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.