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.
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.
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.
IHow well do you know the LORD who spoke to Moses at the burning bush? (Ex. 3:1-14) Have you met the LORD who revealed himself at the burning bush? Do you know what matters most to him?
The passage of the burning bush is foundational for our understanding of God. It is the beginning of a whole new experience of God in history. If you understand what the LORD said to Moses at the burning bush, then you will better understand Jesus’ words and actions.
One of the first things that God tells Moses is, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” (Ex. 3:6) In other words, the LORD of the burning bush is the God who journeyed with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God made a covenant with them. Moses is being reminded of God’s fidelity and promise to be with them. He is reminded of the promise that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and would inherit the promised land. Those promises were made 400 years before God spoke to Moses at the burning bush.
That kind of God is different than the gods of other ancient cultures. For other nations, God was totally transcendent, far off in the heavens. Their gods did not journey with them; they were not close to them and guiding them each day. They did not see God as being involved in their personal history or helping them in their struggles.
However, the LORD of the burning bush is deeply concerned about his people. He says, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex. 3:7-8) This revelation was life-changing for the Israelites. It was a revolution in their understanding of God. The LORD is a God who hears their cries, knows their suffering and comes down to rescue them.
When you pray, do believe that this is how God cares for you in affliction? Or do you wonder if he hears you? Do you just pray because you are supposed to pray, but without a sense that God is deeply concerned about you, your family, and those who suffer in our world?
Many Christians do not pray to the LORD who said to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people and have heard their cries for help, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” Instead, they pray to a God who is totally transcendent, who is far off in the heavens and has little or no concern for them. Who is the God to whom you pray?
We are a lot like the Israelites who didn’t believe Moses. He knew that this experience of God would be hard for them to believe. So he said to God, Look, the Israelites are probably not going to believe me. They will think that I had heat stroke or something, and imagined this whole thing. “If they ask me, ‘What is this God’s name?’ what am I to tell them? God replied, ‘I am who am.’ . . . This is what you are to tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (Ex. 3:13-14)
What does it mean when God says that he is ‘I AM’? Biblical scholars have struggled to understand this name of God. Many said that ‘I AM’ means that God is the essence of existence. He is the source of existence, or the beginning of all things. ‘I AM’ means that he is the Creator.
But in the Jewish culture, they understood something more. God is not only the Creator, but also the Redeemer who rescues the oppressed. When God said that his name is ‘I AM,’ it was not a philosophical way of describing his presence. Rather, the LORD’s presence was concrete in history and active in their midst. God is saying,“I AM present for my people and with my people. I AM with you in your distress. I hear your cries and answer your pleas. I will accompany you on your way.”
Do you pray to God as both Creator and Redeemer? When you pray, do you imagine God as far off in heaven or as One who is closer to you than your closest friend? We should pray with both images. Many relate easily to God as Creator, but you cannot stop there or else God is kept at a distance. As the Redeemer, God comes down to rescue the afflicted.
The Israelites experienced the LORD as their Redeemer at the Red Sea. As Christians, we experience the LORD as Redeemer in Jesus’ deep compassion for lepers, the blind, the crippled, the sick, the widow of Nain, and in so many other events. By his life, Jesus helped us understand that this is what the name ‘I AM’ means. He said, “I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (Jn. 10:11) I will protect you from wolves. I will guide you and watch over you. I will die for you.
As we celebrate the Eucharist, we experience how God pours himself out to be totally present in a mystical way. Jesus opened our hearts to this mystery when he said, “I AM the Bread of Life.” I exist to fill you with my Life. I AM living in you. I will always be with you.
During Lent, we are called to renew our relationship with God through repentance. The first level of repentance is to be open to who God is and what God does. Every one of us needs to a change of heart regarding God as both Creator and Redeemer. If we don’t get that right, then we will fail to get the second level of repentance right, which is to let our relationships be transformed by this fresh experience of God’s love.
At the first level, to repent means to believe that God hears my cry for help, knows my affliction and will rescue me; it means to listen to a God whose first concern is for those being oppressed. At the second level, to repent is to bring that experience to the people around me. For Moses that meant that he had to go back to Egypt and help free the Israelites caught in slavery. He was called to be an agent of God’s redemption.
For us, it means that we need to listen to the cry of the oppressed in our world and do something about it. That includes the child in the womb who is helpless, as well as to the pregnant mother who often feels totally alone. There are so many other kinds of people whom we are called to be agents of God’s protection. One group is especially appropriate.
We should recall God’s commandment regarding resident aliens (i.e., foreign immigrants without rights) to the people of Israel. “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 22:20) This commandment is tied directly to the revelation of God at the burning bush and how he rescued them at the Red Sea. Throughout the Old Testament, it is repeated again and again to remind them and us that our treatment of others who are afflicted should reflect how God has rescued us.
“Why is this happening?” Whenever you speak with someone who has suffered a tragedy or a mysterious illness, they want to know “Why did God let this happen to me?” That is an excellent question because it expresses trust in God. You don’t ask “Why did God let this happen?” unless you believe in God as good and caring. Yet, often in suffering we are left in the dark. God is silent. The darkness and silence are disturbing. We feel all alone.
Then, it’s important to remember the stories of faith. Today’s Scriptures from Genesis 15:5-18 and Luke 9:28-36 offer two valuable stories that help us in dark times. Abraham’s mysterious vision and Jesus’ glorious transfiguration give us hope in suffering. Both stories inspire us to trust God in the darkness of suffering.
Abe has no children, yet he trusts God who promises him descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. God tells him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” Then, God ups the ante. He promises his descendants an enormous tract of land – even though Abraham is a foreigner.
The promises seem impossible! So Abraham asks, “How do I know this will happen?” Then he is given a vision of God’s fidelity. God tells him to take a heifer, a goat and a ram, and cut them in two. That was the way that people made business deals. They cut animals in two, then walked between them, shook hands and said, “If I break my promise, then let me die like these animals.”
The Hebrew words here could be translated literally, “cut a covenant.” We say “Let’s cut a deal.” God’s mysterious presence is seen as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. In a sense, God said to Abraham, “Let me be cut in two if I’m not faithful.”
This is not just Abraham’s story to assure him in his struggle. It is a story of faith handed on to us. God promises to be with you and me in the darkness of our journey. He promises that this difficult and dark path will lead to glory.
The Transfiguration is a similar story of glory in suffering. Immediately before this, Jesus told his disciples about his suffering and death. Now he is inviting them to trust that it will not merely be about suffering, but it will be an exodus – a path to glory and new life. Moses and Elijah spoke of “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). As Jesus shines in glory, we get a glimpse of the resurrection. The Father teaches us to see Jesus’ suffering as a way to glory. And God encourages us to see our life as an exodus. We are on a journey that promises a share in his glory beyond our suffering.
The Father is with Jesus and will carry him through his passion and death. God cut a covenant with Abraham, but the cross is the biggest deal God ever cut. He promises to carry us through suffering, if only we listen to his Son.
Immediately before the Transfiguration Jesus told his disciples that he would “suffer grievously, be rejected . . . and be put to death . . . and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:22). Then he challenged the disciples to imitate this way to glory. He said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. Anyone who want to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it” (Luke 9:23-25). The next passage is the Transfiguration, so these two texts should be read in tandem.
When God tells us “This is my chosen Son, listen to him,” we are being called to listen especially to those words — to take up the cross every day and to lose our life for his sake. If we do what he tells us, then we will share his transfiguration. Stay strong in trial every day. Trust God in suffering hour by hour. Lose your life for his sake. Instead of doing what feels good, do what is helpful to others. Serve selflessly. Pray for those who hurt you. Wash feet. Forgive as he forgave.
Several years ago, I was serving a small parish where a lady named Alice was suffering from cancer. She often did not feel well; yet, she came to Mass faithfully, even daily Mass. You could tell she was not well. She did not have good color in her face. She was thin. She had lost her hair. Sometimes I looked out and thought, “Alice, what are you doing here today.”
She probably wondered why this was happing to her. But the way she suffered with faith was inspiring to everyone in the parish. Her attitude was powerful. Her frail but faithful presence inspired everyone. God was using her for the good of others. She was losing her life for Jesus’ sake.
Often God uses our suffering for others. If we think of what meaning it has for our life alone, we will not see the fullest meaning. Remember Abraham never saw numerous descendants, nor did he inherit the land. The Israelites were be led to the promised land about 500 years later. His journey only makes sense when you see how he suffered for future generations.
Similarly, Jesus’ suffering as the innocent Son of God makes no sense for his life alone. Rather, God used his Son’s suffering to redeem the world. Our suffering should be seen in this perspective. We will not see the full meaning of our suffering in this life.
When you remember the stories of Abraham and Jesus, then you have the faith to live like Alice. We are called to be witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection by how we suffer for others, and by how we suffer with faith in the resurrection. With faith, our suffering is a gift for others.
Suffering itself is part of a longer journey to glory. Stay strong in trial every day. Trust God in suffering hour by hour. Lose your life for his sake. Instead of doing what feels good, do what is helpful to others. Be a gift for others in your suffering.
Today, we celebrated the Rite of Election at St. Mary’s Cathedral for catechumens and candidates from several parishes in the Diocese of Cheyenne. It was so good to have people from Gillette, Casper, Glenrock, Wheatland, Laramie, Cheyenne and other places. The homily for the Mass is below.
God often touches our hearts in surprising ways. I recently read a story about Pope Francis that describes how God surprised him with grace as a teenager. He was almost 17 years old and was walking to meet his girlfriend and other friends from school. As he walked past a church where he often prayed, he felt inspired to go inside and something amazing happened. He said,
“I saw a priest walking. I didn’t know him; he wasn’t one of the parish priests. And he sat down in one of the confessionals. I don’t quite know what happened next, I felt like someone grabbed me from inside and took me to the confessional. Obviously I told him my sins, I confessed . . . but I don’t know what happened. . . . Right there I knew I had to be a priest; I was totally certain. Instead of going out with the others, I went back home because I was overwhelmed. Afterward I carried on at school and with everything, but knowing now where I was headed.”
How often God touches us to draw us into a relationship. Over the years, how has God touched your heart? That question is not only for catechumens and candidates. It’s for everybody – all of you who are Christians, the leaders of RCIA, godparents and sponsors, deacons and priests. How has God taken the initiative to befriend you? How has he chosen you?
It happens in so many different ways. While out in the beauty of nature, we are filled with awe. We realize how awesome God is as the Creator of such magnificence. In my early twenties, I liked to ride my horse to the State Park five miles south of our ranch. The Little Moreau River carved deep ravines into the land. It was a picturesque area where I experienced God in nature.
God is constantly speaking to us in the beauty of nature, through forgiveness, by putting the right person in our path to help us in time of need. How has God taken the initiative to befriend you? How has he chosen you?
That is why you are here today. It is not so much that you have decided to enter RCIA or be a sponsor, but that God has touched your heart. Believe me, I would not be in the Diocese of Cheyenne unless God had chosen me. I’m not only saying that he chose me to be a priest or a bishop. I mean that he chose me to be a disciple. God initiated a relationship with me and kept nurturing it every day. God has guided my life, blessed me with forgiveness, protected me from death and spoke to me through the Scriptures. I am here because God chose me to be in a relationship with him.
The reading from the book of Deuteronomy describes God’s relationship with the Jewish people. This is the oldest and most important summary of Israel’s faith journey. It is an early Jewish Creed.
“My father was a refugee Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as a resident alien…. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing harsh servitude upon us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. Then the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders, and brought us to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Dt. 26:5-9)
That passage describes the gratuitous initiative of God toward the Israelites. This is why they refer to themselves as the Chosen people. Whenever we come to Church we should be aware of how God has blessed us personally, but also we need to be aware of God’s blessings to us as a whole people. The Israelites recited that creed as a testimony of how God chose them as a people.
We have inherited their witness of faith, and we add the great events of Jesus’ life. With today’s gospel we can say, “Jesus defeated Satan in the desert.” (Lk. 4:1-13). His triumph over the devil in the desert was a sign of his total victory over sin and evil at the crucifixion. As a people, we are no longer trapped in sin or controlled by evil.
First, think of all the graced moments in your life that led you here today. In every one of those are moments God chose you. Second, remember the biblical events where God chose his people – at the Red Sea, in desert when Jesus defeated the devil, at the Cross as he poured out his life, at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit infused the hearts of his disciples. In all those saving events, he chose us as his own.
The directions for the Rite of Election state this: “This step is called election because the acceptance made by the Church is founded on the election by God, in whose name the Church acts” (RCIA, #119). Our prayer is founded on the election of God. We are here today, to celebrate that God chose you – all of you, not only the catechumens and candidates, but every single person of faith. I will say: “Those who are chosen in Christ, come forward, together with your godparents.” (p. 67, RCIA) Then each person is called by name because God calls us by name. He establishes a personal relationship with each one of us.
The main attitude for us today should be a spirit of thanksgiving. Being thankful for God’s constant blessings. Thank God, then follow the final instructions from Moses in Deuteronomy. He told the Israelites to recite the creed of all the ways God helped them, then to say, “Therefore, I now have brought you the first-fruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow in his presence”(Dt. 26:9-10)
After you have remembered all the ways God has guided his people over thousands of years, place your basket of first-fruits before the altar and kneel in his presence. That is what we do in the Eucharistic Prayer. We bring up gifts of bread and wine as symbols of all God’s blessings. Then we kneel in thanksgiving and awe.
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.
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.
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.
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 tired. They 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?