Redeemed Witnesses

Redeemed Witnesses

Redemption and fear are linked. Fear is in the background during every event of redemption. The Israelites were terrified when they saw the Egyptians hot on their heels. Terror filled their hearts as they “marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.” (Ex. 14:22)  In the midst of fear, God draws close to redeem us.

As Jesus was arrested, all the disciples deserted him out of fear. When Peter was accused of being his disciple, he denied him because of fear. After his crucifixion, they were devastated and fearful of what would happen next. The apostles were locked in the upper room “for fear of the Jews.” (Jn. 20:19) In the midst of fear and isolation, God draws close to redeem us.

COVID-19 has instilled fear in many people. The constant news coverage rouses uncertainty and anxiety. Healthcare workers are apprehensive as they work on the front lines. People worry about how long they will be jobless. Even after restrictions are removed, how long will it take before it’s safe? On Monday someone called to argue that “fear over faith” caused us to suspend Masses. She kept repeating that the problem is “fear over faith.” Even though that is not why we suspended Masses, she is aware of all the fear in the air.

When sickness or death come knocking at the door, and our hearts recoil in fear, the Lord comes to rescue us.  In the midst of fear and isolation, God draws close to redeem us.

God’s closeness is the antidote to fear. To depict this closeness, the Scriptures often use the image of God as the bridegroom or husband. God is devoted to his people, like a husband toward his wife, so the Church is the Bride of Christ. But there is an even more potent scriptural image to describe how the Lord draws close to rescue us from suffering.  It is the Lord as Redeemer.

Listen how Isaiah consoles the people with both images in this passage written for the Israelites during their exile.  At this point, they have been in exile for 40 years. Think of how despondent, disheartened and fearful they must have been.

“The One who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the LORD of hosts; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth . . . For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer.” (Is. 54:5-8)

In the Hebrew culture, being a redeemer implied two things. First, the redeemer was the nearest of kin, often the oldest male relative. Second, the redeemer had an obligation to rescue his relatives from hardship. For example, if a man lost his land and was sold into slavery, the family’s redeemer was obligated to ransom him. So the term redeemer signified kinship or closeness with the obligation to ransom, rescue, or redeem.

With that in mind, the prophet Isaiah said to the Israelites in captivity, “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth.” Nothing can stop God Almighty from rescuing you. He is your redeemer, bonded to you like your nearest relative; he will rescue you. He is obligated to ransom you.  He must redeem you. Isaiah went on to say, “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Is. 54:10)

The redeemer was the ‘oldest brother’ of the clan who protected and rescued the others. That is how St. Paul described Jesus. In the Letter to the Romans he wrote, “He is the firstborn among many brothers.” (8:29) He is the eldest brother. Jesus took on human flesh and became a brother to all humanity. He breathed his Spirit into our hearts, and we became sons and  daughters of God. Jesus has a kinship with us.  He is close to us to rescue us.

He proved his kinship in the passion. Even though Peter denied him and all the disciples abandoned him, he stayed committed to them. Peter had promised to be as faithful as a blood brother, but Jesus was the true brother. The first words of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalen were, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”  (Mt. 28:10)

Even after they deserted him, he called the disciples his ‘brothers.’ As far as Jesus was concerned, his relationship to them was rock solid. Not because they deserved it, but because that’s who God is. This is why Pope Francis talks so much about ‘closeness.’ God’s closeness is another way of talking about his mercy.

Every Easter we proclaim the steadfast mercy of God. We sing Psalm 118 which says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” (Ps. 118:1) To be fearless is to be convinced that Jesus’ mercy is unshakable. “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Is. 54:10) He is our Redeemer, our eldest brother who is obligated to rescue us.  That is what we celebrate on Easter.

The opposite of fear is Love. One of my favorite Scripture passages is from the First Letter of John who wrote: “Love comes to its perfection in us when we can face the Day of Judgement fearlessly. In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear implies punishment and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.” (1 Jn. 4:17-18) The opposite of fear is Love. If you are afraid, for any reason whatsoever, then God’s Love is not yet perfect in you.  Be patient, but don’t give up until all fear is gone. “In love there is no room for fear.”

If you think that it’s not possible, then look at Julian of Norwich. She lived in England when the Black Plague killed over half the people, and she herself nearly died from the plague. Her first husband was killed when she was 31 years old. She remarried and had three children; then her second husband died when she was 47 years old. She lived during a schism in the Church when three men claimed to be pope.  In her lifetime, the archbishop and king of England were both assassinated.

In the midst of that turmoil and tragedy, she wrote: Although we are now in tribulation, uneasiness, and woe, yet are we sure and safe by the merciful protection of God so that we perish not… Thus I saw that God is our true peace, and He is our sure keeper when we are ourselves unpeaceful, and He continually works to bring us into endless peace. . . . He said not, “Thou shalt not be tempted; thou shalt not be troubled; thou shalt not be distressed,” but He said, “Thou shalt not be overcome.”  God wills that we take heed to these words, and we be very strong in certain trust, in well and in woe, for as He loves and delights in us, so He wills that we love Him and delight in Him and strongly trust in Him; and all shall be well. (A Lesson of Love, pp. 113 & 179) Julian of Norwich knew Jesus as the Redeemer.

This Easter, there are two takeaways. First, let the love of God come to perfection in you. You can’t earn it. Just receive it – like Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas and the other disciples. Let the Redeemer’s steadfast mercy drive out all fear. What more could God do to convince us of his abiding love? “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Is. 54:10)

Second, infect others with Christ. C.S. Lewis said, “[Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” (Mere Christianity). Today people worry constantly about being infected by others. Instead focus on transmitting the ‘good infection’ of Christ to others.

We are meant to be witnesses, redeemed witnesses who infect others with Christ.  Peter said, “[Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  We are witnesses of all that he did.” (Acts 10:38-39) A redeemed witness goes about doing good and healing others. A redeemed witness rescues others in their brokenness. Like the healthcare workers who are tending to the sick, drawing close to them like brothers and sisters. Like those who are donating funds to help the needy in our communities, even though they have suffered financial losses in their own business.

A church of redeemed witnesses is a ‘field hospital’ being close to the sick and poor.  This kind of church even sacrifices gathering as a community for Easter out of concern for the sick and to prevent the elderly and those whose health is compromised from being infected. It does this out of concern for healthcare workers so that they are not inundated with even more patients.

Instead of being paralyzed by fear or disgruntled because of a short-term isolation, we ought to be redeemed witnesses. What can you do in your community to be a ‘little Christ,’ to bring God’s closeness to others? How are you transmitting the ‘good infection’ of Christ to others?

In the midst of fear and isolation, God always draws close to redeem us.  In these days, despite physical distancing, we are sent to draw close to others as redeemed witnesses.  We are sent to be brothers and sisters like Christ.


Masses suspended thru April 30

Masses suspended thru April 30

On April 3, Governor Gordon extended the prohibition of gatherings of more than ten people and other social distancing measures through April 30. Thus, the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of Cheyenne, as well as the other directives in the March 20, 2020, Policies and Procedures Document, are extended through April 30, 2020.

The faithful are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Mass while the public celebration of the Mass is suspended. Also, the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick continue to be suspended, except for serious illness and danger of death. If you need a refresher of the March 20 directives, go to: COVID Policies.

Recently, some people have expressed concern about being forgiven of sin for Easter. The teaching of the Church is that forgiveness of all sin is granted to anyone who makes an examination of conscience and a sincere Act of Contrition; this forgiveness includes even “mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (Catechism, 1452). 

Each morning I pray for everyone in our Diocese as I celebrate Mass. In a particular way, I ask the Lord to bless the sick, healthcare workers, civic leaders and all who are most affected by COVID-19. Let us be one in heart through unity in prayer and charity toward our neighbor.

In this Great Week, be confident of the power flowing from the cross and resurrection of Christ. Even though we are prohibited from gathering in Church, the paschal mystery is at work. Christ’s redemption is greater than all sin, sickness, death or evil. Grace is always greater!

Triduum Liturgies

Triduum Liturgies

I will celebrate the Triduum Liturgies with the priests of St. Mary’s Cathedral and a few liturgical ministers, and these will be live-streamed from St. Mary’s Cathedral.  You may join us in prayer by going to this link Triduum Liturgies at the following times:

You participation would be improved by reading the Scripture passages in advance (click on the links above).  During the liturgy, please silence electrical devices.  Instead of watching as a spectator, join in the songs or prayers  when possible.  Also stand, sit and kneel as you normally would do if you were present.  If possible, light candles and mark a Bible with the appropriate Scriptures.

Prayer in Crisis

Prayer in Crisis

In a crisis, it is normal to feel perplexed in prayer. Someone wrote to me this week that he feels ‘discombobulated’ this Lent. We are in the midst of a health crisis and an economic crisis. How has the coronavirus affected your relationship with God? Is your prayer filled with trust and peace, or are you perplexed and anxious? Do you feel like you know how to pray right now, or are you lost in the desert?

Jesus’ plea from the cross is a beautiful prayer in crisis. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46) That is the first verse of Psalm 22, but Jesus was praying the whole psalm that day, not just one verse. The psalm has such rich images, and his prayer was much more than a cry of anguish.  Below I have cited the first five verses of Psalm 22. As you read these verses, imagine what Jesus was expressing to his Father in this prayer.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” (Ps. 22:2-6)

Jesus prayed honestly.  He candidly exposed his struggles and anguish. He speaks openly of feeling abandoned. “Why are you so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?”  Although he cried out in distress, he did not despair. He still trusts because he knows that God has always been faithful over the years. “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

Despite feeling forsaken, he trusts that the Father is faithful. He shares his feelings of being forsaken, but he knows that God hears and will never abandon him. In these days, we need to pray honestly and express any sense of fear or abandonment. Yet, we ought to trust. We trust in God because of his constant fidelity.

Psalm 22 is a lament. Psalms of lament express human suffering openly because of deep trust.  A lament psalm expresses raw agony with steadfast faith. If you do not know how to pray right now, then go to the psalms. They have taught me so much about praying. Jesus often quoted from the psalms, and it seems that he had them memorized. During the passion, he quoted from Psalms 22, 31 and 42. If Jesus learned how to pray from the psalms, then we should use them too.

By the end of Psalm 22, the suffering person praises God for delivering him from suffering.  Likewise, this praise of God was moving in Jesus’ heart on the cross. Listen to the praise of God in verses near the end of the psalm. “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you: ‘You who fear the Lord, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him; revere him, all you descendants of Israel!’ For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. I will offer praise in the great assembly.” (Ps. 22:23-26)  Jesus teaches us how to pray in agonizing suffering. He shows us what faith looks like in the midst of feeling abandoned.

Our prayer should be even more confident than the psalmist who wrote Psalm 22. Why?  Because we know that God raised Jesus from the dead.  We know that the Risen Lord is with us and accompanies us. He does not always keep us from suffering, but he empowers us in the midst of suffering. Through the Holy Spirit, he gives us his strength to never give up, to persevere in all things. He shares with us his immense trust in the Father’s love.

What a gift we have in Jesus’ prayer! He teaches us to cry out in distress, to be honest about our anguish and suffering. At the same time, he teaches us to never give up.  To always trust in God’s love.

Sometime this Sunday, pray Psalm 22 mindful of the cross and resurrection.  Pray it as a believer who knows the paschal mystery – that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This is our mystery too.  As St. Paul said, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4)  Through Baptism, the mystery of his dying and rising is at work in us.

Then pray Psalm 22 a second time – for those suffering from COVID-19, healthcare workers, and all who find themselves perplexed. In crisis it is normal to feel perplexed, anxious, or distressed.  Bring those feelings to prayer and speak about them openly, but with certain faith and perfect trust.

Holy Week

Holy Week

On Good Friday, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart for an end to the coronavirus at 11:00 AM (MT).  Follow this link to join the prayer: Sacred Heart.  He has issued the following statement for Holy Week:

“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth. As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

“But we know that our Redeemer lives. Even in this extraordinary and challenging moment, we give thanks for what Jesus Christ has done for us by his life, death, and resurrection. Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.

“These are times almost without precedent in the long history of the Church. In the face of this worldwide contagion, bishops here and in almost every country have been forced to temporarily suspend public worship and celebration of the sacraments.

“My brother bishops and I are painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments. This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. We ache with our people and we long for the day when we can be reunited around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the sacred mysteries. In this difficult moment, we ask God for his grace, that we might bear this burden together with patience and charity, united as one family of God in his universal Church.

“On Good Friday, on behalf of the bishops in the United States, I will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.  “I ask you to join me in this prayer, which will be livestreamed over the internet (go to: Sacred Heart). Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy.

“The Holy Father has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray for an end to this pandemic. To receive this indulgence, you need to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, be truly sorry for your sins and desire to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as it is possible, and you need to pray for the intentions of the Pope.

“In the heart of Jesus, pierced as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, we see the love of God for humanity, his love for each one of us.  This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains. Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.

“Because he loves us, and because his love can never change, we should not be afraid, even in this time of trial and testing. In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to intercede for us, that he might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.”

Closeness in the Spirit

Closeness in the Spirit

How do we put into words what we are experiencing in these days? The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise across the nation and world, despite limited testing. Medical personnel are anticipating how to manage a huge influx of patients. Some hospitals are making agonizing decisions about how to triage patients or choose who gets a ventilator. The economic consequences are dramatic.  Business owners realize that they may not be able to stay afloat. Last week 3.3 million people filed for unemployment.

I am not trying to paint a pessimistic picture so that you might give up or become fearful.  We must resist the temptation to give in to fear. At the same time, it is important to maintain a realistic view of the situation at hand. Being realistic helps us to maintain a balanced perspective.

Some people are refusing to look at the long term consequences. They continue to gather and socialize, as if nothing has changed. So, they are increasing the risk of transmission of coronavirus for everyone else. Every one of us can be a carrier to others who are more vulnerable. I urge you to practice solidarity by thinking of the least in our midst – especially the elderly and those with compromised health conditions. Our actions affect everyone around us. We are co-responsible for the common good of society.

Others are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They spend their time watching the news, and their minds are saturated by it. For them the danger is to be totally consumed by the pandemic and its economic consequences. Over consumption of the news is also not living in reality. It can block out the reality of God’s presence. We can become myopic, focused only on COVID-19, and blind to how the Lord is present in this moment.

Limit your news consumption, while taking time to read the daily Scriptures.  In the desert one does live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Reading the Scriptures is one of the best ways to keep a sane perspective.

In God’s providence, the readings for this Sunday offer a hopeful message for those experiencing destruction and death. As Ezekiel wrote the first reading, he was living in exile in Babylon. The Babylonian army had destroyed Jerusalem. They captured the Jewish king Zedekiah and his sons, who were executed in front of their father Zedekiah. Then they blinded him and took him to Babylon with other prisoners.

Imagine how the people of Israel felt!  They had lost hope. In fact, immediately before today’s first reading, the prophet Ezekiel wrote: “The people keep saying: ‘Our bones are dried up; our hope is lost; we are done for.’” (Ez. 37:11) They had every reason to give up hope. The city of Jerusalem had been surrounded and under siege for two and a half years. Finally, the city and the temple were destroyed. Then the people were deported to Babylon where they lived in exile for 49 years. They doubted that God was with them. They doubted God’s promise to save them.

Yet, Ezekiel painted a future of amazing hope. Through him, God said to the people: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”  Ez. 37:12-13

How could Ezekiel be so upbeat and hopeful? He didn’t merely focus on the destruction all around him. Instead, he maintained a balanced perspective by listening to God’s voice. How can we be hopeful prophets in our day, like Ezekiel? How can we be a voice of hope to the elderly who are isolated, to the sick, to those working in healthcare, to those with a devastated business or to the jobless?

This week a reporter asked Pope Francis what he would tell men, women and families who live in fear due to the pandemic, the pope replied: “The last thing I would do is tell them something. . . . What I try to do is make them feel that I am close to them. Today the language of gestures is more important than words. Of course something should be said, but it is the gesture of sending them a ‘greeting’ that is most important,” he said.

Pope Francis encourages gestures of ‘closeness’.  That is a way of describing solidarity. We will be close to people if we see them as family, as brothers and sisters. In a time of “social distancing,” here are a few ways to express closeness. Tell others that you are praying for them. Call those who are most isolated, or deliver a meal to their doorstep. If you are doing okay financially, then donate your check from the Federal government to a needy family or to entities that are helping others.

In addition, we can express closeness by being a voice of hope. We need to be close to people with assurance that God is with us. The prophet Ezekiel went into exile in Babylon together with the rest of Israel. He suffered just like them, but he fed them with God’s Word.  He was beside them with steadfast faith. He was a voice of hope because he kept his relationship with God intact.

In fact, we need to help people see that God is using this moment in a powerful way. The coronavirus is a stark reminder of the weakness of human flesh. Our lives are so fragile.  Sometimes we forget that. Yet, our frailty actually opens us to God’s power. It puts us in touch with our need for God.

Aware of human frailty, the psalmist teaches us how to cry out to the Lord with faith. Psalm 130 states: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice!” Yet, the psalm ends with the hope that ‘All shall be well.’ “For with the LORD there is kindness and with him plenteous redemption; and he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.”  (Ps. 130:8)  All shall be well.

As people who are gifted with the Holy Spirit, we ought to be more hopeful than Ezekiel and more trusting than the psalmist. St. Paul said to the Romans, “The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11) The Spirit who raised Jesus dwells in us. The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus’ perseverance in suffering, inspires us with his selfless love and sacrifice, and fills us with enduring hope.

At Baptism, the Spirit flooded our hearts; it was strengthened in Confirmation. In these days of being deprived of the Eucharist, the grace of Baptism and Confirmation is as strong as ever. Live your baptismal grace. Let it guide your prayer and your love of neighbor.

We have received the gift that the Lord promised through the prophet Ezekiel. “O my people, I will put my spirit in you that you may live . . . thus you shall know that I am the Lord.  I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.” (Ez. 37:14) We need to bring to people a ‘closeness’ filled with the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead.

In these days of “social distancing,” first of all stay close to God. The desert is first of all a special place to be with God. It is a time to lean on God, and be renewed in ‘closeness’ to God. The daily Scriptures are a treasure. Let them feed your heart with hope. But don’t stop there, then find ways to express ‘closeness’ to others.

“The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” See how Jesus’ Spirit has inspired the workers in supermarkets to serve others. See how the Holy Spirit empowers healthcare workers to help and even risk their lives. God is using this time to deepen our closeness and compassion. In prayer, ask the Lord for how you might be close and compassionate as your heavenly Father is close and compassionate.

Why are you afraid?

Why are you afraid?

This evening at 6:00 PM in Rome, Pope Francis presided at a prayer service with the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in this time of the pandemic.  Below is his homily which is based on the Gospel of Mark 4:35-41.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35).  The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this.  For weeks now it has been evening.  Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away.  We find ourselves afraid and lost.  Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.  We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.  On this boat… are all of us.  Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story.  What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude.  While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first.  And what does he do?  In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping.  When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand.  In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust?  They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him.  But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38).  Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them.  One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?”  It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts.  It would have shaken Jesus too.  Because he, more than anyone, cares about us.  Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.  It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.  The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us.  We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”  Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us.  In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything.  Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste.  We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.  We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.  Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”  Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith.  Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you.  This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12).  You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing.  It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.  It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.

We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives.  This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial.  It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.

In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).  How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer.  How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all.  Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”  Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.  We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars.  Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.  Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck.  Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering.  The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith.  We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved.  We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.  In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side.  The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us.  Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity.  By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others.  Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”  Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea.  From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace.  Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts.  You ask us not to be afraid.  Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful.  But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.  Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5).  And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Pandemic Prayer for the Least

Pandemic Prayer for the Least

The following prayer helps us focus on others in solidarity. It was sent to me by a friend. I do not know who composed it.

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips remember those that have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home. 

As fear grips our country, let us choose love. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.

Live in the Light

Live in the Light

As we continue through this time of uncertainty, each weekend I will celebrate a prerecorded Sunday Mass in both English and Spanish. You will find those Masses by going to this link:  A Living Church.  The Masses should be posted by Sunday morning.

The prerecorded Mass is one way for me to be closer to the people throughout the Diocese of Cheyenne. There are so many changes to our normal daily lives, and to our life of faith.  In a time of uncertainty, we need to be more closely united, even as we practice “social distancing.”  I assure you that I am praying for you each day.  Please pray for me.

In this weekend’s homily I want to begin by explaining why we have taken such strong measures. I have suspended all Masses, and even the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available only for serious illness and danger of death. Why?  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is an immense source of grace for us. Only in an emergency situation should a bishop consider suspending all Masses.

In order to make prudent decisions, I have formed a COVID-19 Response Team. The team consists of four pastors from Cheyenne and Laramie and three lay leaders from the chancery office.  In addition, I have been consulting two medical doctors who are lifelong devout Catholics, and who have practiced medicine for 40 years.  Thus, our perspective includes devoted pastors who have dedicated their life to your spiritual welfare, lay leaders who bring the “view from the pew” and whose focus is to serve the entire diocese, and medical doctors who understand medical issues while having a deep appreciate for the Catholic faith.  Our decisions are based on faith in God and key values which uphold the common good.

An essential value is solidarity with the most vulnerable. We have an obligation to do all we can to prevent the transmission of this virus, especially to the elderly and people with compromised health conditions. Solidarity means to be a brother and sister to every person. Solidarity with the most vulnerable means that we must act as family to the elderly and those with health problems.  In addition, we need to act so as to prevent any person from being infected. Our Governor has asked faith leaders not to have meetings of large groups.  The Center for Disease Control has recommended that people avoid all meetings.

Solidarity means to sacrifice my personal desires for the common good. It is a way for us to ‘Love our neighbor.’  For example, some people might think it is still okay to socialize. But it’s not just about personal preference. Every one of us can be a carrier to others who are more vulnerable. In solidarity, we always think of the least in our midst and how our actions affect them. Every person should avoid non-essential gatherings. We are co-responsible for the welfare of all people.  Please join me and the clergy in being co-responsible for the common good of society.  Think and act in solidarity, with co-responsibility and enduring faith.

Ceasing public Mass helps to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. A few weeks ago, Italy closed their churches, then some pastors had outdoor Masses. But their bishops and the police told them to stop. Those Italian priests are good pastors who want to feed their people spiritually. But the result was that more people were exposed to COVID-19 and are dying. In Italy eight days ago 175 died within 24 hours, but two days ago 627 people died within 24 hours.  The Italian government expects the daily death toll to rise for two more weeks.

I cite those statistics to push us to grasp the reality of the situation. I refuse to live in FEAR, but I do not want to be STUPID. Rather, I want to see clearly what we are up against, and then act with faith. As your bishop I need to consider your spiritual needs together with your overall well-being, and the common good of all people, not just Catholics. We must be responsible citizens in the community of Wyoming and in the USA.

Furthermore, I am not just thinking of the next few weeks or months, but the next ten years. In the Italian Diocese of Bergamo, eleven priests have died from COVID-19. If we have several priests die from the virus, then instead of months with no Mass, some communities could go for ten years without Mass.

Now I want to talk about our internal response to COVID-19.  When you find yourself lonely or burdened, then reach out to others who are lonely.  Over the years, I have found that strategy so helpful. God takes away my burdens when I help others. That is how Jesus acted.  He always lived for others.  Loving others fed him spiritually. It is a source of grace similar to the Eucharist.  In fact, it mirrors the Life poured into our hearts through the Eucharist.  In these days, let selfless love be Eucharist for you. Watch how your heart is filled with the Joy of the Holy Spirit through your love for others.  As St. Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17)

As fear and anxiety arise, remember that God is always with you, especially in times like this. Be confident of God’s loving concern for you. God even uses sickness for his glory. In the story of the man born blind (John 9:1-41).  The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”  God used a man born blind to reveal his power.  God never wishes evil or suffering on anyone, but the Lord can use sickness to show his power.

At one point, St. Paul was suffering from a mysterious illness, and he said that he begged God three times to take it away. Then he heard God say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Then Paul wrote, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. (2 Cor. 12:9) How does the corona-virus makes you feel weak and vulnerable?  Yet, when that weakness is combined with faith in God’s love, then God’s power is made perfect in us.  Then God is our strength and our rock.  Then we become as strong as God.

We need to bring this gift to our communities. People need us to be a calm peaceful presence and firm in faith, even though – at the same time – we are humble and meek because of the pandemic. This is a painful time, but God used the suffering of Jesus to redeem the world. He will use this suffering for his glory, and for the salvation of others, if only we imitate the faith and selfless love of Jesus manifested most clearly on the cross.

Pray with great trust in God’s love. In today’s Mass, the refrain for Psalm 23 is: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” I encourage you to memorize that psalm.  Jesus knew many of the psalms by heart, so I have memorized some of them, including Psalm 23. This psalm reminds us that “Even though I walk in the valley of death, I fear no evil; for the Lord is at my side.” 

I too have been anxious, but peace returns to my heart when I take time to pray.  On Thursday, I realized that I was extremely anxious, and I was not sleeping well.  Then in prayer God helped me see that I was relying too much on my own efforts, rather than depending on the guidance of the Lord as my Shepherd. Peace returned when I turned to the Lord as the Good Shepherd. “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” 

Remember, if Jesus can heal a man born blind, then he can do anything. Right now, we all feel like we’re walking blind. We are in the darkness like the blind man.  So this gospel invites us to have faith.  Believe in Jesus, and he will heal your blindness. Trust in the Lord as the Light of the world. No sin, no sickness and no evil can extinguish his Light. Every year on Christmas morning, we hear from John’s gospel that.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (Jn. 1:5)

Finally, at this time of distance from the Eucharist, I want to remind you of the Sacrament of which you can never be deprived. The living water of Baptism flows deep within us.   Through Baptism we were clothed in Christ; even more, we were inserted into Christ.  We live in him, and he lives in us. By the grace of our baptism, we have direct access to God. We are God’s adopted children. We have the right to speak to God face-to-face. While you do not have access to the Eucharist, call upon your Baptismal grace. The Light of Christ filled your heart at Baptism. Live in that light. Let that Light shine in your community by your solidarity and selflessness.

In describing the grace of Baptism, St. Paul said to the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. . . . Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  (Eph. 5:8,14) This is a time for us to wake up and live our baptismal faith.

The Living Church

The Living Church

The Diocese of Cheyenne has a dedicated section on our website titled “The Living Church in a Time of Crisis.”  It contains policies, prayers, and other resources in regard to the coronavirus (COVID-19).  It will be the location for the most up to date information.

Today I posted a letter which outlines our current protocol for Mass and the Sacraments.  You may find it at “Diocesan Documents” by going to this link: A Living Church.

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