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Month: June 2018

Revealing the Father’s Heart

Revealing the Father’s Heart

Clark Lenz and Bryce Lungren were ordained priests for the Diocese of Cheyenne on Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We had a wonderful celebration with St. Mary’s Cathedral filled to overflowing.  When Clark and Bryce were introduced to the congregation, they received a standing ovation!  Please pray for them as they begin their priestly ministry.  The homily from their ordination is below.

Bryce and Clark, many people will ask you why you became a priest?  So I want to begin with a similar question.  Why are you being ordained?  It might seem like it is little too late to ask that question.  But why are you being ordained?  What does it mean to be ordained a priest?

The ritual for today gives us a concise summary in the first paragraph of the homily which it provides.  It says, “Christ was sent by the Father, and he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd.  Indeed, priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops.”

As co-workers with the Bishops, priests are ordained to continue Jesus’ ministry of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd.  This textbook description of the offices of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd offers us fitting images.  But I want to offer a simpler, more powerful image.  Priests are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.  That was the purpose of Jesus’ life.  He came to reveal the heart of the Father.

His last act on earth was to show us the heart of the Father.  Everything about his Passion went according to God’s plan, so he saved the best for last.  The Father had a soldier pierce the side of Jesus to show us his heart.  To open his heart and pour out the riches of God’s grace.

Think of it.  In God’s providence, the very last act of Jesus was to have his heart pierced with a lance “and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34).  His heart was emptied to fill us with his life.  This is the source of the sacraments.  So the sacraments should, first of all, be an experience of the Father’s heart.

Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father.  Priests are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.

Everything you do – as Teacher, Priest, Shepherd – must reveal the Father’s heart.  The reading from the prophet Hosea describes how the Father’s heart beats with tenderness for his people.  He says, “I drew them with human cords . . . I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks” (Hos. 11:4).

This is why Pope Francis often speaks of God’s ‘closeness’ or ‘tenderness.’  Jesus’ mission was to draw us into the tender embrace of the Father.  He insists that God is a Prodigal Father who runs out to embrace selfish and wayward sons (cf. Luke 15).  It is much like Hosea who hears God say about the rebellious people of Israel, “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred [for them]” (Hos. 11:8).

Let’s take a few minutes to remember how Jesus revealed the Father’s heart.  Matthew’s gospel summarizes his ministry in this way. “Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people”  (Matt. 4:23).

Seminaries focus so much of priestly formation on teaching and preaching, but how much of it is about healing?  There are a few seminary faculty members here today.  How does your approach to formation incorporate this healing dimension?  Even in the preaching practica, are seminarians trained to preach on healing and forgiveness like Jesus did?

Virtually every description of Jesus mentions healing as integral to his mission.  Because God desires to heal us; it weighs heavily on the Father’s heart.  In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says, “God anointed Jesus . . . with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).

By the way, God chooses wounded healers to be priests.  People often think that priests do not have problems like other people, but that is not true.  Yet, God uses priests who have wounds to bring his healing to others.  Bryce and Clark, watch how God will use your own weakness to help others.

When people think of the Church, often they think of RULES before HEALING.  Yet, for Jesus, healing trumps even the Sabbath rules.  When he was criticized for healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath, he said, “This woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years, was it not right to untie this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk. 13:16).

In everything you do, ask yourself, “How am I revealing the heart of the Father?”  Am I continuing the healing ministry of Jesus?

 In your homilies, speak not only to those who have a strong journey with the Lord, but also to people who feel barely worthy to darken the door of the church.  All of us who preach, should ask ourselves, Does my preaching speak to the outsiders?  Do I relate to the broken with my examples or stories?  Jesus was criticized for eating and speaking with sinners and tax collectors.  If people criticize you for merciful preaching, then you are right on target.

As you prepare for Mass, ask your musicians to choose music with Jesus’ attitude in mind.  Are the songs sung at Mass something only a trained choir can sing and understand?  Or do they speak to the multitude, to the lost sheep, to the sinner for whom Jesus heart was pierced?

St. Paul described his ministry by saying, “To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).  Gentiles were the outsiders.  Yet, now they are to be graced with the “inscrutable riches of Christ.”  That seemed odd to faithful Jews of Paul’s day.  If your priestly ministry seems odd to Catholic insiders, then you’re probably in sync with Jesus.

Pastors:  Does your receptionist have Jesus’ spirit?  Is he or she hospitable to the immigrant or stranger?  How about the leaders of RCIA?  Are they tuned into the heart of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost one?  First of all, as priests and bishops, we need to model this attitude.  If we treat people this way, it will be contagious to other parish leaders.

Two years ago, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Pope Francis said,  “The fundamental question of priestly life is this: Where is my heart directed?  Our ministry is often full of plans, projects and activities: from catechesis to liturgy, to works of charity, to pastoral and administrative commitments.  Amidst all these, what is my heart set on?” 

Our hearts can become cluttered….. disoriented ….. fatigued.

According to Pope Francis, the two greatest treasures of the Sacred Heart were his heavenly Father and us.  He says, “Encounter the Father in prayer and be open and available to others.”  Bryce and Clark, you are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.  “Encounter the Father in prayer and be open and available to others.”

This day, ask the Father to bless you with the inscrutable riches that flow from the heart of Christ.

Washed in Blood

Washed in Blood

One of the songs often sung at Mass in the seventies was ‘Take our Bread.’  As a teenager, I was struck by the words in the second verse of the song: “Your holy people standing washed in your blood, Spirit-filled yet hungry we await your food.”

The imagery is striking!  What does it mean to pray to God, “We are washed in your blood!”?  That image is gruesome and awesome.  It evokes for us God’s prodigious and permanent love.  Whoever wrote that verse was thinking of the covenant at Mt. Sinai when Moses sprinkled the people with “the blood of the covenant” (Ex. 24:8).  In the Hebrew religious culture, Blood is sacred.  Blood is the life-source of animals.  Since God is the source of life, then blood is sacred.

Because the altar is a symbol of God’s presence, sprinkling the altar and the people with blood signifies a communion between God and the people.  This is a covenant ritual, a permanent bond between God and us. Ancient covenant rituals were the most solemn agreement you could make.  They were lifelong and unconditional.  To sacrifice an animal with a covenant was like saying, “If I break this covenant, then let what happened to the animal happen to me.”

This Sunday, our celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is centered on the Eucharist as a COVENANT.  We’re in Ordinary Time, but this feast is an extension of the Easter Mystery.  The gospel is from the passion account read on Palm Sunday.  The preface for the Eucharistic prayer is the same one used for Holy Thursday.  As Jesus celebrates the Last Supper he says, “This is MY blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mk. 14:24).  The Hebrew word for ‘many’ means ‘multitude.’  The Eucharist is the new covenant, sealed with Jesus’ blood for the multitude of humanity.

Some verses are missing from this gospel passage, important verses that give a much stronger meaning to the Last Supper.  The missing verses describe a disturbing context for the covenant of the Last Supper.  After the preparation for the meal and immediately before Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to them, he predicts Judas’s Betrayal.  Immediately after the narrative institution Jesus speaks about Peter’s Denial.  The Church probably eliminated these verses from today’s reading because they would lengthen the gospel by ten verses.  Or maybe it was to narrow our focus on the institution narrative of the Last Supper.  Nevertheless, we need to remember that the context of the Last Supper was one of betrayal and denial. 

This is how Mark sets the scene:

  • Jesus shocks them by declaring that one of the Twelve will betray him.
  • Then he celebrates the Last Supper by faithfully giving his life to them.  He says, “This is MY blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
  • Next, Jesus warns the disciples, “You will all fall away.” When Peter objects, he says, “This very night, you will deny me three times” (Mk. 14:30).

Jesus’ faithful covenant is sandwiched between BETRAYAL immediately before and DENIAL immediately after.  The New Covenant of the Eucharist emphasizes God’s fidelity despite humanity’s infidelity.  That is what it means to be washed in Jesus’ blood when we receive Communion.  A bond is forged between God and us that is pure gift.

A few months ago, a woman spoke to me after Mass and she said, “I am so tired of hearing all this talk about MERCY.”  I had preached about mercy, and it seems that she feels that the Church has over emphasized the mercy of God.  Yet, if we stop talking about mercy, then we cannot talk about the Eucharist.  It is pure mercy.  I wonder what the Eucharist means to someone who is tired of hearing about mercy?

In today’s preface you will hear this prayer:  “We approach the table of this wondrous sacrament, so that bathed in the sweetness of your grace, we may pass over to the heavenly realities here foreshadowed.”  Bathed in the sweetness of your grace” recalls how we are “washed in his Blood.”

The first goal of religion is WONDER.  It is to be bowled over by who God is and by what God does.  Today, stare in wonder at the gift of the Eucharist.  Drink in the faithful love of Christ, while you are aware of your constant stumbling in sin.  We are God’s holy people standing washed in his blood.

Nothing is so Powerful

Nothing is so Powerful

The priests of the Diocese of Cheyenne will be on retreat at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, Sedalia, CO this coming week (Monday to Friday).  Next Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Deacon Clark Lenz and Deacon Bryce Lungren will be ordained priests at 2:00 PM in the Cathedral of St. Mary.  Friday is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.  This week, please pray for our priests and the two men who will be ordained.

Father Teilhard de Chardin said “Nothing is so powerful on earth as purity and prayer.”  He speaks in the book THE DIVINE MILIEU of a nun praying in a chapel:  as she prays, all the forces of the universe seem to reorganize themselves in keeping with the desires of that tiny praying figure; the axis of the world seems to pass through that chapel.  And Father Anthony de Mello wrote, “It is only at the end of this world that we shall realize how the destinies of persons and nations have been shaped, not so much by the external actions of powerful men and women . . . but by the quiet, silent, irresistible prayer of persons the world has never known.” (Sadhana, p. 144).

In part, I mention the importance of prayer because during the last year a few people have written letters to me to state that it is not good that all the priests go away on retreat or for conferences.  They feel that it is imprudent to have them all away at the same time in case of emergencies or death.  On the one hand, such letters show appreciation for the important presence of priests at critical moments of parishioners’ lives.  On the other hand, these letters reveal a real poverty in understanding the power of prayer.

One of the most important things that a priest can do for his people is to be immersed in prayer, not only for his own spiritual life, but also for his people.  In addition, it is essential for the priests to be together for days of prayer and fellowship.  Those who advocate that priests should not go away and be together fail to understand their need for fraternity and being rejuvenated in communal prayer.

Finally, I think that such appeals to keep priests from going away for days of prayer reveal a heresy of contemporary Pelagianism, which Pope Francis wrote about in his latest Apostolic Exhortation.  This heresy attributes too much power to human effort, rather than God’s grace.  As Francis writes, they forget that everything “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16) and that “he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).  See 47-62, Gaudete et Esultate.

Please pray for our priests, for those to be ordained and for vocations to the priesthood.

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