and the other for migrants.

Pope Francis urges us to pray for the success of this effort, and to encourage our leaders to address the needs of displaced people.  However, last month the U.S. pulled out of the talks on the Global Compacts.  It is a sign of the times.  A sign of the struggle with the topic of immigration.  There is a lot of work to be done.

Do you worship Christ as king?  Do you kneel before him with a sense of your poverty, yet with confidence ask him for strength and peace and joy?  Kneel in worship today.  And thank him for his presence among us.

As we worship Christ the LIGHT of all nations, we need to ask him to shed his light on our nation as it struggles with fear of immigrants.  In humility let us pray to ask him to make us servants of his dream to bring his light to all nations?