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Month: December 2019

Providence

Providence

Do you believe that God is guiding every step of your life right now?  Do you believe in God’s Providence for you personally?  Providence means literally to ‘see ahead.’  Divine Providence means that the Lord sees ahead and is guiding me. The Lord sees your immediate situation within a larger plan for your entire life. Even though you may not be able to see clearly how things will work out for you, God sees every moment of your life as part of his plan. Do you believe that?

If you believe in Providence, it’s a huge asset in the darkest moments of life.  It’s like a shining light pointing the way forward when you cannot see where to go.  This Sunday, we hear how Joseph trusted in God’s Providence. He had no idea what was happening in his betrothal to Mary. (Mt. 1:18-24)  When he found out that she was pregnant, it seemed that the only right thing to do was to “divorce her quietly” (Mt. 1:19) Imagine his darkness and isolation.  Yet, he trusted in Providence, and it made all the difference.

Before we look at his situation in more detail, what is the darkness in your life?  Maybe it is an unplanned pregnancy, or a medical diagnosis for your unborn child that is overwhelming.  Perhaps it is a life change: anticipating graduation or getting married, moving to a new job or the loss of a job.  It could be undocumented status and living in uncertainty for your well-being and your children’s safety.  For some, the darkness is depression or mental illness.  For others, it is a cancer diagnosis or the recent death of a loved one

This is the darkest week of the year. Joseph teaches us to trust in Providence when things are murky and mysterious, when we are thrown a curve ball in life, and we’re not sure what to do.

None of the gospels record a single word from Joseph. He must have been the strong silent type. Joseph is known not for what he said, but for how he acted. Joseph’s silent ‘Yes’ to God was pure action.  This gospel describes him as a ‘righteous man.’ That means that he had a ‘right relationship’ with God and with people.

He acted out of a deep relationship with God, and he sought to treat people with justice, not merely human justice but rather God’s justice. In other words, he treated others the way God treats people. You can see this in his reaction to Mary who “was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Most people in that situation would go off the deep end. The temptation would be to lose hope in God and to run off at the mouth. Here his silence is even more striking. That he held his tongue at a time like this, speaks volumes.  But “Joseph being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to shame, planned to divorce her quietly.”  (Mt. 1:20)

His first righteous action was not to embarrass her and to keep it quiet – not to gossip. He must have thought, “This business is only between me, Mary and God.” It seems likely that the first person Joseph spoke to about this was God. That makes sense if you’re ‘righteous’ because a righteous person always acts out of a right relationship with the Lord.

When things get really dark, do you react with gossip or do you turn to prayer? The righteous person instinctively prays about the struggles of his or her life, “Lord, what on earth are you doing in this turmoil?          What do you want of me here?” 

As Joseph brings this situation to prayer, he listens with trust in God’s Providence. When the angel tells him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. . . [Immediately] Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  (Mt. 1:20, 24)

He did as he was told.  Where did he learn to listen and act with such trust in Providence? Why did he obey God so decisively? How can we learn to act with this kind of trust in the dark struggles of life?

Joseph was the “son of David.” That title – ‘son of David’ – always reminded the people of one thing. God had promised David that he would always be faithful to him and to his descendants, despite their sins.  Ps. 89 is one place where you can find the promise.  It states: “Even if his descendants turn away from me, and do not keep my commandments, I shall never withdraw my faithful love.  I have sworn my holiness once for all.  I will never betray my bond of faithfulness to David’s family” (Ps. 89:32-33).

As a son of David, Joseph knew this solemn promise from God: “I shall never withdraw my faithful love.” In addition, God promised to make the son of David the promised Messiah. These promises were the trademark of David’s family.

Do you trust that God is guiding you in his faithful love, even in the darkest times? By our Baptism, we became sons and daughters of God, which is so much more than Joseph’s status as a ‘son of David.’ As a son of David, Joseph trusted in God’s Providence when he could not see the way forward. To be a Christian is to trust even more!  It is to believe that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” God dwells with us, never withdrawing his faithful love, even when we sin. Jesus is the promised Messiah who “saves us from our sins.” (Mt. 1:21)

This last October, John Henry Newman was canonized a saint. But his road to sainthood was marked by plenty of troubles and darkness. He was an Anglican priest who converted to the Catholic faith, which resulted in rancorous opposition and painful isolation. In his writings, he describes his experience of darkness together with trust in God’s providence.  The following meditation captures it best.

He wrote: “God has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good; I shall do His work . . . [God] does nothing in vain . . . He knows what He is about.  He may take away my friends.  He may throw me among strangers.  He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about.”  ~ John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman

No matter what happens, always remember that you are a child of God. In the darkest days, trust in Providence. As a first reaction, pray with trust that God is with you and guiding you.

Second, listen to saints like Joseph and John Henry Newman. Be inspired by how they trusted and obeyed God.  Joseph knew the promises of God.  He lived inside of those promises. As Christians, we have more reason to trust.

The Lord promised to be with us, in his Word and in the Eucharist. In these days before Christmas, ask for a renewed sense of his presence.  Pray for faith in divine Providence.

Lumen Christi

Lumen Christi

Last Wednesday, I visited Sacred Heart Seminary near Milwaukee, WI where Deacon Dan Kostelc is studying.  The following day, I drove to Mundelein Seminary near Chicago where I visited seminarians Seth Hostetler and Lee Noel.  I had a great visit at both places, and the seminary staff members spoke highly of our men who are preparing for priestly ministry.

On Friday, I was in Chicago for a meeting of the Board of Directors of Catholic Extension.  Every year the Diocese of Cheyenne receives grant monies from Catholic Extension for a variety of ministries.  For example, over the next five years they will provide $100,000 a year to fund the salaries and benefits of the three Sisters from the Esclavas de la Inmaculada Niña from Mexico City, who are serving in the Casper area. They are Sisters Josefina Guzman Ayala, Alejandra Austria Garcia and Imelda Muñoz Hernández.  In addition, Catholic Extension awarded the Diocese a five-year grant to cover the cost of tuition, room and board for seminarian Seth Hostetler; this is valued at approximately $35,000 per year.

Every year, Catholic Extension gives an award to one person who shines like the Light of Christ in his or her ministry.  The Lumen Christi award this year went to Mack McCarter in the Diocese of Shreveport.  See this link for his amazing story:  Lumen Christi.

Hope in the Night

Hope in the Night

This December, is your goal to survive the stressful holiday season? Or to thrive in Advent watchfulness? At the beginning of Advent, Jesus urges us to watch for his Coming as if we were watching for a thief.

He says to us, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this:  if the master of the house had known the hour of the night when the thief was coming he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect the Son of Man will come.” (Mt. 24:42-44)

When I was serving as a priest on the reservation, we had a few break-ins. Afterwards, I had nightmares that burglars were in the house. In the middle of the night, I would wake up and listen for someone in the house.  You know how your vision sharpens in the dark and you listen to the tiniest sounds?  That intensifies when you add the fear of watching for a thief in the dark.

The verb “stay awake” means to be vigilant and alert, or to be on the watch.  St. Paul used the same images in his letter to the Thessalonians.  He wrote, “You yourselves know that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. . . . Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” (1 Th. 5:2,6) The image of the Lord coming like a thief in the night was striking for the first Christians.  They never forgot it.  It challenged them to watch for the Lord with intensity.

Sometimes we think it refers only to the Final Coming of Jesus at the end of time. But in Advent, we consider three different occasions in which Jesus comes to us. First, we recall that he came 2,000 years ago as the Light of the human race shining in the darkness. Second, we look forward to the end of time when he will come in glory to conquer all evil.

But there is a third coming in between those two.  It is equally important. He comes to us daily in the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we might shine as a light in a dark world and conquer evil in our day.  To be on the watch is to be alert for his presence every day. It means not only to keep watch for his Coming, but also to act in accord with his ways.

What gets in the way of keeping watch? What distracts you from shining as a light in a dark world?

For many, it is all the time absorbed in social media or with news stories that repeat the same information ad nauseam.  Adults spend almost 2½ hours a day watching news channels and slightly more time social networking on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. Some are probably doing both at the same time.  For youth, gaming occupies much of their spare time. Kids play an average of 15 hours of video games a week.

One way to have a good Advent is to take a break from gaming, news programs or social networking. Watch what happens to your spirit, when you spend so much time doing that. Are you more hopeful?  Are you bringing light to those in the darkness? Or do those activities distract you and wear you down with incessant negativity?

That is exactly what young adults are saying. A recent survey showed that among those 25 years or younger, 64% are taking a break from one or more kinds of social media, and 34% completely quit social media. They listed several reasons:  it was a waste of time, the negativity of content, privacy concerns and too much pressure to get attention.

There are a few other good reasons to take a break:  it is good for your spiritual life, and you will have more hope.  That is, if you spend more time keeping watch for the Lord:  being quiet in nature, reading a spiritual book, reflecting on Scripture, praying a rosary, etc.

Christians are meant to bring the Light of Christ to the turmoil in the world. We shine with Light by watching with hope and working for justice. But we can only do that when we are centered on Christ because the darkness is daunting.  It is so dark out there.

Here are a few examples.  In our world, 8,500 children die each day from a lack of proper nutrition.  In the USA, there are 2,360 abortions a day, which means that 18% of pregnancies end in abortion.  In Wyoming 2% of pregnancies end in abortion, the lowest rate in the nation.  World-wide 70.8 million people are refugees or displaced due to violence, the most ever recorded in history.  Many are displaced within their own country of origin, but 25.9 million are refugees in foreign countries. Also, roughly half of all refugees are children.  That’s about 12 ½ million kids!

It is easy to be indifferent to our least brothers and sisters.  At times, people say that I focus too much on this topic.  However, Jesus said, “Whatever you did to the least brothers of mine, you did to me.” (Mt. 25:40)  On World Day for Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis spoke out against the “culture of comfort” that leads to “indifference” in the face of the refugee crisis. Those of us who live in such comfort can easily be indifferent to the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters.  Instead of listening to their stories, we quickly describe them as “illegal” and therefore as undeserving of our help.

Christians are meant to bring the Light of Christ to the turmoil in the world. We shine with Light by watching with hope and working for justice. But we can only do that when we are centered in Christ because the darkness is daunting. Are you watching with hope and working for justice? 

One thing that helps me is to read modern day saints. One of my favorites is St. Oscar Romero. He gave a homily for Christmas in 1979 which is filled with hope. Yet, he had every reason to be depressed. In the three years prior, he had buried several priests who were murdered. Among those priests were his close friend Fr. Rutilio Grande and Fr. Octavio Ortiz, who was like a son to him. Not only priests were being killed, but also catechists were shot, then Bibles were placed on top of their dead bodies as a warning to other catechists.

Yet Romero had such hope in the power of God. This is what he said in that Christmas homily: “This country is giving birth to a new time. . . These times of suffering will also pass!  . . . we are called to live with the optimism that tells us that, even though we don’t know how, God will bring our country out of its troubles, and in the new moment which is to come, the good news of Jesus Christ will still be shining.” (p. 422, Memories in Mosaic)

Romero was watching with hope and working for justice. He was more hopeful than most of us who experience far less darkness. He worked relentlessly for justice despite such terrible corruption. It was the Salvadoran National Guard who had murdered the priests and catechists.

Where did he get such hope? He was centered in Christ.  He had a consistent prayer life. In the words of St. Paul, he “put on the armor of Light . . . he put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 13:11,14). With those images Paul is reminding us of our baptism. At baptism we are clothed with Christ, given his Holy Spirit and his power to do good.  We were dressed in the armor of his light to do battle with the forces of darkness.

Every day we have to keep putting on the armor of Light.  Being clothed in Christ is a grace, so this clothing is received in prayer.  Also, the Eucharist renews the grace of Baptism and keeps the power of the Risen Lord alive in our hearts.  Without prayer and  the Sacraments, we can feel so weak in the dreary dark world.

This December, will you thrive in Advent watchfulness? We are called to keep watch with hope and to shine as a light in a dark world.

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