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Month: October 2019

Attitude is everything

Attitude is everything

Last Friday, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Rose of Lima in Torrington.  Then on Sunday, I confirmed students from Powell, Clark and Cody at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cody.  The homily from Sunday is below.

One of the deepest desires of every person is to pray well.  We want to know that God hears our prayer; we want to be sure of God’s help.  Many of you wrote something similar.  You said that you want to be confirmed because you want to be closer to God.

In today’s gospel (Lk. 18:9-14), Jesus teaches that ‘prayer’ is not about technique, but about attitude.  It’s not about praying the right prayers, but the attitude in your heart when you pray.  If you pray with pride or self-righteousness, then it’s a dead end.  But if you pray with humility, God pours out his mercy.

Jesus said that it is enough to say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  (Lk. 18:13)  That is so simple, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” When the Church revised the rite for individual confession in the 1970’s, this was listed as an option for the Act of Contrition: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  It is striking to hear people say that in the confessional. It expresses the two essential ingredients for prayer, humility and trust in God’s Mercy.

Do you want to learn how to pray like that?  There are two good ways:  Read the saints.  Hang out with weak people – sick, elderly in nursing homes, people with disabilities, etc.

As a seminarian, one of my assignments for pastoral service was to visit a nursing home.  I hated it. I felt so helpless.  I couldn’t do anything to help them.  As I was with them, it was painful to see their weakness and frailty.  It put me face-to-face with human poverty.  Now, I enjoy visiting the sick and the elderly in nursing homes.  It is still hard to look at their suffering, but praying with them is amazing. In their brokenness, they have to rely completely on God.

You see this in St. Julia Billiart whom a student chose for her Confirmation saint. This is what a student wrote: “At the age of 31 an unidentifiable illness left Julia paralyzed.  She soon became known for her intercessory prayer. When she was 53, a priest requested her to pray a novena for a special intention unknown to her.  When she finished the novena, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the priest asked her to take one step in honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Julia did so and was completely cured.”

St. Julia was completely paralyzed for 22 years.  At the same time, she was known for intercessory prayer.  Her paralysis coincided with humble effective prayer.  I have found that sickness helps me to be humble before God. Hang out with the sick and the saints; they teach you how to be humble and trust in God.  St. Teresa of Avila said, “The whole edifice of prayer is founded upon humility.”  Being humble is like opening the door of your heart to God’s light.

Tonight as you are confirmed, be humble and receptive before God.  In fact, think of where you feel weak or powerless.  Are you weak physically, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually?  How do you struggle academically?  What temptation makes you stumble in sin?  When do you feel isolated or afraid?  See your weakness as an opportunity to be humble before God.

Sirach says: “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” (Sir. 35:17)  In the Bible, the lowly are humble people who trust in the Lord.  They are the poor, afflicted or persecuted who trust that God is with them. “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.”

Trust that God will strengthen you tonight, especially where you are weak. Confirmation comes from the Latin verb ‘confirmare’ which means to strengthen.  This sacrament strengthens you with the Holy Spirit. It strengthens your relationship with God.  It empowers you to overcome sin.  It gives you strength to be a witness.

Often people think that Confirmation is something that you do for God. Some youth say, “It is my commitment to God.”  That is part of Confirmation, but not the main part.  First of all, Confirmation is a gift from God.  God gives you the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is pure gift.  So be humble before God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, you must to respond to such a great gift. Gifts are given so that you can help others, not merely to enjoy by yourself.  Only a spoiled brat doesn’t share his or her gifts.  So yes, we have to make a commitment to God. The saints show us how to do that best.

One of you chose Mother Teresa of Calcutta as your confirmation saint.  This student wrote: “Mother Teresa’s life of holiness is such an inspiration to me. She felt God calling her to help others and put other’s needs first.  I look up to her because I think she represents what a person can be like now in this day.  She led an amazing life and believed that a simple smile could do a lot of good.  One of my favorite quotes is “Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

In 2005, I had the privilege of visiting the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.  We visited the home for the dying, an orphanage for babies to age three and a leprosarium or a place where lepers live.  By the way, all the saris worn by the Missionaries of Charity are made by lepers.  At the leprosarium there were 15-20 looms where they made the saris.

Mother Teresa’s sisters serve the weakest people – the dying, orphans, lepers, etc. They dedicate their lives to serving the least.  In their service to the poor, they reflect God’s love for the poor.  We heard about that love in Psalm 34: “The LORD hears the cry of the poor.  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Ps. 34:19)

Mother Teresa started each day with an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  Every morning, she was barefoot in the chapel, kneeling on the floor.  Staying humble before God was her secret to doing great things.  She kept receiving God’s strength and love in prayer, then she responded by serving others.

As you are confirmed, pray in two ways. First, humbly receive the Holy Spirit.  Trust that God will strengthen you tonight in your weakness.  Second, ask the Lord to make you a saint who brings his mercy to others, like St. Julia Billiart or St. Mother Teresa.  The Holy Spirit is given to us to empower us to do Jesus’ work.  Listen to how God is calling you to be a saint.

The key to Persistent Prayer

The key to Persistent Prayer

This weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with two parishes in Cheyenne.  On Saturday evening, I was at St. Joseph’s Parish and on Sunday morning at Holy Trinity Parish.  The homily is below.

“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always and never give up.” (Lk. 18:1)  Do you know what is one of the most common things that young people write in their confirmation letters about prayer? When I ask the students to write me a letter, I ask them to describe how they pray. Here is are a few quotes from their letters:

  • “I hardly pray anymore, or get any alone time. . . . but I want to become a better child of God.”
  • “I don’t really do daily prayer, and yes I know I should.”
  • “I honestly don’t spend much time in prayer at all. I really only pray when I feel that I have the time which is not very often, but I want to make a habit of praying regularly every day.” 

I admire the honesty of these young people. They describe two issues with prayer: First, they don’t take much time for prayer. Second, they want to pray more. What they say is not only true for them, but also for most adults.  About 7% of Catholics have a habit of praying every day. Why do people not pray?

For one thing, often we think too much of ourselves and too little of God.  In our busy lives we feel too important, but we don’t see God as ‘Large and in charge.’ We don’t live with a good balance between God’s power and human effort. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2834)

In the first reading (Ex. 17:8-13), Moses held the staff of God as the Israelites fought against Amalek. The staff of God symbolized the strength of God. With the staff in his hand Moses released the plagues on Egypt. When he held it over the sea, God divided it and the people passed through. The staff brought forth water from the rock. It is not just that Moses prayed, but he prayed with the staff of God.

The Israelites believed that they could win a battle only with the strength of God. As we heard in Psalm 121 today, “The LORD is your guardian . . . he is beside you at your right hand.  The LORD will guard you from all evil . . .  The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.”  (Ps. 121:5, 7-8)

First of all, “Pray as though everything depended on God.” Second, “Work as though everything depended on you.” Sometimes we don’t pray because we are slothful. To be slothful doesn’t merely mean to be lazy spiritually. It also means to lose hope in the midst of trials. Another word for sloth is acedia, which means literally “to not care.”  The person with acedia does not care about life because he has lost hope in the meaning of life.

The desert fathers call acedia the noonday demon.  In the hottest part of the day, when work is the hardest sloth creeps in.  People give up because they are worn down by sickness or the trials of life.  They feel that what they do doesn’t matter anymore because they have lost a sense that God is with them. They don’t care because they think that God doesn’t care for them.

Jesus had the opposite attitude.  Do you know why he never gave up?  Because he knew that God the Father had his back.  He believed that the Father cared for him, even on the cross.  You can hear his trust in the Father’s love when he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46)  My favorite prayer of Jesus is, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34) In that prayer Jesus expresses his trust in the Father’s love for those who crucified him and for all sinners.  How could we not pray with confidence to a God who is so good?

For Jesus, the most important thing is to remember to whom you pray.  In this gospel reading (Lk. 18:1-8) he tells us, “Be persistent in prayer because God is a just judge.”  We think of judges who sentence people to prison for crimes.  But in Jesus’ day, the judge was a defender of the least.  The judge was the one who made sure that the defenseless were protected.

Jewish law stated that the cause of orphans had to be heard first, then widows. The Hebrew people believed that God gave first priority to the cries of little orphans, and next in priority were widows.  God’s heart is moved by the neediest among us. Therefore, if a crooked judge will answer a widow who is persistent in demanding justice, how much more quickly will God respond to our petitions? “Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” (Lk. 18:7)

Do you fail to take time to pray, or have you given up on prayer? Then ask yourself, “Do I have the right image of God?”

Jesus urged us to never up on prayer because he was utterly convinced that God cares for us.  God is a merciful Father who pours out his gifts for his chosen ones. God is a just judge who is quick to defend the rights of the defenseless. The Lord is your guardian.  Six times in Psalm 121, the Lord is described as a guardian. The same word is used for a shepherd who constantly watches over his sheep so that wolves cannot get them. “The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” (Ps. 121:8)

Catherine of Siena said: “Don’t you understand?  God is running after you day and night as though he has nothing else to do but simply to occupy himself with you.”

One of the students who wrote about prayer believes that.  He wrote: “I pray for at least 20 minutes every night, and I ask God to help all the sick people and my family so God holds their hand at all times.”  His simple way of praying shows trust in God as our just judge and guardian.

One girl wrote: “My praying process has become better throughout the year. I have prayed every day 5 minutes in the morning, thanking God to see another day. My daily ‘routine’ is praying in the morning, then at night I would read something out of the Bible.  Sometimes I pray for any upcoming tests at school.” You can hear in her letter a young lady growing in her relationship with God, a few minutes to thank God in the morning and time to read the Bible at night.

Prayer is a muscle to develop. Prayer warriors work at it every day, like an athlete who trains daily.  Here are a few basics of prayer:

  • Choose a specific time to pray. I pray every morning about 45 minutes.
  • Dedicate a place for prayer, maybe a prayer corner in your room.
  • Start prayer by listening to God. Be quiet in nature. Read the Bible. Always let God speak first, then talk about your day.

 “Pray always and never give up.”  Prayer makes saints. We can see the power of prayer in the lives of the saints.  St. Maximillian Kolbe was at the concentration camp at Auschwitz when the Nazis sentenced ten men to die in a starvation bunker.  Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one man, then he led his fellow prisoners in prayer and songs.  The prayer kept him strong.  You could see it in his eyes.  The guards told him not to look at them because he had such a piercing look.  The prayer made him strong as steel.  Everyone died from starvation but him, so the guards injected him with poison.

St. Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) God will be with you as a guardian.  Today ask God for that grace in Confirmation and as you receive the Eucharist. Be persistent in prayer and God will fill you with the strength to do anything.

Strength in the Storm

Strength in the Storm

This Sunday evening, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne.  The homily is below.

I asked each of the students to write me a letter about why they want to be confirmed.  One student wrote: “I would like to get confirmed because I want to get closer to God.  I want to know what the right path is for me.  And I want to figure out what he sent me here to do.  I also want to get confirmed because I want to help out more in my community by serving the church and God.”  Another student wrote: “I would like to be confirmed because I want my relationship with God to grow.  I want to be closer to God and for the Holy Spirit’s gifts to be strengthened in me.” 

Many of you wrote that you want to get confirmed to be closer to God, or you want God’s help and guidance.  So your teacher did a good job of teaching you the central aspects of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It deepens your relationship with God.  Confirmation strengthens your relationship with God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

But remember that God wants a closer relationship more than you do.  God gave us this Sacrament to be close to us and to help us on our journey.  This is one of the things we see again and again in the stories of the Bible.  God is always reaching out to people, especially people in distress.  In today’s gospel, ten lepers approached Jesus and said, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Lk. 17:13)

Lepers were outcasts.  No one was supposed to touch them.  People were afraid that they might be contaminated if they touched them.  Whenever someone approached lepers, they had to yell, “Unclean, unclean.”  This was to keep people far away from them.  Again, they were afraid of becoming diseased like the lepers.  They were required to live outside of the city, so they had no friends.  They suffered in isolation.

The Samaritan leper was an “outsider among outcasts.”  Samaritans were hated by other Israelites.  To be a leper and a Samaritan was to be a total outcast. Even the other lepers probably looked down on him.

What is surprising is that the lepers felt that it was safe to approach Jesus, even the Samaritan.  They weren’t afraid of being rejected.  They must have heard not only that Jesus could heal people, but that he had compassion for outsiders like them.  We see this so often.  Remember the blind beggar who called out to Jesus for help, while everyone else was telling him to be quiet.  But Jesus said, “Call him here.” (Mk. 10:49) He had mercy for lowly people, those whom everyone else ignored or shunned.

By the grace of Confirmation, you will experience the mercy of Jesus.  He is close to you in your darkness, or when you feel all alone.  But you need to cry out in prayer for his help.  In addition, Confirmation will make you a witness of his mercy for outcasts.  It will inspire you to be like the saints whom you chose.

Saints are people who experienced Jesus mercy, then brought his mercy to others.  One of you wrote this about your saint. “My confirmation name is Elizabeth Ann Seton, and I chose her because she shows how much she believes in God.  She had to go through the death of a spouse and child and through that she prayed and looked to God to help her get through this hard time.  She showed me what love and trust is.”

Elizabeth’s husband was sick, so in 1803 they traveled to Italy to stay with friends in a warmer climate.  The voyage on the ship took six weeks and she wrote: “I have been in a sea of troubles . . . but the guiding star is always bright and the master of the storm always in view.” 

She’s talking about the story of the disciples caught in a storm in the boat with Jesus walking toward them.  In all her troubles, she felt him close by her side.  Her husband died when she was 29 years old. Later two of her daughters died.  Yet she could still say, “I have been in a sea of troubles . . . but the guiding star is always bright and the master of the storm always in view.”  That is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit – to be with us in dark and stormy times.  The Holy Spirit continues to be his presence in the storms of life.

Jesus called the Spirit the ‘Paraclete.’  Paraclete is a Greek word.  Literally, it means the “one whom you call to your side” (to help you and defend you).  In other words, the Paraclete is “the one who answers my cry for help and stands beside me.” 

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus who is merciful to the lowly and outcast.  He was always approachable and close to the sick and needy.  The Holy Spirit does the very same thing.  When the lowly cry for help, the Holy Spirit comes beside them to strengthen them so that they feel Jesus’ presence.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton knew that Jesus was with her and guiding her when her husband died and her daughters died.  But she didn’t stop there.  She brought his mercy to others.  She decided to help poor girls who had no opportunity to go to school.  She established Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls.

Then she established a religious community dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. This was the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America.

Today as you are confirmed pray in two ways.  First, ask God to send his Spirit and strengthen you in your weakness.  Where do you experience darkness?  What temptation makes you stumble in sin?  When do you feel isolated or afraid?   Pray for the Paraclete to come and strengthen you.  The Paraclete is “the one who answers your cry for help and stands beside you.” 

Second, ask the Lord to make you a saint who brings his mercy to others.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton started a free Catholic school for poor girls.  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

 St. Elizabeth of Hungary was the daughter of a king.  Her husband died when she was 20 years old and pregnant with their third child.  But she dedicated her life to help others.  She started a hospital to help the poor, and she visited the poor in their shacks.

The Holy Spirit is given to us to strengthen us in the storms of life, and to empower us to do Jesus’ work.  Ask God to help you where you are weak, then listen to how God is calling you to be a saint.

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