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Month: February 2019

Conversion and Revolution

Conversion and Revolution

On the weekend, I celebrated Masses for the people in Newcastle, Hulett, Sundance and Upton. It was good to be with the people in the northeast corner of Wyoming. Meanwhile, the summit on sexual abuse was being concluded in Rome. Below is the text for the homily by Archbishop Mark Coleridge at the concluding Mass.

It is good that, after all our words, there are now only the words of Christ: Jesus alone remains, as on the mount of the Transfiguration (cf Lk 9:36). He speaks to us of power, and he does so in this splendid Sala Regia which also speaks of power. Here are images of battles, of a religious massacre, of struggles between emperors and popes. This is a place where earthly and heavenly powers meet, touched at times by infernal powers as well.

In this Sala Regia the word of God invites us to contemplate power . . . Standing over the sleeping Saul, David appears a powerful figure, as Abishai sees only too well: “Today God has put the enemy into your hands. So let me nail him to the ground with the spear”. But David retorts: “Don’t kill him! Who has ever laid a hand on the Lord’s consecrated one and gone unpunished?”

David chooses to use power not to destroy but to save the king, the Lord’s anointed. The pastors of the Church, like David, have received a gift of power – power however to serve, to create; a power that is with and for but not over; a power, as St Paul says, “which the Lord gave for building you up, not for destroying you” (2 Cor 10:8). Power is dangerous, because it can destroy; and in these days we have pondered how in the Church, power can turn destructive when separated from service, when it is not a way of loving, when it becomes power over.

A host of the Lord’s consecrated ones have been placed in our hands – and by the Lord himself. Yet we can use this power not to create but to destroy, and even in the end to kill. In sexual abuse, the powerful lay hands on the Lord’s consecrated ones, even the weakest and most vulnerable of them. They say yes to the urging of Abishai; and they seize the spear. In abuse and its concealment, the powerful show themselves not men of heaven but men of earth, in the words of St Paul we have heard.

In the Gospel, the Lord commands: “Love your enemies”. But who is the enemy? Surely not those who have challenged the Church to see abuse and its concealment for what they really are, above all the victims and survivors who have led us to the painful truth by telling their stories with such courage. At times, however, we have seen victims and survivors as the enemy, but we have not loved them, we have not blessed them. In that sense, we have been our own worst enemy. The Lord urges us to “be merciful as your Father is merciful”.

Yet, for all that we desire a truly safe Church and for all that we have done to ensure it, we have not always chosen the mercy of the man of heaven. We have, at times, preferred instead the indifference of the man of earth and the desire to protect the Church’s reputation and even our own. We have shown too little mercy, and therefore we will receive the same, because the measure we give will be the measure we receive in return. We will not go unpunished, as David says, and we have already known punishment.

The man of earth must die so that the man of heaven can be born; the old Adam must give way to the new Adam. This will require a true conversion, without which we will remain on the level of “mere administration” – as the Holy Father writes in Evangelii Gaudium – “mere administration” which leaves untouched the heart of the abuse crisis (25). This conversion alone will enable us to see that the wounds of those who have been abused are our wounds, that their fate is our fate, that they are not our enemies but bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh (cf Gen 2:23). They are us, and we are them.

This conversion is in fact a Copernican revolution. Copernicus proved that the sun does not revolve around the earth but the earth around the sun. For us, the Copernican revolution is the discovery that those who have been abused do not revolve around the Church but the Church around them. In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the Church begin to look very different.

This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace which can open for the Church a new season of mission. Lord, when did we see you abused and did not come to help you? But he will reply: In truth I say to you, as often as you failed to do this to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you failed to do it to me (cf Matt 25:44-45). In them, the least of the brothers and sisters, victims and survivors, we encounter Christ crucified, the powerless one from whom there flows the power of the Almighty, the powerless one around whom the Church revolves forever, the powerless one whose scars shine like the sun.

In these days we have been on Calvary – even in the Vatican and in the Sala Regia we are on the dark mountain. In listening to survivors, we have heard Christ crying out in the darkness (cf Mk 15:34). And the cry has even become music. But here hope is born from his wounded heart, and hope becomes prayer, as the universal Church gathers around us in this upper room: may the darkness of Calvary lead the Church throughout the world to the light of Easter, to the Lamb who is the sun that never sets (cf Apoc 21:23). I

n the end, there remains only the voice of the Risen Lord, urging us not to stand gazing at the empty tomb, wondering in our perplexity what to do next. Nor can we stay in the upper room where he says, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). He breathes on us (cf Jn 20:22) and the fire of a new Pentecost touches us (cf Acts 2:2). He who is peace throws open the doors of the upper room and the doors of our heart. From fear is born an apostolic boldness, from deep discouragement the joy of the Gospel.

A mission stretches before us – a mission demanding not just words but real concrete action. We will do all we can to bring justice and healing to survivors of abuse; we will listen to them, believe them and walk with them; we will ensure that those who have abused are never again able to offend; we will call to account those who have concealed abuse; we will strengthen the processes of recruitment and formation of Church leaders; we will educate all our people in what safeguarding requires; we will do all in our power to make sure that the horrors of the past are not repeated and that the Church is a safe place for all, a loving mother especially for the young and the vulnerable; we will not act alone but will work with all concerned for the good of the young and the vulnerable; we will continue to deepen our own understanding of abuse and its effects, of why it has happened in the Church and what must be done to eradicate it.

All of this will take time, but we do not have forever and we dare not fail. If we can do this and more, we will not only know the peace of the Risen Lord but we will become his peace in a mission to the ends of the earth. Yet we will become the peace only if we become the sacrifice. To this we say yes with one voice as at the altar we plunge our failures and betrayals, all our faith, our hope, our love into the one sacrifice of Jesus, Victim and Victor, who “will wipe away the tears from every eye, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or weeping or pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Apoc 21:4). Amen.

Sex Abuse Summit

Sex Abuse Summit

Some people have asked me if I am attending the summit on the sexual abuse of minors in Rome on February 21-24. I will not be there because it is not intended for all bishops. There will be 190 participants at the event, including the presidents of 114 bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern rite Catholic Churches and of the main Roman Curia offices, 12 superiors of men’s religious orders and 10 superiors of women’s religious orders, and two lay women, as well as men and women survivors .

To ensure as much transparency as possible, the Vatican will live-stream all the keynote speeches and the interventions of Pope Francis, as well as the penitential service and the closing Mass. All this can be followed in the United States, Canada and other countries worldwide.

The Vatican has opened a special website, accessible to the public with information about the conference, the list of participants at the summit and much more. As I write this, I am not certain how to access the live-stream; but it may be accessible on this website. Please pray for Pope Francis and the participants that they will be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Seminarians for the Diocese of Cheyenne

Seminarians for the Diocese of Cheyenne

This week I am visiting seminarian Linh Vu who is in the second year of theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. Linh is a native of Vietnam, but he is well acquainted with Wyoming since he has been a seminarian for the Diocese of Cheyenne for several years. He studied English for three years and has been in seminarian formation for another six years.

The Diocese of Cheyenne has one other seminarian, Seth Hostetler who is in the first year of theology at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, IL. He is from Buffalo, WY. Both of these men are excellent candidates for the priesthood. We are blessed to have them in the seminary. Please pray for Linh and Seth, and pray that the Lord will bless us with other young men to enter seminary formation.

Disciples of Grace and the Word

Disciples of Grace and the Word

When we think about the witness of St. Peter or St. Paul, it’s easy to say “I could never do that.  They were rock star disciples.  I’m too weak.”  Because of our weakness and sins, we question our ability to be good disciples. 

So many people are in marriages that are strained or broken.  Others become weary as they battle sexual sins like porn or sex outside of marriage.  Others find themselves caught up in gossip at school or work.  Still others feel hopeless because of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church.  We can become discouraged before our sin and be tempted to give up on being disciples. The temptation is to give up on daily prayer, to give up on having a pure heart, to give up on forgiveness, or to doubt that God is guiding the Church. 

However, it is precisely weak sinners who become strong disciples.  After the huge catch of fish, Peter knelt before Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).  Paul said, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).  Being a sinner did not prevent them from being disciples.  Rather, God often uses sinners to be the best disciples. 

The first lesson about discipleship:  What matters is not how sinful we are, but that grace is greater than our worst sin.  Paul says, “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace has not been ineffective in me.” (1 Cor. 15:10).  In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes how the sin of Adam has spread through the whole human race.  Then he says, “But however much sin increased, grace was always greater” (Rom. 5:20).  Do you believe that?  “However much sin increased, grace was always greater.”  One of the most frequent temptations is to doubt the power of grace. That happens when a person feels that he or she can never overcome a particular sin, or when we give up on the pervasiveness of sin in society.

Paul learned that God’s grace was so much greater than his sins.  It is greater than all sin.  No matter how weak or sinful you feel today, be open to God’s grace.  What matters is not how sinful we are, but that grace is greater than our worst sin — and that we open ourselves to God’s grace.

The second lesson about being a disciple:  Listen to the Word.  Christ will challenge you to go deeper.  When Peter was worn out from working all night long, Jesus said, “Put out into the deep” (Lk. 5:4).  Peter’s life was turned upside down because he listened to Jesus’ Word

At first he is casually listening in as a bystander.  Jesus is preaching by the shore while Peter is washing his nets.  Then Jesus takes it one step further.  He steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to put out a short distance, then continues to teach.     Peter must have been listening to what he was saying while he was working,  sort of like listening to a good CD while driving a car. 

Finally, Jesus speaks directly to Peter.  He says, “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.”  He and his partners have been fishing all night long. They’re tiredThey want to clean their nets and go home.  So Peter must have been at least a little annoyed.  You can hear both exhaustion and trust as Peter says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command (literally, “at your word”) I will lower the nets” (Lk. 5:5).  Night was the best time for fishing; any fishermen knew that.  Yet, Peter listens to Jesus, and acts on his words.

How many times are we worn out from a long day and don’t feel like praying?  How often does a repeated sin dishearten us and we give up on God’s mercy?  Especially then, take the time to read a little bit of the Gospel.  Or pray over a psalm.  Listen to these words from today’s psalm that speak to a weary heart:  “Your right hand saves me. . . . your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands” (Ps. 138:7-8).   

Peter was not a great disciple because he was sinless, but because he listened to Jesus’ Word, especially the words of mercy.  After his triple denial, he remembered Jesus’ words, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times” (Lk. 22:61).   Yet he also remember how Jesus had assured Peter that he would pray for him that his faith would not fail.  Then after the resurrection Jesus nudged Peter’s heart with his mercy by asking him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn. 21:15).  Jesus’ challenging and merciful words made him a great disciple.

Take two minutes to read the Gospel again.  Listen especially to Jesus words to Peter.  How is he encouraging you or challenging you as his disciple?

Rejoicing in Rejection

Rejoicing in Rejection

If Jesus were on earth today, people would treat him the same way as they did in this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Lk. 4:21-30).  Some would praise him and others would reject him.  We often think that if Jesus came today, everyone in the Church would recognize his authority.  We assume that he would bring peace to the Church.  But he would be rejected, just like he was 2,000 years ago.  Even in the Church, some would marvel at his gracious words, while others would be filled with fury and want to drive him out of town (Lk. 4:22, 28-29).  This is how people treat prophets.  It will always be that way. 

This gospel scene is a snapshot of Jesus’ entire ministry.  He will be a raving success when he heals the blind, the lame and the lepers.    Yet, he will experience bitter rejection.  Some will grumble when he shows mercy toward sinners.  Even though they see him cast out evil spirits, they will say that he is possessed by the devil (Mk. 3:22). 

As we read this passage, we are amazed that people are praising him, but shortly after they are so infuriated that they want to hurl him over a cliff.  As Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus ministry, he puts before us the praise of the crowds as well as their rejection, and even diabolical anger which will lead him to the cross.  If we are stunned by such contrasting reactions, then we still do not know the battle of good and evil at work in our hearts, the Church and the world.  This is a snapshot of the battle between good and evil which prophets confront. 

As a prophet, Jesus was destined for rejection.  As disciples of Jesus who share his prophetic mission through baptism, we should expect rejection.  We should not be surprised when some in the Church are reviled by others.  For example, St. Oscar Romero was hated by the wealthy Catholics of El Salvador when he stood up for the rights of the poor.  His fellow bishops and the Papal Nuncio did not support with him because he stood up against the government and military who were persecuting people.

Prophets stand alone and are persecuted.

As disciples, the first reaction to rejection is that we should expect it.  Something is wrong if we are never ostracized or reviled for Jesus’ name.  Then we are not living as authentic witnesses of Christ.  Sometimes people react with anger when I preach.  At times, they have walked out in the middle of a homily.  That bothers me because I want people to like me.  None of us wants to be rejected.  Yet, it’s part of our prophetic mission. 

Parents should experience some rejection from their children, when they stand strong in setting clear boundaries.  Teens should expect to be ridiculed by their peers simply because they live with moral values.  Legislators should expect scorn from their constituents and fellow legislators because they are not afraid to be guided by a strong moral compass in debating social issues.

Expect rejection and rejoice in it, instead of complain when it happens.  How often we grumble when we experience hatred.  But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! . . . For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. (Lk. 6:22-23)

To rejoice in rejection requires a mature faith.  It means that you have learned to trust God in the darkest moments.  You have become a disciple who has embraced the cross and who remembers the victory of the cross.  You believe that God is greater than the worst evil.  Above all, you know that the Lord is with you and will prevail.

That is what Jeremiah experienced in his call.  God warned him that he would be rejected, yet he was assured of God’s help.  He heard the Lord say, “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them. . . . They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer. 1:17, 19).  The Church paired that reading with this gospel passage because it captures the trust of Jesus as he gets a taste of his future crucifixion and death.

The prophet expects rejection, rejoices in it, and walks away in freedom.  When they drove him out of town and wanted to kill him, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” (Lk. 4:30).  He didn’t complain about their attitude, or lament how poorly he was treated.  He walked away in freedom.  After this, he went to Capernaum where he taught with authority, expelled demons and healed people.  He kept focused on his mission.

One of the clearest signs of a prophet is that they have an inner freedom.  They do not get elated when people praise them, nor do they get discouraged when people despise them.  Prophets do not react to how people treat them; rather they act out of their relationship with God.  They are centered in God.  That gives them freedom from people’s opinions.

This is seen clearly in Pope Francis.  He is peaceful and free.  He is not perfect, and he makes mistakes.  But he has inner freedom.  Despite all the problems in the Church, he says that he has an abiding peace.  I am convinced that he is a prophet.  He is disliked by some in the Church because he has the freedom to listen to the Word of God and let it refresh the Church as we deal with troubled marriages or issues like immigration.  Especially, he urges us to be merciful like the Father is merciful. His appeal to mercy is one of the reasons that people reject him.

He is a prophet, so we should expect to see him rejected, even by Catholics.  Since he is the Vicar of Christ it is fitting that he is being rejected.  Like Romero who was derided by other Catholics, the prophets are not accepted in their day.  But they walk through the crowd in freedom. 

Do you want to walk with the freedom of a prophet?  Then seek to be centered in God alone.  Let God’s Word guide you, not the words of the crowd.  Take 3-4 minutes to read the gospel every day.  As you come to Eucharist, ask for the grace to expect rejection, to rejoice in it, and to walk in freedom.

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