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Month: April 2019

A Church re-born

A Church re-born

Yesterday, we celebrated the Passion of the Lord. The homily is below. I encourage you to find 15 minutes of quiet today to reflect on the gracious death of Christ, in preparation for our sharing in his resurrection.

Do you understand the power of Christ’s blood?“When the soldiers saw that Jesus was already dead …. one of the soldiers thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” (Jn. 19:33-34) Do you understand the power of the blood and water flowing from Christ?

We do not merely remember an historical event today.  Rather than historical memory, this is a sacred memory.  In a sacred memory God continues to be present with the very same power.  Christ is present to us just like the day he died on the cross.  We stand with Mary and the beloved disciple at the cross.  Today we enter into the event of the cross.  We not only recall how blood and water flowed from his side, but also the blood and water continues to flow out for us. 

Do you understand the power of the blood and water flowing from Christ?  The Church was born from the blood and water flowing from Christ.  These are symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist.  If the water symbolizes the baptismal water, then Christ’s death is the birth of the Church.  St. John Chrysostom said that just as God fashioned Eve from the side of Adam, so the Church was born from the side of Christ. 

Let’s remember what this birth looked like.  Who was born from the side of Christ?  It happened with weak and sinful disciples.  Peter denied him three times.  He was one of the stronger disciples!  Most of the others were not even brave enough to deny him.  Peter and one other disciple followed Jesus after his arrest.  Because they followed him to the courtyard, Peter was questioned about being a disciple.  So the disciples were virtually all unfaithful to Jesus.  Not just Peter and Judas.

The Church was born with weak unworthy disciples.  So what did these disciples look like after Jesus’ death?  First of all, they were humbled by his faithful love.  Even though they were so unfaithful, he stayed true to them.  Jesus’ faithful love was shown in the beauty of his suffering.  The prophet Isaiah captures the beauty of suffering love, the amazing love of one who suffers for others, and who stays true to his mission when everyone else goes astray.

“He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.  We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.” (Is. 53:5-6)

The beauty of suffering love pierced the disciples’ hearts.  It humbled them. They were bowled over by mercy.  He was a faithful strong suffering servant.  As a result, they were inspired to be servants like him. 

Do you understand the power of the blood and water flowing from Christ?  Do you see what it did for the first disciples?  What should our Church look like today as it is re-born from the blood and the water flowing from Christ?

Over the last year, we have seen that the Church’s leaders have been weak and sinful.  Yet, Christ still goes to the cross for us.  His death is still stronger than all of our horrible sins.  The blood and water flowing fromChrist is the greatest force in the universe.  So we can be re-born.

What does that re-born Church look like?  It has humble leaders. Like the first disciples, we are humbled by Jesus’ faithful love.  Even though we have been so unfaithful, he still offers us his merciful love.

Humble leaders do not have fancy titles, like ‘Your Excellency.’  In fact, titles like that should be banned.  In a Church that is re-born, clericalism is crushed.  Priests are no longer put on a pedestal, but they are suffering servants.  We humbly stare upon the crucified Christ and seek to imitate him who “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.”

Second, in a Church re-born, those who were harmed are restored.  They experience their own re-birth.  They are restored as we listen to their stories and tell them, “I believe you.”   They are restored as we acknowledge their injuries and help them with counseling.  Mostly, they are restored by the blood and water flowing from Christ.  It is more powerful than sin, sickness, evil and death.  Only Christ can give birth to his Church, only Christ can bring those harmed to re-birth.

Finally, the re-born Church is bold in prayer.  That may sound odd. How can the Church be humble and bold?  The reading from Hebrews describes this boldness.  It says, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16)  

The word for coming before God with “boldness” is parresia; it has a sense of being confident, fearless or to speak openly.  This Greek word means literally “to speak every word.”  You know when someone has had a powerful experience of healing or a life-changing event and you cannot shut them up.  That is the sense.  They speak every word.  They don’t care what anybody else thinks.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples spoke fearlessly or with boldness.  You couldn’t shut them up.  They didn’t care what anybody else thought.  They prayed with boldness because they were stunned by his love on the cross and by the power of his resurrection.  As it says in Heb. 10:19, “Through the blood of Jesus, we enter the sanctuary with boldness.”

His blood poured out on the cross washes over us with perfect mercy.  We can approach God with confidence because we know that he so graciously died for our sins.  “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16)      

New Director of Pastoral Formation

New Director of Pastoral Formation

Recently, we were pleased to hire Mr. Joseph Wotawa as the new Director of Pastoral Formation for the Diocese of Cheyenne. A native of St. Louis, MO, Joe has experience as a teacher, campus minister and coach in a Catholic High school and as a catechist in parishes. He has served in a variety of Catholic faith communities in the United States and Central America. In addition, he was in formation with the Society of Jesus (i.e., Jesuits) for eleven years. Joe has a B.A. in English and Philosophy and a Master of Divinity. He will begin his ministry here near the end of June 2019. Please pray for him in this time of transition.

The Power of Tenderness

The Power of Tenderness

On Saturday and Sunday, I participated in the Search Retreat conducted by the Newman Center in Laramie. I joined Fr. Rob Spaulding, Lillie Romeiser and 48 college students. It was a wonderful experience. The homily for the Mass is below.

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  How can we be “light in the Lord”? St. Paul does not merely tell us to be light, but to be “light in the Lord.”  As humans, we cannot create light.  We can only receive it and let it shine through us.  Jesus alone could say, “I am the light of the world.”  (Jn. 9:5) Have you learned how to receive the LIGHT of Christ so that you become “light in the Lord”?

In this gospel scene for this Sunday (John 8:1-11), the woman caught in adultery and the scribes and Pharisees are exposed to the Light of Christ.  Let’s look at how Jesus shines his light on both parties, the accusing scribes and the adulterous woman.  Then we will know better how to live as children of light. 

Can you imagine what it was like for the woman when the Pharisees and scribes made her “stand in the MIDDLE [of the crowd]and hear them tell Jesus, “This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery” (Jn. 8:4).  Can you imagine the public embarrassment? This is one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences imaginable.

The scribes and Pharisees focused everyone’s attention on this woman.  The spotlight was on her.  But Jesus turned the tables.  He focused his light on those who accused her.  He said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7).  He reminds them and us that in God’s light, we are all sinners.  The focus shifted from her sinfulness to everyone’s struggle with sin.  Christ invites us to see each other as broken brothers and sisters.  Do I see myself as better than others?  Am I self-righteous?  Or do I see myself as a fellow sinner? Then I am humble and grateful for God’s constant mercy toward me.

In Jesus’ Light, we are all sinners who have been rescued by his mercy.  Imagine what it was like for the woman to hear Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin so more” (Jn. 8:11). 

St. Augustine says of this scene, “Only two were left, misery and mercy.”  A woman in misery and Christ overflowing with mercy.  She came before Jesus in such misery.  She left filled with his mercy.  Can you image what went on in her heart?  It was filled with the soft Light of his mercy.

Several years ago, in a small community I met with a young girl who was much like the woman caught in adultery.  Sally (not her real name) was pregnant as a junior in high school.  She came to Mass every Sunday with her family, but now she felt so judged when she came to Church.  She felt horrible.

I told her, “Sally, your sin is public.  Everybody in town knows your sin. Their sins are more private.  But they are sinners just like you.  In fact, many of them have the same sin.  It’s just that their sins are not as public as yours.”  I encouraged her to go forward with God’s forgiveness and to focus on God’s mercy.  In other words, she needed to walk inside of God’s merciful light, and ignore the public spotlight.

Have you let Christ’s mercy sink into your heart this lent?  Do you treat others with his mercy?  The two go hand-in-hand.  If you have not accepted God’s mercy, then you will not be able to show mercy.

We are more like the Pharisees than we like to think.  They were reluctant to accept the mercy Jesus offered to sinners.  So are we.  Have you ever said to yourself, “I know God can forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.”?

Sometimes that attitude reveals a form of pride.  Why?  Because it is a way of saying, “I will determine what should be forgiven.  I will define forgiveness!” But that is God’s job. Our role is not to define forgiveness, but to accept it.  In this case, the way to forgiveness is to become like a little child who knows how to receive God’s love.  That is why Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). 

Other times, the reluctance to accept forgiveness might be the effect of sloth. Sometimes we have given up on God’s grace.  Kathleen Norris says in her book Acedia & Me (p.205), “When we are convinced that we are beyond the reach of grace, acedia [or sloth] has done its work.” John Climacus speaks of sloth as “a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for [us].” 

Sloth is not just laziness in the spiritual life.  It is giving up on myself and giving up on grace because a dark spirit whispers in my ear, “You’ll never change.”  The evil one says, “See how you keep saying that you will stop sinning or pray more faithfully, but you don’t do it….  You can’t do it…. Give up!”  In this instance, sloth leads us to give up on ourselves and on God’s loving mercy.

The secret to having a new start in our spiritual life is humility and perseverance. Humbly accepting the Light of God’s mercy day after day.  And persevering in prayer.  Never giving up on prayer and its power to transform me. Standing in the Light of God’s transforming love day after day.

Imagine the tender and humble mercy that the woman experienced as she was alone with Jesus and he said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.” Pope Francis said, “Jesus expects us . . . to enter into the reality of people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness.” (Amoris Laetitia, 308) I wonder if he had this gospel scene in mind when he wrote that.

Marvel at the power of tenderness that Jesus showed this woman.  Then bring the same power of tenderness to others.  “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  Let yourself be soothed by the Light of God’s mercy.  Receive it freely, humbly and gratefully.  Then invite others into the light.

Christus Vivit

Christus Vivit

Yesterday, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation CHRISTUS VIVIT of Pope Francis to young people and to the entire people of God was made available on the Vatican’s website. 

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the USCCB, Cardinal Joseph Tobin and Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a joint statement on the release of Christus Vivit.  They said: 

“This exhortation is a wonderful summons to the whole Church to more vigorously invest in youth and young adults, especially those on the peripheries and those who are disconnected from the Church. . . . Now more than ever, we must turn our attention to our young people and engage them as ‘protagonists’ of the Church’s mission. Their insights can help us grow as a Church and guide us as we all learn to become better missionary disciples in an intercultural and intergenerational context. . . .”

“The Synod of Bishops met in October 2018 on the theme ‘Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.’ Bishops, clergy, religious, and lay people, including a number of young people, together with Pope Francis, addressed the challenges facing younger generations today and ways in which the Church can best respond. Now the work of the Holy Spirit, manifest in the sessions of the Synod, will bear fruit in the dioceses of the United States.”

I encourage everyone to read the Apostolic Exhortation.  The document can be read in English or Spanish by clicking on this link: Christus Vivit.

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