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Month: June 2019

Resolute Determination

Resolute Determination

Does Jesus’ commitment disturb you?  His expectations for disciples are harsh.  They seem unreasonable.  We see that in the gospel this Sunday (Lk. 9:51-62).  When he told a person, “Follow me,” the man replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”  But Jesus told him, “Let the dead bury their dead.  But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:59-60). 

In Jewish culture, burying your parents was one of the strongest moral obligations. To disregard that was unthinkable, just as it would be today. Does Jesus’ commitment disturb you?  If it does, that’s good.  Then you are getting it.  Jesus made people shake in their boots.  At times, it was scary to be around him.  As he spoke, his gaze must have been like steel.  Luke opens the scene with this description of Jesus: “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” (Lk. 9:51) The text is literally, “he set his face to journey to Jerusalem.”

What did that face of steel say about Jesus’ heart?  Let’s start there.  Not with what he asked of others, but with what was going on inside of him.  If we understand what’s going on in his heart, then we will understand what he demands of us as disciples. 

Jesus lived with a singular focus on God’s will.  His commitment to the Father was greater than allegiance to his family.  Later, he says, “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple.  No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26).  On the one hand, this saying is hyperbole.  He doesn’t want anyone to hate family members.  Yet, he is dramatic to emphasize a point. 

Again, think of what was going on in Jesus’ heart when he said this.  What did those demanding words tell us about his singular focus on God’s will?  He would not let anything get in the way of his relationship with the Father.  You could see it in his face of steel as set off for Jerusalem.  To look toward Jerusalem was to face the crucifixion. 

His one goal in life was to be faithful to the Father.  Everything else was secondary – his relationship with friends or family, even his mother.  Jesus lived with total commitment and a singular focus on God’s will. 

I want to contrast that with what we see in so many people today.  For example, researchers say that Millennials have commitment phobia.  They fear commitment.  One sign is in their reluctance to marry.  In 2004, 52% of 18-29 year olds were single.  In 2014, 64% of the same age group were single. 

Why the phobia to commitment?  Researchers list several factors.  First, they want to keep their options open.  Today, young people have endless options.  Why settle down when you can move from one option to the next?  Today young people are told that they can choose to be whoever they want to be.  It’s up to them to decide.  The mentality is that I can choose my own destiny, and the options are endless. 

But that mindset ignores that God created me for a particular vocation.  Rather than a choice that I make based on my desires, a disciple listens for the will of God, then chooses to do that one thing.  We make that concrete by saying to God, “Lord, what do you want me to do?  You created me, and you have a plan for me.  What do you want me to do?”

Jesus had the talent and power to do anything, yet he had only one choice.  The only option for him was to do the Father’s will.  Jesus was zeroed in on one goal, and he challenges us to have that singular focus.  Do you view yourself as having endless options in life, or a singular focus on the Father’s will?

A second reason for the fear of commitment is a lack of trust.  Commitment requires trust.  Surveys show that young people lack deep bonds of friendship.  Many of them rely on technology for personal connection, rather than connecting person-to-person.  With less of a bond, they have less trust.  But commitment requires trust – not only for marriage, but for all of life’s decisions.  To make a commitment we need to trust in human relationships.  Even more, deep commitments require trust in GOD. 

Young people often ask me, “Do you ever doubt your decision to be a priest?”   I think that they are asking, “Do you ever second guess the decision to commit your life to God once and for all?”

I don’t second guess that decision.  Primarily because the decision is based on a deep relationship with God.  I trust the Lord.  He knows what is best for me.  My commitment to be a priest was made with prayer.  It was made inside of a relationship with God.  And it is sustained by a daily discipline of prayer, an ongoing relationship with God.

Let’s come back to Jesus.  He would let nothing get in the way of his journey to Jerusalem.  He had a singular focus.  He was “all in.”  Why?  Because he had a deep relationship with the Father.  He trusted that the Father knew what was best.  He knew that the Father had his back.

Even as he faced the cross, he could say with the psalmist that we heard today, “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence because you Lord will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.  You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence.” (Ps. 16)

Commitment requires trust.  And Jesus lived with perfect trust in the Father that God would lead him on the “path of life” and that he would fill him with the “fullness of joy.”

Two things coincide in our world today.  First, many people have a fear of commitment.  Second, more and more people are less religious, or agnostic or atheist.  They say that they are ‘spiritual’ not ‘religious.’  But when the rubber hits the road, they have little commitment to daily prayer.  They are less rooted in a relationship with God through daily prayer.  Fear of commitment and being irreligious go hand-in-hand.  Without a deep relationship with God, commitment is frightening.  Then I am all alone on a tumultuous sea in a troubled world.  But the disciple who has a strong friendship with God is calm in commitment, even in the turmoil of life.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ said the person who prays well, falls in love with God and it decides everything.  He said:   “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” 

The person who prays well, fall in love with God, and it decides everything.  “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”  Then you will be disturbing to others…… like Jesus who disturbed people with his resolute determination to do the Father’s will.

Groaning in the Spirit

Groaning in the Spirit

If you are in tune with the Holy Spirit, then you should feel the groaning of the Spirit.  St. Paul said, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom. 8:22) Do you experience the groaning of the Spirit in your soul?

All creation is groaning because it is broken by sin and longing for redemption.  It is “groaning in labor pains,” because God is bringing us to new birth.  It’s not just hurting, but it is hurting with hope.  In our day, the groaning of creation has intensified due to indifference to the least.  Let’s look at three areas of indifference in our contemporary world – the unborn, refugees and people sold in human trafficking. 

Recently, 8 states have initiated legislation to broaden access to abortion. Meanwhile, 9 states have passed laws to outlaw or forbid abortion past a certain point in pregnancy.  In February, the Senate failed to pass a measure to require that babies born alive after an abortion be given medical attention and “the same protection of law as any newborn.”  The Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act failed in a 53-44 vote.  It needs 60 votes to pass.

The legal battles are one way that “creation is groaning in labor pains.”  There are over 600,000 abortions a year in the USA.  Some are groaning over these children while others manifest a growing indifference to them. 

God is deeply concerned for both the children and the mothers, and so are we.  As a Church, we groan with labor pains for the unborn children and the women involved in abortion.  We groan with the Spirit who “intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Rom. 8:26)  Since the Spirit is groaning for us, we should pray with great hope. 

God has the same concern for people already born and living in dire straits. In the world today, there are 25.4 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced persons who have not left their country’s borders but were forcibly moved from their community often due to violence or war. Yet in the last two years, the whole world is accepting fewer refugees. Since 1980, the U.S.A. has always led the world in accepting refugees, but we have declined drastically, from resettling 84,994 in 2016 to only 22,491 in 2018.

Pope Francis says that there is an indifference to the poor today. The last five years have seen the greatest rate of increase of refugees on record, but throughout the world, nations are accepting fewer and fewer.

However, some small countries are showing amazing generosity in temporarily hosting refugees.  Turkey hosts 3.5 million.  Jordan hosts 2.9 million.  And Lebanon hosts 1.4 million, which is 16% of its population.  Imagine the burden on a little country like Lebanon.  Cheyenne has 63,000 people.  If we were hosting 16% of our population, we would have over 10,000 refugees in some kind of temporary shelter.

If we are groaning with the Holy Spirit for these people, then at minimum, we would be supporting agencies like Catholic Relief Services which provides basic needs to refugees in their camps.  Even more, we should advocate for them and ask our legislators why our country is not welcoming more refugees.  If you are united with the Spirit, then you groan to give new life to the poor.  The opposite of that groaning is indifference.

I mentioned abortion and refugees together because Catholic moral teaching urges us to see the dignity of every human person.  In his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Pope Francis wrote: “Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, [and] the victims of human trafficking.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 101)

Many religious Sisters have been working against human trafficking. In May 2019, Pope Francis launched the “Nuns Healing Hearts” campaign in honor of the tenth anniversary of Talitha Kum, the international network of women religious against human trafficking.  According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year – 80% are female and half are kids. 

Over the last ten years, two thousand women religious have ministered to survivors of human trafficking.  The sisters live in their poor communities, meet the victims in the streets, and help them begin a new life. The Sisters are in tune with the Holy Spirit.  They feel the groaning of the Spirit to redeem those being trafficked. 

Are you in touch with the groaning of the Spirit, or are you indifferent to the millions of people in dire straits or being killed as refugees, the unborn and their mothers, or slaves of human trafficking?  To be confirmed with the Holy Spirit means to hear the cries of these people.  And it means to pray with great hope and endurance because God is greater than sin and evil.

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied with hope to the people of his time.  They had been defeated and taken captive to Babylon.  They were crushed.  Listen again to what God told the prophet Ezekiel.  “These people have been saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.’  Therefore, prophesy and say to them:  Thus says the Lord GOD:  O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.”  (Ez. 37:11-12)

We have a greater gift than the people as exiles in Babylon.  The Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has been poured into our hearts.  It fills our dry bones when terrible things happen.  It gives us hope and endurance.

Last Sunday, an old friend texted me about her newborn granddaughter.  Prior to birth the baby had aspirated meconium, and she was in serious condition.  Her grandmother was groaning in prayer for this child.  God groans for refugees and the unborn with the same affection, and more.  God’s groaning is filled with hope – with the power of the resurrection.  The Lord says to us, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”

First of all, let that hope be yours.  Where are you feeling like your bones are dried up?  Is there a sin that has darkened your heart?  Is there a relationship that feels irreparable?  Does a close friend have cancer?  Are you disheartened by the struggle of evil in the world?  Brings your dry bones to the Lord.  Ask the Spirit to breathe new life into you.

Then bring the Spirit’s message of hope to the world ….. like the sisters who are working against human trafficking.  God gives us his Spirit to say, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”

 “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;            and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom. 8:22)

Priests on Retreat

Priests on Retreat

The priests of the Diocese of Cheyenne are on retreat this week at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center in Rapid City, SD. In these days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost, the Church traditionally prays for the Holy Spirit. Please pray for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit for our priests.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. 

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

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