Chosen in Christ

Chosen in Christ

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 peopleWhenever 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.

Conversion and Revolution

Conversion and Revolution

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.

Sex Abuse Summit

Sex Abuse Summit

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.

Seminarians for the Diocese of Cheyenne

Seminarians for the Diocese of Cheyenne

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.

Disciples of Grace and the Word

Disciples of Grace and the Word

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 tiredThey 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?

Rejoicing in Rejection

Rejoicing in Rejection

If Jesus were on earth today, people would treat him the same way as they did in this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Lk. 4:21-30).  Some would praise him and others would reject him.  We often think that if Jesus came today, everyone in the Church would recognize his authority.  We assume that he would bring peace to the Church.  But he would be rejected, just like he was 2,000 years ago.  Even in the Church, some would marvel at his gracious words, while others would be filled with fury and want to drive him out of town (Lk. 4:22, 28-29).  This is how people treat prophets.  It will always be that way. 

This gospel scene is a snapshot of Jesus’ entire ministry.  He will be a raving success when he heals the blind, the lame and the lepers.    Yet, he will experience bitter rejection.  Some will grumble when he shows mercy toward sinners.  Even though they see him cast out evil spirits, they will say that he is possessed by the devil (Mk. 3:22). 

As we read this passage, we are amazed that people are praising him, but shortly after they are so infuriated that they want to hurl him over a cliff.  As Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus ministry, he puts before us the praise of the crowds as well as their rejection, and even diabolical anger which will lead him to the cross.  If we are stunned by such contrasting reactions, then we still do not know the battle of good and evil at work in our hearts, the Church and the world.  This is a snapshot of the battle between good and evil which prophets confront. 

As a prophet, Jesus was destined for rejection.  As disciples of Jesus who share his prophetic mission through baptism, we should expect rejection.  We should not be surprised when some in the Church are reviled by others.  For example, St. Oscar Romero was hated by the wealthy Catholics of El Salvador when he stood up for the rights of the poor.  His fellow bishops and the Papal Nuncio did not support with him because he stood up against the government and military who were persecuting people.

Prophets stand alone and are persecuted.

As disciples, the first reaction to rejection is that we should expect it.  Something is wrong if we are never ostracized or reviled for Jesus’ name.  Then we are not living as authentic witnesses of Christ.  Sometimes people react with anger when I preach.  At times, they have walked out in the middle of a homily.  That bothers me because I want people to like me.  None of us wants to be rejected.  Yet, it’s part of our prophetic mission. 

Parents should experience some rejection from their children, when they stand strong in setting clear boundaries.  Teens should expect to be ridiculed by their peers simply because they live with moral values.  Legislators should expect scorn from their constituents and fellow legislators because they are not afraid to be guided by a strong moral compass in debating social issues.

Expect rejection and rejoice in it, instead of complain when it happens.  How often we grumble when we experience hatred.  But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! . . . For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. (Lk. 6:22-23)

To rejoice in rejection requires a mature faith.  It means that you have learned to trust God in the darkest moments.  You have become a disciple who has embraced the cross and who remembers the victory of the cross.  You believe that God is greater than the worst evil.  Above all, you know that the Lord is with you and will prevail.

That is what Jeremiah experienced in his call.  God warned him that he would be rejected, yet he was assured of God’s help.  He heard the Lord say, “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them. . . . They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer. 1:17, 19).  The Church paired that reading with this gospel passage because it captures the trust of Jesus as he gets a taste of his future crucifixion and death.

The prophet expects rejection, rejoices in it, and walks away in freedom.  When they drove him out of town and wanted to kill him, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” (Lk. 4:30).  He didn’t complain about their attitude, or lament how poorly he was treated.  He walked away in freedom.  After this, he went to Capernaum where he taught with authority, expelled demons and healed people.  He kept focused on his mission.

One of the clearest signs of a prophet is that they have an inner freedom.  They do not get elated when people praise them, nor do they get discouraged when people despise them.  Prophets do not react to how people treat them; rather they act out of their relationship with God.  They are centered in God.  That gives them freedom from people’s opinions.

This is seen clearly in Pope Francis.  He is peaceful and free.  He is not perfect, and he makes mistakes.  But he has inner freedom.  Despite all the problems in the Church, he says that he has an abiding peace.  I am convinced that he is a prophet.  He is disliked by some in the Church because he has the freedom to listen to the Word of God and let it refresh the Church as we deal with troubled marriages or issues like immigration.  Especially, he urges us to be merciful like the Father is merciful. His appeal to mercy is one of the reasons that people reject him.

He is a prophet, so we should expect to see him rejected, even by Catholics.  Since he is the Vicar of Christ it is fitting that he is being rejected.  Like Romero who was derided by other Catholics, the prophets are not accepted in their day.  But they walk through the crowd in freedom. 

Do you want to walk with the freedom of a prophet?  Then seek to be centered in God alone.  Let God’s Word guide you, not the words of the crowd.  Take 3-4 minutes to read the gospel every day.  As you come to Eucharist, ask for the grace to expect rejection, to rejoice in it, and to walk in freedom.

Disturbed by Baptism

Disturbed by Baptism

Are you confused by Jesus’ baptism?  Many people find it confusing.  Why would Jesus be baptized when it was a sign of repentance?  He was sinless, so why would he be baptized?

If you find the Baptism of Jesus confusing, that is a good sign.  That means that the power of the sign is sinking in.  Jesus often proclaimed the kingdom of God with disturbing parables or signs.  Remember how unsettled Peter was when Jesus washed his feet?  Why would his master kneel down and wash his feet like a servant?  It was good for Peter to be disturbed.  That meant that he was beginning to understand the significance of the gesture. 

That is the kind of moment we have here.  John said about Jesus, “One mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals.” (Lk. 3:16)  Imagine how confusing this was for John the Baptist!

God likes to surprise us, like having his Son born in a stable and laid in a feed trough for animals.  By his humble birth, Jesus came to be with poor shepherds, instead of important people like kings or the Jewish leaders.  It was a prophetic sign that God dwells with all people, especially with the poor and humble. Later Jesus clarified this sign by telling a parable of his final coming in glory when he will judge the world.  After listing categories of the poor – the hungry, homeless, sick, prisoners, and strangers or immigrants without any legal rights – he disturbs us by declaring, “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers [and sisters], you did to me.”  (Mt. 25:40)  In that parable, he warned us that we should see him in every poor person.  The most desperate people are special places where he dwells.  That is what it meant for him to be born and laid in a feed trough.

Jesus’ baptism is an extension of that revelation.  Now he reveals an even deeper love.  He is with us in our sin.  He joins sinners coming for baptism.  As people come in droves to John the Baptist, Jesus associates himself with sinful humanity.

That is why he chose to be crucified between two criminals, a prophetic sign shocking us with his mercy.  When one of the criminals pleaded with him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he assured him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Lk. 23:42-43)

Jesus’ baptism foreshadows the cross, where he takes on the sin of all the world.  He experienced the whole weight of human sin at the crucifixion.  Yet, he kept speaking of mercy.  He stunned us by praying for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”  (Lk. 23:34)

In the second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote:  “For our sake [God] made [his Son] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). When we think of this, we should have a holy confusion.  We should ask, “What is God doing?  How could Jesus act with such goodness?”

In his letter to Titus, St. Paul reacts to this mystery by saying, “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth [i.e., by our baptism] and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us.” (Tit. 3:4-6)

One of the goals of religion is wonder….. to sit and marvel at who God is and how God acts.  Jesus was baptized to be with us in our sin and rescue us from sin.  Through his birth and baptism, “the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.”

But it doesn’t stop there.  We are also baptized.  He has baptized us “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Lk. 3:16)  We share his mission.  Now we are supposed to shock people with our prophetic deeds like St. Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to die in a starvation bunker at Auschwitz for a man he did not know, or like Mother Teresa who picked up the dying off the streets of Kolkata because she was struck by the warning, “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.” 

We have been given the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love.   We have been immersed in the Spirit, not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.  

Today, marvel at how that gift has been revealed in Jesus.  And ask for the grace to act like him – to be his hands and feet in the world, and to recognize Christ in his least brothers and sisters.

Making resolutions at the manger

Making resolutions at the manger

Have you sat in silence with Mary and gazed at the manger?  Just sitting and pondering the mystery, whether your manger scene at home or at church.  After telling us the story of Jesus’ birth, Luke says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  Another translation says, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

This is a clue to how we should respond to the Christmas mystery.  It is a treasure to be pondered.  Take a few minutes to reflect on these things with Mary.  Jesus’ birth changed her life completely.  As the mother of God’s Son, Mary is the Mother of God.  That title was given to her in the year 431.  At a council of the bishops at Ephesus (in modern day Turkey) they declared that Jesus was “true God and true man” from his conception in Mary’s womb.  That truth was declared by calling Mary, the Mother of God.  The Greek title Theotokos means she carried God in her womb.  Imagine what that was like for her. 

Paul reflects on this mystery and takes it one step further.  “God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)  This Paul’s favorite way of describing the effect of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are adopted by God as his sons and daughters.  At that time, adoption had permanent consequences.  The adopted son became a true son of his adopting father.  Therefore:

  • The adopted son could never be rejected.
  • The natural parents could not reclaim the adopted son.
  • Adoption included the rights of inheritance.

Through Jesus we have received “adoption as sons [and daughters]” so we can never be rejected by God.  Once our parents bring us for baptism, we belong to God.  Our natural parents cannot take us back.  Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.  And, we are heirs to all of God’s gifts.

Mary cooperated with God’s grace and became the Mother of God.  If we cooperate with the grace of baptism, we will be transformed into God’s own children.  We will act like Jesus.  We will be his presence. 

Our adoption is real.  The question is whether we will live it.  How about a New Year’s resolution to live your adoption as a son or daughter of God?  What would that look like?  Paul said, “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba,’ Father!” (Gal. 4:6)   Anthony de Mello said it this way.  Through baptism we are blessed with the relationship that Jesus had with the Father.  We have the right to speak to God face-to-face.  “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”

When you pray, do you pray with confidence of little children who speak to their mom or dad?  Are you in tune with the Spirit?  Do you ask for the Spirit to guide your actions?  As you look back over your life, do you see a growing awareness of how the Holy Spirit has guided you?  Is your relationship with the Holy Spirit deepening with each passing day?

Then Paul says, “if you are a son [or daughter], then you are also an heir.” (Gal. 4:7)  Adoption leads to the right of inheritance.  You have received the Father’s gifts, just like his Son Jesus was blessed with every good gift:  prayer filled with trust; grace to overcome any sin that plagues your heart; healing power to soothe your wounds and restore your weary spirit; and forgiveness to be merciful like the Father.

The Christmas mystery made Mary into the Mother of God.  It makes us adopted sons and daughters of God.  Sit by the manger scene, ponder this great mystery, and make New Year’s resolutions to help you mature as son or daughter of God.  I suggest three resolutions:

  • for your relationship w/God
  • for your relationship w/family or friends
  • for school or work

Will you wander into the New Year with a sense of doing the same ole, same ole? Or will you resolve to do live intentionally as God’s beloved child?  More hopeful and at peace, with a clearer sense of who you are and whose you are.  More humble and grateful, walking serenely inside of God’s relentless mercy.

Make a commitment to prayer which reflects the reality of your adoption as a son or daughter of God. Make a resolution to treat family members in a way that reflects Christ’s love.  Live your adoption well.

Shining in the darkness

Shining in the darkness

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great LIGHT. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a LIGHT has shone.” (Is. 9:1) Winter is so dark, but winter darkness is the backdrop for Christmas light.

Did you know that in Bethlehem the early Christians always celebrated Christmas Mass at night? By the fifth century the pope in Rome also celebrated a Christmas Mass at night. What’s behind the tradition?  Why bring people out in the middle of the night during the darkest time of the year?  The first people to learn about Jesus’ birth were “shepherds . . . keeping the night watch over their flock.” (Lk. 2:8) The Night Mass was a way to remember the night-time birth of Jesus.

That was the historical significance, but there was also a symbolic significance. Jesus is the Light of the human race, especially for those who dwell in the land of gloom. “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a LIGHT has shone.” On Christmas Day John declares, “The LIGHT shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn.1:5)

People in the darkest places hunger for God’s light.  When you dwell in the land of gloom, you yearn for the light. I am thinking of the home-bound or homeless, of immigrants or prisoners, and those with life-threatening illnesses or the dying.   When you live each day with physical weakness or mental frailty, you hunger for the light.  When you are isolated or seen as unwanted and a burden on society, then you crave God´s merciful light to lift you out of that place of gloom.   

People in the darkest places are zeroed in on Christ shining in the darkness. I saw this while serving on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One Christmas in a little mission parish, the people had decorated the church, and a little boy named Larry Brown proudly pointed to the string of Christmas lights that he draped around the crucifix behind the altar.  His eyes were beaming with pride as he asked me, “Do you like the lights around the crucifix, Father?”  I said, “It looks great, Larry,” even though it was not how I would have decorated the church for Christmas! 

However, Larry was probably instructed by the elderly ladies to put those lights around the crucifix.  They know the Light that flows from Jesus.  In their daily struggle, they humbly gaze on the cross or the image of divine mercy.  Those Christmas lights framing the crucifix may not have looked elegant, but they expressed the truth proclaimed by John, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We have had a gloomy year in the Church.  In our weariness, we need to remember that “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We should learn a lesson from the people dwelling in the land of gloom – the home-bound, the poor, the sick, immigrants or the imprisoned. We often ignore these people, but they can help us see the Light of Christ.  In humble faith, they are not absorbed by the darkness, but fix their gaze on the Light streaming from the Risen Lord.

Even more, notice how they are shining in the darkness. When you visit a sick person of faith, the peace of Christ fills their hearts, and you sense it when you speak with them.  The home-bound pray with perseverance.  It’s inspiring to visit them. They illuminate the Church even though they are not here with us. We are strengthened by their faithful prayer.

Some of the most Light-hearted people are the poor who have little or nothing; yet, they emanate joy because Christ dwells in the least (Mt. 25:40).  Ten years ago, I accompanied college students on a mission trip to El Salvador.  After the trip, they said that one of their most memorable experiences was, ‘How joyful the people are, even though they have nothing.’

The Light of Christ infiltrates his disciples, especially the poor and the humble. It shines in the dark world, if only we have eyes to see. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins marveled at the power of this light in a poem, as he wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.  It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.” We see the grandeur of God flaming out in disciples who show mercy. 

Ten days ago, I visited St. Joseph’s Church in Cheyenne where the youth group was serving the homeless and sitting with them to offer a listening ear.  The light of Christ filled the hall with their simple acts of kindness.  Think of how many times this happens in thousands of parishes across this nation.  Think of all the disciples “shining as a flame of God’s mercy in the world.” (Pope Francis) 

Although our hearts have been saddened this year by clergy who have stumbled in the darkness, tonight remember all the priests who faithfully serve each day patiently hearing confessions, visiting the sick, celebrating the Sacraments, teaching the faith, mourning with people at funerals and rejoicing with them at weddings.  In the universal church, there are 400,000 priests radiating the Light of Christ.

In even greater numbers, religious sisters are shining stars in a dark world.  In October I met Sister Patricia Murray.  She is the Executive Director of religious women in the world, and she described the work of religious sisters serving on the peripheries – working against human trafficking, teaching in poor missions, schools or universities, assisting refugees and immigrants, serving in healthcare or in prisons.  Worldwide there are more than 700,000 sisters shining in the darkness. They are fulfilling the command of Jesus who said, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  (Mt. 5:16)

When we think of all the faithful disciples “shining as a flame of God’s mercy in the world,” it calls to mind the words of St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.  For light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” (Eph. 5:8-9)

Tonight marvel at the Light flowing from the crib and the cross.  Remember that God’s power is stronger than sin and sickness, Satan and death.  “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a LIGHT has shone.” (Is. 9:1) See how his Light is shining in the darkness.  It radiates through every good deed you do.  It is multiplied in every faithful disciple. 

Finally, ask the Lord to renew his Light where it has grown dim because of the frailty of flesh, or slavery to sin, or the demon of discouragement.  With humility and confidence, ask the Lord to conquer any darkness in your life and to empower you to walk as a child of Light.

The Light of Christ is the strongest force in the universe.  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn. 1:5)

Abound in Love

Abound in Love

This Sunday, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with St. James Parish in Douglas.  The homily is below.

As we begin Advent, St. Paul describes well how we are supposed to act.  “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.” (1 Thes. 3:12-13)  The grace of Baptism and Confirmation empowers you to “abound in love for one another.”  The power of the Holy Spirit “strengthens your hearts to be blameless in holiness before God.” 

 As you look at how you treat the people in your family, are you abounding in love for one another?  For youth, is this how people see you treating your brothers and sisters?  Do you abound in respect and love for your parents?  For parents, do you overflow with patience, gentleness and forgiveness with your children?  In your relationship with your husband or wife, do you overflow with Christ’s selfless mercy?

Paul’s challenging words are helpful to hear as we begin Advent.  He reminds us of our goal as disciples – to “abound in love for one another,” and “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father .”   Passages like this make us realize how far we have to go.

To be a good disciple is not to be perfect, but to work at it every day.  You can hear that desire in a letter one young person wrote.  She said:  “By being confirmed in the Spirit, I desire to witness and serve others.  You honor yourself, your parish and God by serving others.  It is one of the many things we have failed in our everyday life, and I feel the need to change that.”  She realizes that she needs to work harder at serving others.

To be a good disciple is to never give up….. to keep working the journey of faith.  The Holy Spirit keeps nudging us along each day, urging us to do more.  In a film about St. Teresa of Calcutta, a reporter is interviewing her.  He has observed her serving the poorest of the poor in the streets, but she is barely making a dent.   To him her work seems meaningless.  So he asked her, “What do you want to accomplish in your life?”  She responded with urgency, “More, more, more.  Always more.” 

A good disciple is someone who feels that he or she has never done enough.  She is restless.  She wants to “increase and abound in love.”  But this does not mean doing more so others see how good I am.   And it’s not increasing my good works out of a sense of guilt because this is how I should act.  Rather, a disciple seeking to “increase and abound in love” is inspired by God.  This feeling arises in a person who is close to God.  In particular, it flows from the experience that God is so good to me.  As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14)

This is the feeling that we often get when we are at Mass because we are refreshed in the mercy flowing from the cross.  When a person is confirmed, one of the first effects is to experience the abundance of God’s goodness, even though you do not deserve it.  And God’s blessings are meant to be used.  They are intended for others.  The abundance of grace inspires us to “increase and abound in love.” 

We see how that abundance shines out in the saints.  They abound in love and heroic strength.  One student chose St. José Sánchez del Río who died as a martyr at 14 years old.  She wrote, “He wanted to be part of the Mexican revolutionary way so he joined the Cristeros.  He knew that he had to fight for his faith. . . . His godfather ordered his assassination.  José was offered many opportunities to be set free but . . . he was stubborn to the end.  The federal forces cut the skin off the bottom of José’s feet and made him walk to the cemetery.  Just before his death, the captain taunted José by asking him what message that he wanted to tell his parents, and José responded.  “That we will see each other in heaven.  ¡Viva Cristo Rey!  ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”

 St. José Sánchez del Río was a martyr because he shined with the abundance of God’s power.  He wanted to do something more than just be a regular person.  That is what God wants from you.  He wants you to abound in his love.

The goal of Confirmation is to set your heart on fire with God’s love.  St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”  God created you so that he could pour the fire of the Holy Spirit into your heart.  You are confirmed to bring that fire to the world.

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