Mass in Wyoming

Mass in Wyoming

As the Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, the Diocese of Cheyenne is committed to taking all reasonable precautions to prevent transmission of the virus. Therefore, from March 13 to April 8, 2020, a dispensation from the obligation to attend Holy Mass (canon 1245) is granted to:

  • those of any age who are ill, and
  • those with an underlying health condition, such as chronic lung disease, COPD, asthma, etc.
  • Moreover, any person over 60 years old may choose to use this dispensation.

Stay home if you are sick or in a high-risk category, since this virus is primarily transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Sunday Mass is broadcast on K2 (ABC) at 9 AM.

CORONAVIRUS PRECAUTIONS FOR MASS:

  • Mandatory hand-washing for all ministers and thorough washing of all liturgical vessels.
  • Permission to suspend Holy Communion from the Chalice accompanied by encouragement to receive Holy Communion in the hand and not on the tongue.
  • Permission to suspend physical contact during the Sign of Peace.
  • Permission to empty Holy Water fonts.

Please note: these precautions are of limited effectiveness. They are no substitute for staying home when you are ill.

We will continue to monitor the progression of this disease in Wyoming and make appropriate recommendations.

Be a Blessing

Be a Blessing

God said to Abram, “I’ve got a great plan for you.” Abram replied, “What is it? Are you going to bless me with a son?”  God said, “Actually, I want you to leave your land, your relatives, and your home, and go live in a different country as a foreigner for the rest of your life.”  Abram replied, “Okay!?”  God said, “Trust me.  This will be really good for you and for the world.”

The Lord told Abraham, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing.  All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” (Gen. 12:2-3) God blessed Abraham so that he would be a blessing for the world. Likewise, God has a plan to bless you and me so that we will be a blessing to the world. Is that how you see your life? Do you see yourself being blessed by God – even in suffering – so that you will become a blessing for the world around you?

God used Abraham and Sarah in a way that was beyond their wildest dreams. But for much of their life, their situation looked more like a curse than a blessing. In the Hebrew culture, to receive God’s blessing meant to have land, riches, children, and health.  However, God asked Abraham to leave his land.  He asked him to live as a foreigner in Canaan with no rights to own land.  He went to settle in a land that would never be his own.  Also, he had no children. Without a son, his wealth would go to someone else. So his situation looked like a curse, yet he left his land and his home and trusted that God would bless him.  He believed in the blessing of God even if it looked like a curse.

So to walk like Abraham is to trust in God even when it makes no sense. Abraham and Sarah never saw God’s promise fulfilled.  They finally had a son Isaac who had twin sons Esau and Jacob. It was Jacob who became the father of the twelve tribes.  But Abraham and Sarah never saw any of those grandchildren.  They were blessed with one son which was an amazing gift.  But mostly they were a blessing for others.

We are called to the same journey of faith. God asks us to believe that he will bless us and make us a blessing for others. Do you see yourself being blessed by God – even in suffering – so that you will become a blessing for the world around you?

Trusting in God should be easier for us than it was for Abraham and Sarah because we see how everything worked out for them.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all lived as foreigners and nomads.  When famine struck the land, Jacob went to Egypt with his sons and grandchildren, where their ancestors lived as foreigners for another 430 years.  During all those four centuries, Abraham’s faith inspired the whole family. His example of faith inspired them to trust in God’s blessing, even though they were foreigners who had no rights neither in Canaan nor in Egypt. God made him a great nation, and he became a blessing for others.  But it was a tough painstaking journey marked by famine, slavery, suffering and death.

Faith should be easier for us because we know the full story of how God blessed the people of Israel, despite centuries of struggle.  In addition to knowing Abraham’s story, we’ve been given a vision of Jesus’ glory. These biblical stories are not just lessons from the past; they are our stories. We will get the most benefit from them by imaging ourselves in the scene, and by entering into the same experience.

So imagine yourself with Jesus as he took Peter, James and John up a mountain and his face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.”  (Mt. 17:2) Immediately before this, Jesus had warned the disciples about his passion, death and resurrection.  This mountain top experience filled them with new hope that no matter what happened to Jesus, God would lead him into his glorious light.

Eventually, the disciples realized that the same was true for them.  If they remained faithful, then they would be transformed by the Lord’s glory. Earlier Jesus told them, “The just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mt. 13:43) Similarly, St. Paul said to the first Christians, “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the future glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18)

As we see Jesus’ face shining like the sun, it strengthens our faith that the sufferings of the present time are nothing compared with the future glory that is to be revealed in us.  St. Paul went on to declare that all creation will be “set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21)

Years ago, I visited an elderly couple who were both suffering from illnesses. The wife had survived a bout with cancer.  The chemotherapy racked her body, and she never fully regained her health. When I visited them, she was sick again and the doctors were doing tests.  Her husband said, “I don’t understand why she has to suffer like this.  She has lived a good life.  She has helped people. She’s been good to the Church and to God. I don’t understand why she has to bear this suffering.” 

I didn’t understand it either; yet her suffering has meaning when you view it through the cross and resurrection.  When people suffer with faith, they become a blessing to others.  God works through them in a mysterious way.  I remember how people in the parish were inspired by the faith of that couple. Their children and grandchildren were especially strengthened by their faith.

Even when your situation involves suffering or rejection, do you trust that God is with you to bless you?  Even if you are a foreigner with no rights in this country, like Abraham and his ancestors, God is using you to be a blessing. God is using your suffering for his glory, if only you keep the faith. As you receive the Eucharist today, remember that how Jesus was brought to glory through the cross, and he shares his Risen Presence with us to bring us to glory through the cross.

Lent is a baptismal journey.  It is a journey of being renewed in the Life of Christ.  The only way to new life is through the cross.  Ask for the grace to see how God has given you people who shined with his light because they suffered in faith.  Thank God for how they were a blessing to you.  Then ask the Lord to make you a blessing for the world.  Ask for the grace to trust God even when it doesn’t make sense.  By your faith, you will be a blessing to the world around you.

Grace is always greater!

Grace is always greater!

Today I am at Immaculate Conception Parish in Green River to celebrate the Rite of Election for catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion for candidates.  The homily is below.

The Scripture readings for the first Sunday of Lent are all about sin and evil.  Why is that?  The Genesis story recalls how Adam and Eve defied God. (Gen. 3:1-7)   In the gospel, we hear how Jesus is tempted by the devil. (Mt. 4:1-11) In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul describes the proliferation of sin spreading to the whole human race: “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.”  (Rom. 5:12)

Our Lenten Journey begins by staring sin in the face.  Why?  It is a stark reminder of how helpless we are without God.  We have to be honest about our feeble spiritual condition, if we want be restored.  Lent is a journey toward new life. The goal is to receive the newness of life in the resurrection of Christ.  But you will never experience Jesus’ new life unless you are brutally honest about the effects of sin, personally and globally.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men.”   If Paul were writing this letter today, he would probably use a different image.  Today he might say, “Adam’s sin went viral.”  It was like a pandemic outbreak that infected every single person on earth.  Have you noticed the proliferation of the disease of sin?

First of all, recognize how the infection of sin grows in your heart. When you are lazy about prayer for a day or two, it’s easy to stop praying. Because of your distance from God, other sins creep in.  One lie leads to another, and soon it’s a habit. Second, acknowledge how sin moves so quickly from one person to another.  It might start with a little gossip about someone, then another person joins in, and soon several people are attacking an individual from every side.  The contagious contact of sin happens at school, among co-workers or on social media. Next, call to mind the enormity of sin when war or violence destroys the lives of innocent people.  It leads to starvation or people living as refugees. As they flee for safety, people take advantage of them by subjecting them to prostitution or human trafficking.

Sin is more prolific and deadly than a viral disease.  “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men.”  People are alarmed by the coronavirus which has a death rate of 2-4% of those who are infected.  Are you as concerned about spiritual death, as you are about the flu or the coronavirus?

As you come to this point in the RCIA, if you are more aware of how sin has infected your heart, that is a sign of growth. It is a good thing because you are more aware of lethal nature of sin.  As we begin Lent, we consider the prolific and deadly power of sin.  Why?  Not to make us discouraged or downhearted, but to awaken our hearts to humanity’s profound need for God.  It reminds us how much we need to be in relationship with God. This Lent, let your weakness in sin not discourage you, but awaken your heart to humble faith.

The Hebrew people lived a spirituality of dependence on God.  It is expressed so clearly in the creation story of Genesis. “God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen. 2:7)  The Hebrews believed that every breath comes from God. We depend on God every single moment of our existence.  Every breath is a gift from God.  So when sin separates us from God, the natural consequence is death.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.”  Yet, even though Adam’s sin went viral and seems to be unstoppable, grace is far more powerful.  St. Paul insists on that: “If by the transgression of one man, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” (Rom. 5:15)

No matter how prevalent sin is in the world, the sickness of sin is not like the new life of grace. There is no comparison.  Immediately after this passage St. Paul says, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) This is the newness of life that we are meant to experience in Lent. When you turn to God with total humility and complete dependence, then God fills you with an abundance of new life.

However, so often we doubt that grace is greater than sin. We hesitate to believe that grace can conquer our worst sin.  In your struggle with sin, have you ever said to yourself, “I will never change”? All of us have felt miserably helpless in the face of sin.  Then it is essential to trust in what Paul says. “For if by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace . . . come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17)

Remember that Paul had experienced this first hand.  In his conversion experience, he was bowled over by grace. Even though he had persecuted the Church, the Risen Lord chose him to announce the abundance of grace for all people who would turn to Jesus. So he said, “I myself am the greatest of sinners; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make of me the leading example of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people.”  (1 Tim. 1:16)

In the Rite of Election, you are also chosen by the Lord. Remember that you are chosen much like Paul. It is not something that you earn or accomplish.  The Lord simply surprises you with the abundance of grace. Let it be yours.  This is what you anticipate on Holy Saturday night when you will be baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist.

This Lent be brutally honest about sin.  Then have humble faith that “when sin has increased, grace overflows all the more.”  Have hope in God’s power to fill you with new life.  Then you will become an agent of abundant grace for others.  God has chosen you to be surprised by his gracious love and to be an example of his inexhaustible patience for others, just like St. Paul.

That grace is renewed in every Eucharist.  The Eucharist overflows with an abundance of new life.  Lent is a time to be renewed in the grace that is greater than sin.  What sin plagues your heart? Where do you see sin rampant in the world?  Bring that to prayer in the Eucharist today with humble faith that grace is always greater.

Spiritual Rebirth

Spiritual Rebirth

What image comes to mind when you think of Lent: the desert, fasting, etc.?  For me the image is spiritual rebirth,to have a renewed spiritual life. The season of Lent has one purpose, to renew our baptism.  The goal is to renew our baptismal identity as children of God.  Normally our spiritual life grows dull because we lose focus on the essentials.  What is essential for a spiritual vitality?

Let’s take a lesson from Jesus.  What was the focus of his spiritual life? What word was at the center of Jesus’ heart? What one word expresses his spirituality? Listen again to a few verses from today’s Gospel (Mt. 6:1-8, 16-18): “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. . . . Keep your almsgiving secret and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. . . . When you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private.  And your Father who sees what is secret will repay you.”

The Father was at the center of Jesus heart. ‘Father’ is the word that captures his whole spirituality. Throughout the gospels, do you know how often he speaks about his Father?  It is 4x in Mark, 25x in Luke and half of those are about the Prodigal Father’s love for his lost son, 40x in Matthew, and 107x in John.  In all four gospels, he mentions the Father 175 times!

To renew your Baptism, keep first things first. The first priority is to be in relationship with your heavenly Father.  Jesus did everything to please the Father. Often we get derailed morally because we’re like the hypocrites whom he describes in this gospel.  We are trying to please others.  We let our self-worth be defined by what others think. For a spiritual rebirth, keep God the Father at the center of your heart.

Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer are meant to please the Father.  They are not about rules but a relationship.  Listen to the words of the Father in your prayer.  Fast to remember that the food that really satisfies is God’s presence.  Do good deeds to imitate the Father’s mercy.

This Lent, instead of reciting prayers, do more quiet listening.  Learn from Jesus’ relationship with the Father. In his prayer, he listened and received. When the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he said: “If you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk. 11:13)

For Jesus, the Father is the great Gift Giver. Parents, despite their sins, know how to give good gifts to their children. Yet, God’s goodness far surpasses them. Are you convinced that your Father in heaven will give you the Holy Spirit whenever you ask?

Jesus was utterly convinced of God’s generosity. His own prayer was shot through with great confidence because he experienced God as a Father who gave him everything.  Jesus was an only child, and he prayed like a pampered only child.  He had a sense that the Father would do anything for him. This Lent when you pray, believe that your heavenly Father wants to fill you with the best gifts, especially the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”  (Mt. 18:3) Unless you become small and dependent on God, you will not be reborn spiritually. In your prayer, be a little child who receives gifts from the Father.

Then, with your almsgiving act like the Father.  Boys with good dads trust them and mimic them.  They want to be just like them. Jesus had the best dad, and he mimicked him. In John’s gospel, Jesus says that his work is exactly like the Father’s work.

He said to the Jewish leaders, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work. . . I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does . . . For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.” (Jn. 5:17-21)

The Father sent his Son to fill us with his life. He sent him to the cross.  Why? Because the Son mimics the Father who generously pours his Life out for us. So we are called to pour out our lives for others. To be God’s children means to be life-giving.

The prophet Isaiah insists that fasting and almsgiving are meant to be life-giving. In the first reading for this Friday, Isaiah describes God’s vision in this way: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: Releasing those bound unjustly . . . Setting free the oppressed . . .   Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them. . . Then your light will break forth with the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.” (cf. Is. 58)

Spiritual rebirth includes receiving the Father’s love in humility, then bringing the healing of God to others.         That’s Lent.  Renewing our baptismal identity as children of God – relishing the generosity of the Father and bringing his Life to others.

Pilgrimage to Italy

Pilgrimage to Italy

I am on a pilgrimage to Italy with Fr. Carl Gallinger and 51 other people, mostly from the Diocese of Cheyenne.  We are visiting Florence, Assisi, Orvieto and Rome. The primary reason for the pilgrimage is the ad limina Apostolorum, which means “to the thresholds [of the tombs] of the Apostles.”

Approximately every five years, all bishops are required to come to Rome for a private audience with the Pope and a pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul.   I am here with the Bishops from Region XIII, which includes the dioceses in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. On Monday, we met with Pope Francis for two and a half hours.  During the next three days we have meetings with many other offices at the Vatican.

The pilgrims will participate in Mass at the major basilicas, pray at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, attend a Papal Audience, and visit other sites.  In a special way, they are praying for the bishops of Region XIII and the Diocese of Cheyenne.  Please join them in praying for these intentions.

Vietnamese New Year

Vietnamese New Year

Today the Vietnamese parishioners from St. Patrick’s Parish in Casper celebrated their New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year.  They served a wonderful meal in the parish hall for approximately 200 people.  Fr. Hiep Nguyen was instrumental in organizing the event.  

Dreaming with God

Dreaming with God

When I go to a parish for Confirmation, before the Mass I meet with the young people and let them ask me questions.  Almost always they ask something like, “Why did you want to be a priest?” And I respond, “I did not want to be a priest, nor did I want to be a bishop.  I didn’t go to the seminary until I was 27, because I wanted to be married. Yet, I had some experiences that helped me listen to God’s plans.  Eventually, I discerned that God was calling me to be a priest.”  I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would live this life.  It has been far more challenging and more of a sacrifice, yet more enriching and satisfying than I could have imagined. 

I served in rural parishes and on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation where resources are scarce but the needs are enormous. I helped parish communities rebuild after their church was flooded or struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  I was the chaplain for a Newman Center and a K-12 Catholic School system, where I taught senior religion.

Over the years, I accompanied people in the misery of cancer, car wrecks, suicides, murders or infant deaths, as victims of sexual abuse or veterans with PTSD, and countless other tragedies. The Lord has provided me with the grace to walk alongside them on a journey of healing and new life. I have been blessed by the poor and weak who have amazing faith and resilience. I have also experienced the joy of weddings, baptisms, graduations, family reunions and even miraculous healings. Finally, I participated in building a retreat center that is flourishing beyond what anyone dreamed.

As I look back on my journey of faith, one of the biggest lessons is this: God’s dream for me was much bigger than my puny dreams. The same is true for you. God’s dream for you is so much bigger than your puny dreams. 

In comparison to our plans, the life that God has planned for us is so much more. It is more challenging, more difficult and more of a sacrifice. But the Lord provides all the grace needed and more. And when we follow God’s plan, then life is more enriching and satisfying.

If you want to get a sense of what God dreams for you, then look at Jesus. Our mission in life is closely connected to Jesus’ mission. The readings for the last two Sundays introduce us to his mission. But those readings also describe our mission because through baptism we share in Jesus’ mission.

John the Baptist described Jesus’ mission by declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  (Jn. 1:29)  That was a bold statement.  The Israelites might have imagined that the Messiah would take away the sin of their people. But John declared that he takes away the sin of the world. John could never have imagined something so wonderful. He even tells us that this is not his idea. He said, “I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”  (Jn. 1:33)

John knew how to dream with God. He shared in Jesus’ mission by pointing to him as the Lamb of God. In paintings, John is always depicted as pointing toward Jesus. That was his mission, but our mission is much bigger. We share in his work because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit.  He breathed his Spirit on the apostles and authorized them to forgive sins in his name. And he empowers every baptized person to continue his ministry of forgiveness and healing.

Today’s reading from Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant of the Lord.  That servant is obviously Jesus, but it is also you and me. Listen to God’s dream for his servant. “It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob . . . I will make you a light to the nations.” (Is. 49:6)

God is always dreaming Large. Our plan is to keep church buildings in good condition, to initiate Catholics in the faith or maybe even to invite inactive Catholics back to the Church. God’s plan is to make the Church a Light to the nations.  He sends us on a mission to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

As a rancher in western South Dakota, I never dreamed of going to other nations. But as a seminarian, I studied in Rome with classmates from more than a 100 nations. Then as a priest, I spent another four years in Rome. In those years, I organized the pastoral formation of seminarians at the North American College in Rome and coordinated their involvement at 25-30 sites which included elementary schools and colleges, soup kitchens, hospitals, a house for AIDS patients, providing food to refugees living in the streets and much more. I participated in immersion trips to San Salvador, India, Panama and Mexico. My dreams were so puny compared to that.

A key moment for me was when I was a freshman in college at the School of Mines in Rapid City.  Toward the end of the first year, I had planned out a double major in chemistry and chemical engineering.  But as I sat in my room and dreamed about it, there was no desire to be an engineer.  So I asked God, “What do you want me to do?”  The idea of seminary came clearly to mind, but I could not imagine doing that.  So it took me another eight years to say yes.  Nevertheless, I was beginning to open myself to God’s dream. 

That attitude is expressed in the Psalm refrain today.  “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” (Psalm 40)  Those are some of the most dangerous words a person can say. Those words will put you in over your head. “Lord, what do you want of me?  I only want to do your will.” Eventually, I learned to say that.  It is the most fundamental prayer, as Jesus taught us to say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”

Parents, you could say it in this way. “Lord what is your will for our marriage?  How many children do you dream for us?”  While preparing engaged couples for marriage, I often asked them how many children they planned to have. No matter what number they were thinking about, I would ask them, “Have you asked God about it?”  I cannot remember an engaged couple who said that their plan for children was what God dreamed for them. Don’t let your fear keep you from asking God, “Lord what is your will for our marriage regarding our children, our jobs and our participation in the Church to bring your Light to the nations?”

Or you could say, “Lord, what is your will for our children? What do you want them to do with their life?  We only want them to do your will.” Often parents are not supportive of a call to the religious life because they think that they have a better idea. Beware of your puny plans for your children. Let God’s dream be theirs.  Teach them to listen in prayer for God’s will.

First, practice this with yourself.  Learn to ask for yourselves every day, “Lord, what do you want of me today?”  “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Just before we receive the Eucharist, the priest says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Behold him who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  How blessed we are to be called to the supper of the Lamb, to receive the one who takes away the sin of the world. It is pure gift!  Let it fill you more and more.  As you drink in the gift today, realize that God’s dream for you is to be filled with the Life of the Risen Lord. 

Yet, God’s dream also includes the call to be a Light to the nations.  In your prayer, say, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”  Help me to participate in your dream to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

Live your baptismal identity

Live your baptismal identity

Do you find Jesus’ baptism confusing or hard to understand?  If so, that is not so unusual.  Even John the Baptist was disturbed when Jesus came to be baptized.  He told him, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Mt. 3:14) The people being baptized by John were called to repentance, but Jesus did not need to repent.  So why was he baptized?  What did baptism signify for him?

A helpful way to understand the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is to reflect on the prayers for this Mass.  The prayers for feast days express the mystery being celebrated.  Listen again to the Collect for this Mass.  Almighty ever-living God, who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him, solemnly declared him your beloved Son, grant that your children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, may always be well pleasing to you.

That prayer has two focal points:  Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son, and our identity as God’s children by adoption.  His baptism wasn’t a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, like it was for everyone else whom John baptized.  Rather, it was a revelation of Jesus as God’s beloved Son, and it reminds us that through baptism we are God’s children by adoption.

Jesus’ baptism sealed his identity.  Once you know your identity, then your mission is clear. Jesus’ ministry flowed from his baptism, that is, from his identity as God’s beloved Son anointed with the Holy Spirit.  In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter connects Jesus’ baptism to his ministry of healing. He said, “You know the word that [God] sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” (Acts 10:36, 38)

Peter described Jesus’ ministry in practical terms. He said, “[Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.”  Often the Church focuses most of its energy on teaching the faith. We are concerned that young people learn the truths of the faith. That is important, but don’t forget that healing was central to his ministry.  Peter summed up Jesus’ life, not by referring to his teaching, but to his healing“He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” 

It is so important for us to understand Jesus’ identity and mission correctly because we share the same identity and mission.  If we only focus on teaching the truths of the faith, but fail to form disciples in his healing mercy, then we are not really being faithful to his identity or ours.

The first disciples experienced his healing together with his teaching. For example, Mary Magdalene was healed of the influence of seven demons (Lk. 8:2), and the disciples saw Jesus drive out evil spirits from many others.  They saw lepers cleansed, the lame walk and the blind regain their sight.  He washed their feet and graciously forgave them after the resurrection.

Have you experienced these aspects of Jesus’ ministry, or is your journey of faith mostly focused on learning what he taught? Do you think of a disciple as someone who knows the truths of the Catholic faith, or as someone who has experienced his power to heal, forgive, drive out evil and raise from the dead, and also who lives by the truth of his teaching?

It is important for us to understand Jesus’ identity and mission correctly because by our baptism we share the same identity and mission.  If we only focus on teaching the truth of the faith, but fail to form disciples in his healing mercy, then we are not really being faithful to his identity or ours.  Then as the Church, we are not being faithful to him.

As we recall Jesus’ baptism, we are reminded of his identity and mission. And we are challenged to live with a similar baptismal identity. Jesus identity as God’s beloved Son was the source of his greatness?  He felt total security as God’s beloved Son.  That’s why he had the strength to stand alone as he faced death. It made him all-powerfulable to cure the sick and to cast out demons.  “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

Do you live with a constant sense that God is with you?  Instead of living with a sense of “God with us,” we focus on our “distance from God.”  So often we base our self-worth on our failures and sins, and we have a poor self-image because of those who criticize us.  Or else, we depend too much on the esteem we receive from others.

It does not matter what I think of myself.  That is not my true self.  Nor does it matter what others think of me, whether they despise me or admire me.  The truth of who I am is rooted in how God sees me. Our deepest identity is that we are children of God. At the World Youth Day in Toronto, Pope John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and of our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah, who describes Jesus’ identity and ours: “You are my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.  I have put my spirit in you. Thus says the Lord God, who created the heavens and spread them out, who hammered the earth into shape . . . . I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant to the people, a light for the nations.” (Is. 42)

Jesus lived with a keen sense that God was with him, chose him, delighted in him, upheld him and sent him to heal.  He lived with a constant sense of the Father’s love. His mission was to bring that grace to others. He was anointed with the Spirit so that he might baptize us in the Fire of the Holy Spirit.  Then we will be like him, living inside of God’s mighty presence, and continuing his mission to heal and forgive, suffer like him and walk in eternal life.

By the grace of Baptism, God says to us:

  • “You are my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.
  • I have put my spirit in you . . . . I have grasped you by the hand.
  • I formed you . . . . and made you a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement.

Our baptism is renewed in every Eucharist.  Ask for the grace to be set on fire with God’s love who has chosen you, delights in you and sends you as a light to the nations.

 

Your Heart Shall Throb

Your Heart Shall Throb

What has happened to your heart this Christmas? Did it grow three sizes like the Grinch’s heart?  Or is your heart stagnant? The original movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Is that because people like his dog Max or cute Cindy-Lou Who?  Or is it because when the Grinch gets what Christmas is about, then his puny bitter heart grew three sizes?

The Christmas mystery made St. Paul’s heart grow by leaps and bounds, and Christ sent him to share this grace with all nations.  So he says in the Letter to the Ephesians: “You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit . . . [Now] the gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:2,6).

What did Paul mean by the ‘stewardship of God’s grace’? He said that it was something that had never happened before. “It was not made known to people in other generations as it has not been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5).  With the coming of Christ, God offered a grace like never before.  Paul was called to be a steward of that grace.  To understand his stewardship of grace, a story might help.

The Dutch philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once told a parable about a noble king whose heart was captured by a young woman.  She was from the poorest village in his kingdom.  He wanted to marry her but hesitated because his people would have seen it as totally inappropriate.  Kings simply did not marry poor peasants.  Yet, the king knew that he could do whatever he wanted.  He could marry her and no one would dare oppose him.  Still, he worried that if they were married, it just wouldn’t work.  The gap in their status would get in the way.  She would admire him in his grandeur as king, yet would not be able to love him as an equal.  And he would love and admire her beauty, but never see her as his equal.

In the king’s mind, the solution was to renounce his wealth and position and become poor like her.  One night, after all in the castle were asleep, he laid aside his golden crown and removed his royal rings.  He took off his silk robes and dressed himself in the simple clothing of the poor.  He left the castle and his kingdom behind.  The next morning, the poor peasant maiden in the village met him face-to-face.  He asked to speak with her and began to court her for marriage.  (see pp. 101-102, Awakening Love by Gregory Cleveland, OMV)

What happened in their relationship?  We don’t know.  Kierkegaard never said whether they were married.  He left the story open-ended.  It is a parable of the newborn king, who came to be with us in our poverty.  The child in the stable came to seek us out like a king for a poor maiden.  In the Eastern Church, the Epiphany is also viewed as the wedding of Christ with his people.

He came not only for the Jewish people, but for all nations. In the Opening Prayer of this Mass we prayed, “O God, on this day you revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.” The ‘nations’ are the non-Jews.  Sometimes it is translated as ‘gentiles.’ So Paul says, “the gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

Any person who does not have Jewish heritage is part of the gentiles or nations. The newborn king came to be with us in our lowly and broken world. He left his heavenly realm of glory, and let himself be laid in a feed trough. He came as an equal to us, to make us ‘coheirs’ of God’s gifts.

Think for a moment of the infinite greatness of the Son of God. See how he emptied himself to become one of us. St. Paul described this so beautifully in the Letter to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. . . he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8)

Jesus left behind the treasures of his heavenly glory to be with us in our poverty, so that he could fill us with his life and his Holy Spirit and his glory.  The Son of God lying in the manger points to the cross, where he pours out his Life for us. This is the heart of the Gospel.  This was the message that the apostles first proclaimed.  It is what Paul had in mind when he said, “You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit.”

Pope Francis reminds us that we must keep this first announcement of the Gospel at the center of our hearts and at the center of all we do as a Church.  In The Joy of the Gospel he wrote, “The first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”  This first proclamation is called ‘first’ not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things.  It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation. (Evangelii Gaudium, 164)

In one sense, the gifts of the magi reveal the treasure of the Christ child.  Gold, frankincense and myrrh are signs that he is a king, even more he is a king from heaven. Yet, their gifts are puny compared to the immense treasures we inherit from him.  If nothing happened to your heart this Christmas, then you probably did not get in touch with the gift of the newborn king. You failed to realize that he emptied himself to come and fill you with his riches.

This outpouring of Christ is renewed in every Eucharist. He lowers himself in the form of simple bread and wine, which he transforms into his Body and Blood.  Open yourself to that mystery today.  Kneel in humble adoration like the magi.  Let your heart grow in gratitude.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “You shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of the nations brought to you.” (Is. 60:5)

Marvel at the mystery.  This stewardship of grace is entrusted to us.  We are called to bring it to the nations. It is meant for every single person on earth. So we should think of the rest of the world with this “stewardship of grace.”

After Mass today, someone asked me if the king married the poor peasant girl. The answer is in our hands.  The marriage which Christ offers to his people is often ignored or rejected.  As the Gospel of John says, “[Jesus] came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name . . .  From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (Jn. 1:11-12, 16).

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