Revealing the Father’s Heart

Revealing the Father’s Heart

Clark Lenz and Bryce Lungren were ordained priests for the Diocese of Cheyenne on Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We had a wonderful celebration with St. Mary’s Cathedral filled to overflowing.  When Clark and Bryce were introduced to the congregation, they received a standing ovation!  Please pray for them as they begin their priestly ministry.  The homily from their ordination is below.

Bryce and Clark, many people will ask you why you became a priest?  So I want to begin with a similar question.  Why are you being ordained?  It might seem like it is little too late to ask that question.  But why are you being ordained?  What does it mean to be ordained a priest?

The ritual for today gives us a concise summary in the first paragraph of the homily which it provides.  It says, “Christ was sent by the Father, and he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd.  Indeed, priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops.”

As co-workers with the Bishops, priests are ordained to continue Jesus’ ministry of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd.  This textbook description of the offices of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd offers us fitting images.  But I want to offer a simpler, more powerful image.  Priests are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.  That was the purpose of Jesus’ life.  He came to reveal the heart of the Father.

His last act on earth was to show us the heart of the Father.  Everything about his Passion went according to God’s plan, so he saved the best for last.  The Father had a soldier pierce the side of Jesus to show us his heart.  To open his heart and pour out the riches of God’s grace.

Think of it.  In God’s providence, the very last act of Jesus was to have his heart pierced with a lance “and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34).  His heart was emptied to fill us with his life.  This is the source of the sacraments.  So the sacraments should, first of all, be an experience of the Father’s heart.

Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father.  Priests are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.

Everything you do – as Teacher, Priest, Shepherd – must reveal the Father’s heart.  The reading from the prophet Hosea describes how the Father’s heart beats with tenderness for his people.  He says, “I drew them with human cords . . . I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks” (Hos. 11:4).

This is why Pope Francis often speaks of God’s ‘closeness’ or ‘tenderness.’  Jesus’ mission was to draw us into the tender embrace of the Father.  He insists that God is a Prodigal Father who runs out to embrace selfish and wayward sons (cf. Luke 15).  It is much like Hosea who hears God say about the rebellious people of Israel, “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred [for them]” (Hos. 11:8).

Let’s take a few minutes to remember how Jesus revealed the Father’s heart.  Matthew’s gospel summarizes his ministry in this way. “Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people”  (Matt. 4:23).

Seminaries focus so much of priestly formation on teaching and preaching, but how much of it is about healing?  There are a few seminary faculty members here today.  How does your approach to formation incorporate this healing dimension?  Even in the preaching practica, are seminarians trained to preach on healing and forgiveness like Jesus did?

Virtually every description of Jesus mentions healing as integral to his mission.  Because God desires to heal us; it weighs heavily on the Father’s heart.  In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says, “God anointed Jesus . . . with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).

By the way, God chooses wounded healers to be priests.  People often think that priests do not have problems like other people, but that is not true.  Yet, God uses priests who have wounds to bring his healing to others.  Bryce and Clark, watch how God will use your own weakness to help others.

When people think of the Church, often they think of RULES before HEALING.  Yet, for Jesus, healing trumps even the Sabbath rules.  When he was criticized for healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath, he said, “This woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years, was it not right to untie this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk. 13:16).

In everything you do, ask yourself, “How am I revealing the heart of the Father?”  Am I continuing the healing ministry of Jesus?

 In your homilies, speak not only to those who have a strong journey with the Lord, but also to people who feel barely worthy to darken the door of the church.  All of us who preach, should ask ourselves, Does my preaching speak to the outsiders?  Do I relate to the broken with my examples or stories?  Jesus was criticized for eating and speaking with sinners and tax collectors.  If people criticize you for merciful preaching, then you are right on target.

As you prepare for Mass, ask your musicians to choose music with Jesus’ attitude in mind.  Are the songs sung at Mass something only a trained choir can sing and understand?  Or do they speak to the multitude, to the lost sheep, to the sinner for whom Jesus heart was pierced?

St. Paul described his ministry by saying, “To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).  Gentiles were the outsiders.  Yet, now they are to be graced with the “inscrutable riches of Christ.”  That seemed odd to faithful Jews of Paul’s day.  If your priestly ministry seems odd to Catholic insiders, then you’re probably in sync with Jesus.

Pastors:  Does your receptionist have Jesus’ spirit?  Is he or she hospitable to the immigrant or stranger?  How about the leaders of RCIA?  Are they tuned into the heart of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost one?  First of all, as priests and bishops, we need to model this attitude.  If we treat people this way, it will be contagious to other parish leaders.

Two years ago, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Pope Francis said,  “The fundamental question of priestly life is this: Where is my heart directed?  Our ministry is often full of plans, projects and activities: from catechesis to liturgy, to works of charity, to pastoral and administrative commitments.  Amidst all these, what is my heart set on?” 

Our hearts can become cluttered….. disoriented ….. fatigued.

According to Pope Francis, the two greatest treasures of the Sacred Heart were his heavenly Father and us.  He says, “Encounter the Father in prayer and be open and available to others.”  Bryce and Clark, you are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.  “Encounter the Father in prayer and be open and available to others.”

This day, ask the Father to bless you with the inscrutable riches that flow from the heart of Christ.

Washed in Blood

Washed in Blood

One of the songs often sung at Mass in the seventies was ‘Take our Bread.’  As a teenager, I was struck by the words in the second verse of the song: “Your holy people standing washed in your blood, Spirit-filled yet hungry we await your food.”

The imagery is striking!  What does it mean to pray to God, “We are washed in your blood!”?  That image is gruesome and awesome.  It evokes for us God’s prodigious and permanent love.  Whoever wrote that verse was thinking of the covenant at Mt. Sinai when Moses sprinkled the people with “the blood of the covenant” (Ex. 24:8).  In the Hebrew religious culture, Blood is sacred.  Blood is the life-source of animals.  Since God is the source of life, then blood is sacred.

Because the altar is a symbol of God’s presence, sprinkling the altar and the people with blood signifies a communion between God and the people.  This is a covenant ritual, a permanent bond between God and us. Ancient covenant rituals were the most solemn agreement you could make.  They were lifelong and unconditional.  To sacrifice an animal with a covenant was like saying, “If I break this covenant, then let what happened to the animal happen to me.”

This Sunday, our celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is centered on the Eucharist as a COVENANT.  We’re in Ordinary Time, but this feast is an extension of the Easter Mystery.  The gospel is from the passion account read on Palm Sunday.  The preface for the Eucharistic prayer is the same one used for Holy Thursday.  As Jesus celebrates the Last Supper he says, “This is MY blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mk. 14:24).  The Hebrew word for ‘many’ means ‘multitude.’  The Eucharist is the new covenant, sealed with Jesus’ blood for the multitude of humanity.

Some verses are missing from this gospel passage, important verses that give a much stronger meaning to the Last Supper.  The missing verses describe a disturbing context for the covenant of the Last Supper.  After the preparation for the meal and immediately before Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to them, he predicts Judas’s Betrayal.  Immediately after the narrative institution Jesus speaks about Peter’s Denial.  The Church probably eliminated these verses from today’s reading because they would lengthen the gospel by ten verses.  Or maybe it was to narrow our focus on the institution narrative of the Last Supper.  Nevertheless, we need to remember that the context of the Last Supper was one of betrayal and denial. 

This is how Mark sets the scene:

  • Jesus shocks them by declaring that one of the Twelve will betray him.
  • Then he celebrates the Last Supper by faithfully giving his life to them.  He says, “This is MY blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
  • Next, Jesus warns the disciples, “You will all fall away.” When Peter objects, he says, “This very night, you will deny me three times” (Mk. 14:30).

Jesus’ faithful covenant is sandwiched between BETRAYAL immediately before and DENIAL immediately after.  The New Covenant of the Eucharist emphasizes God’s fidelity despite humanity’s infidelity.  That is what it means to be washed in Jesus’ blood when we receive Communion.  A bond is forged between God and us that is pure gift.

A few months ago, a woman spoke to me after Mass and she said, “I am so tired of hearing all this talk about MERCY.”  I had preached about mercy, and it seems that she feels that the Church has over emphasized the mercy of God.  Yet, if we stop talking about mercy, then we cannot talk about the Eucharist.  It is pure mercy.  I wonder what the Eucharist means to someone who is tired of hearing about mercy?

In today’s preface you will hear this prayer:  “We approach the table of this wondrous sacrament, so that bathed in the sweetness of your grace, we may pass over to the heavenly realities here foreshadowed.”  Bathed in the sweetness of your grace” recalls how we are “washed in his Blood.”

The first goal of religion is WONDER.  It is to be bowled over by who God is and by what God does.  Today, stare in wonder at the gift of the Eucharist.  Drink in the faithful love of Christ, while you are aware of your constant stumbling in sin.  We are God’s holy people standing washed in his blood.

Nothing is so Powerful

Nothing is so Powerful

The priests of the Diocese of Cheyenne will be on retreat at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, Sedalia, CO this coming week (Monday to Friday).  Next Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Deacon Clark Lenz and Deacon Bryce Lungren will be ordained priests at 2:00 PM in the Cathedral of St. Mary.  Friday is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.  This week, please pray for our priests and the two men who will be ordained.

Father Teilhard de Chardin said “Nothing is so powerful on earth as purity and prayer.”  He speaks in the book THE DIVINE MILIEU of a nun praying in a chapel:  as she prays, all the forces of the universe seem to reorganize themselves in keeping with the desires of that tiny praying figure; the axis of the world seems to pass through that chapel.  And Father Anthony de Mello wrote, “It is only at the end of this world that we shall realize how the destinies of persons and nations have been shaped, not so much by the external actions of powerful men and women . . . but by the quiet, silent, irresistible prayer of persons the world has never known.” (Sadhana, p. 144).

In part, I mention the importance of prayer because during the last year a few people have written letters to me to state that it is not good that all the priests go away on retreat or for conferences.  They feel that it is imprudent to have them all away at the same time in case of emergencies or death.  On the one hand, such letters show appreciation for the important presence of priests at critical moments of parishioners’ lives.  On the other hand, these letters reveal a real poverty in understanding the power of prayer.

One of the most important things that a priest can do for his people is to be immersed in prayer, not only for his own spiritual life, but also for his people.  In addition, it is essential for the priests to be together for days of prayer and fellowship.  Those who advocate that priests should not go away and be together fail to understand their need for fraternity and being rejuvenated in communal prayer.

Finally, I think that such appeals to keep priests from going away for days of prayer reveal a heresy of contemporary Pelagianism, which Pope Francis wrote about in his latest Apostolic Exhortation.  This heresy attributes too much power to human effort, rather than God’s grace.  As Francis writes, they forget that everything “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16) and that “he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).  See 47-62, Gaudete et Esultate.

Please pray for our priests, for those to be ordained and for vocations to the priesthood.

Walk in the Spirit

Walk in the Spirit

This Sunday, I celebrated Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral for people from the three parishes in Cheyenne.  Below is the homily.

Do you see Pentecost as a one-time event, as something that happened long ago and out of reach for us? Do you see it as only something that happened to the first disciples, while we get just a small taste of the Spirit at Confirmation?

Pentecost unleashed the Holy Spirit in the Church, like the wind that blows in Cheyenne.  You cannot get rid of it.  You cannot stop it.  Wind is a great image for the Spirit because it is a constant force in creation.  In the Old Testament, the word for spirit also means breath or wind.  It is often the breath of God.  God is always filling his people with the breath of life.  Even when we are unaware, the Spirit is moving in our hearts.

St. Paul uses several verbs that signify this constant action of the Holy Spirit.  In this passage from the Galatians he says, “Live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).  A more literal translation is “Walk by the Spirit.”

‘Walk by the Spirit’ implies that every step of your life should be under the influence of the Spirit.  In the Old Testament, Moses told the Hebrews to “walk in God’s ways” or “walk in the commandments” (Deut. 8:6).  But Christian morality is to ‘walk by the Spirit.’   That’s why Paul says, “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).  The Christian does more than just obey laws or commandments.  Rather, he or she listens to the Spirit.  The Ten Commandments are no longer enough.  Now we are to be guided by the Spirit, so that we can act just like Jesus.

Paul uses four similar verbs as he urges us to be tuned into the Holy Spirit.  He says, “Walk by the Spirit…. Be guided by the Spirit…. Live by the Spirit.  Finally, he ends with, “Let us follow the Spirit.”  Remember, for Paul, Jesus and the Spirit are the same presence.  So to ‘follow the Spirit’ is to be a disciple who follows in Jesus’ footsteps.

Even the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit expresses this constant guidance.  He calls the Spirit the Paraclete.  Often the word is translated as Advocate, which is the Latin word.  Paraclete is Greek for someone “called beside” you.  The Paraclete is the one whom you call to your side to help you, to guide you, to defend you.  Another term for a lawyer is advocate, because a lawyer stands beside someone in court to help them.

The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, the One whom we call to our side to help us.  The Spirit will guide every step, if only we ask for that guidance.

  • Are you constantly aware of the breath of God whispering in your ear?
  • Do you call the Spirit to your side for help?
  • Are you following the Spirit? Or merely obeying the commandments?

Recently, I have been reading Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation, GAUDETE ET ESULTATE, on the call to holiness.  He says that the Holy Spirit guides us in every moment to do little deeds of holiness.  This is how he describes it.

“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.  Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart:  “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness.  Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness.

Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness.  Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.”  (16, Gaudete et Esultate).

That woman is not merely deciding on her own.  Rather, she is being guided by the Holy Spirit.  She is walking by the Spirit:  One step is to refrain from gossip; another step is to be patient with a child; another step is to show kindness to a street person.  With each step, she is walking by the Spirit, or living by the Spirit.  Her holiness grows in small steps.

The person who is in tune with the Spirit is constantly being transformed.  Paul speaks of the Christian as being transformed into the image of the Lord, from one degree of glory into another (2 Cor. 3:18)….. from one degree of goodness to another, from one degree of selfless love to another.

Transformation into Jesus is one of the effects of Confirmation.  The Spirit conforms us to Christ, or makes us more like Christ.  Maybe the best way to describe the change is by reflecting on the fruit of the Spirit.  Think of how the fruit of the Spirit describes the attitude of Christ:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).  Ask for the fruit of the Spirit today.  Ask God to make them shine out in you – Love, Joy, Peace etc.

As we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with you, open yourself the great gift of the Holy Spirit.  First of all be open and humbly acknowledge such a gift!  “The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

Realize that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed like the wind.  It is always blowing.  It is unstoppable.  God is always breathing his Spirit into our hearts.  Walk in the Spirit.  Be guided by the Spirit.  Step by step the Holy Spirit will transform you.  You will be conformed to Christ Jesus.

A few years ago, a lady told me that her coworker was struck by how peaceful she was.  The coworker, who was not baptized, noticed that this other woman was so peaceful despite the stress of her job.  So she asked her, “Where do you get your hope and peace?”  I have seen people who suffer with cancer stay upbeat and strong because of their prayer.  That kind of peace and strength is the fruit of the Spirit.  I know people with marriages that are strained who work at forgiveness and not be imprisoned by bitterness.  They are not perfect.  But they are working at being merciful and patient.  That is the fruit of the Spirit.

 Step by step the Holy Spirit will transform you.  You will be conformed to Christ Jesus.  Realize that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed like the wind.  It is always blowing.  It is unstoppable.  God is always breathing his Spirit into our hearts.  Walk in the Spirit.

New Chancellor

New Chancellor

Today Patti (Patricia) Loehrer begins as Chancellor of the Diocese of Cheyenne.  It is a joy to have her with us.  She is excited to be here, and we are grateful to the Lord for the gifts that she brings to the People of God in Wyoming.  As expected, the next few months will be a time of learning new things and meeting new people.  Please pray for her.

Patti’s education includes a BA in English/Political Science from St. Ambrose University, Davenport, IA; an MA in Systematic Theology (2009) from Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, Hales Corners, WI; and a Masters of Church Administration (2017) from Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.  For the past 15 years, she has worked as the Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of Milwaukee.

 

Carried home by the Good Shepherd

Carried home by the Good Shepherd

On Sunday morning, Carol DeLois breathed her last.  The Lord took her home on Good Shepherd Sunday, a fitting day for a woman who lived as a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus.  She served the Diocese of Cheyenne for 27 years, first as the secretary to the bishop, then as chancellor.

In her final months, she shared in the passion of the Lord, and she was blessed with the grace to endure her suffering with faith-filled perseverance.   Carol was known as a woman of faith, service, integrity and strength.  She will be missed dearly.

A Vigil Service will be at 7:00 PM, Thursday, April 26 and the funeral Mass will be at 10:00 AM Friday, April 27 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  Please remember her family in your prayers.

Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.  May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

The Fragrance of Christ

The Fragrance of Christ

Last weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming.  On Friday, twenty six students were confirmed at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Worland which included youth from the neighboring parish of St. Francis Parish in Thermopolis.  On Saturday, twenty three students were confirmed at St. Joseph Church in Lovell which included youth from Sacred Heart Parish in Greybull.  The homily from that Mass is below.

What is the most important lesson of the resurrection stories?  If you were to sum up the message in one point, what would it be?

It is not the fact that the disciples’ failed.  There’s no scene where the disciples sit around and lament their weakness by saying, “We failed!”  How could we have been so weak?  And how embarrassing that one of the Twelve betrayed Jesus.”  Peter could have said, “I’m devastated because I promised to be true to death and chickened out when a slave asked me if I knew him.”

They mention the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter and the treachery of the religious leaders.  But only briefly.  The focus is not on their sin, shame, failure, or deceit.  The sins and betrayal of the disciples and Jewish leaders are only mentioned so that the power of God shines more brilliantly.

With that in mind, Peter says, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15).  His message is this: “We are witnesses of how God is greater than my denial and Judas’s betrayal.  God is greater than our worst sins.”

The most important lesson of the resurrection stories is to bear witness to Jesus’ victorious suffering.  The victory of the cross is greater than sin and Satan and death.  Jesus’ victorious suffering reveals God’s Goodness, Fidelity, Generosity, Mercy, and especially his omnipotence over evil.

 As he reflects on Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter’s goal is not to have them feel terrible about sin, but to inspire repentance.  So he says to the Jewish people, “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance . . . but God has brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the prophets, that his Christ would suffer.  Repent, therefore, and be converted” (Acts 3:17-19).

Peter’s goal as a witness of the resurrection was repentanceThis is the goal for us.  To be amazed by a suffering Savior.  To have our hearts turned inside out when we consider their crass denial of Jesus, on the one hand, and God’s victory over sin and death, on the other.  To be bowled over by the forgiveness of the crucified and risen Christ.

The best question about your readiness to be confirmed is about repentance.  Have you learned the most important lesson of the resurrection stories?  First, are you in awe of Jesus’ victorious suffering?  Second, have you repented?  That is, have you let God’s faithful love pierce your hearts?  Third, are you willing to tell others?  Are you willing to witness through the power of the Holy Spirit?

Peter speaks boldly because of the Holy Spirit.  But it’s not enough to read about this in the Bible.  Every age needs to have new witnesses.  To be a disciple is to be a witness to Jesus’ victorious suffering.  The grace of Spirit poured out in Confirmation not only fortifies us to tell his story, but also empowers us to imitate his victorious suffering.

We see this in the saints.  One young person wrote in her letter, “I chose St. Maximilian Kolbe because his actions reflect what I would like to be like, as I continue my journey in life.  He would to anything so that anyone who wanted to worship God could.  He sacrificed his life for many people.” 

When the Nazi soldiers chose twelve men for the starvation bunker, St. Maximilian volunteered to take the place of a man who cried out for mercy because he had a family.  Maximilian said, “Let me take his place.”  About twelve years ago, I visited the cell where he died in Auschwitz.  They have an Easter Candle burning in the cell.  It is a powerful statement that says, “The Light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it” (John 1:5). 

St. Maximilian became the Light of Christ in Auschwitz.  He sang songs with the other men in the starvation bunker.  He had an indomitable spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave him the power of Jesus’ victorious suffering.

The saints inspire us!  I like to read the stories of the saints because they show me that I can be a strong witness too.  They show me that the Holy Spirit is just as powerful today as it was with the first disciples.  The saints remind us that we can be saints.

When you are confirmed, I will anoint your forehead with Holy Chrism.  The Chrism is a combination of olive oil and balsam, a perfume.  So you will smell very nice!  Do you know why we use a perfume like balsam for the Chrism?  St. Paul said, “We are the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15).  The Holy Spirit makes you smell beautiful like Christ.  Your goodness will be an aroma of Christ’s love in the world.

St. Maximilian was the fragrance of Christ in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  His prayer and the sacrifice of his life was a perfume that permeated the air of the starvation bunker.  As you are anointed with the fragrance of Christ, ask for the grace to serve like Christ.

  • To sit with kids who are lonely at lunch.
  • To stand up for kids who are being bullied.
  • To forgive others the way Jesus forgave his disciples.
  • To volunteer to serve your families at home.

In addition to asking for the grace to serve like Christ, ask God to make your heart overflow with his love.  Even if you don’t deserve it, just ask.  Even if you struggle with selfishness and sin, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  Remember how God chose weak disciples and made them strong with his Spirit.  He will do the same with you.

The Holy Spirit will give you the power to be saints,to do a MISSION that you feel too weak to do.  The Spirit gives us the power that flows from Jesus’ victorious suffering.

Begotten by God

Begotten by God

Last weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with young people in Laramie, Glenrock and Casper.  Below is the homily from the Mass at St. Patrick’s, Casper.

Put yourselves in the place of the apostles in this scene (John 20:19-31).  What went through Peter’s mind when the Risen Christ appeared to them?  The last time he was with Jesus he swore up and down that he never knew the man.  As Jesus stood in their midst, he must have felt like shrinking into the corner and hiding behind the others in shame.

But Jesus says nothing about Peter’s denial or the others abandoning him.  Instead he expresses mercy.  He reassures them that his relationship with them is solid.  Twice he says, “Peace be with you.”  As you are confirmed, I will greet you by saying “Peace be with you.”  Actually Christ confirms you, and he greets you the way he greeted his disciples to reassure you that he is stronger than death and that he will always be with you.

In that first encounter with the Risen Lord, Peter must have been flooded with feelings of unworthiness, forgiveness and mercyThen something more unbelievable happened.  Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).  God’s plan was to send mercy-filled disciples.

Do you believe that God’s mercy is greater than your sins?  Do you believe that God pours his Holy Spirit into your heart, while knowing full well how weak and sinful you are ….. then he sends you to be like Christ?

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  One of the most important qualities of Divine Mercy is steadfast faithfulness.  You see it all through the Bible, but especially in Jesus’ relationship with the disciplesJesus knew Peter would deny him, but he was steadfast in his relationship with him.  Even when Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is risen, he is patient with him and gently urges him to believe by saying, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe” (John 20:27).

When you receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, you are conformed to Christ like the apostles.  Think how Peter was conformed to Christ.  First of all, he was transformed by Jesus’ faithful love.  His heart was burning with Jesus’ mercy.  That mercy re-shaped Peter’s heart.

As we heard in the First Letter of John, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God” (John 5:1).  Another translation says, “is a child of God.”  Being conformed to Christ is to be a child of God – to have the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has, to be rock solid in the Father’s love.

That relationship with the Father is only possible with the Holy Spirit.  As St. Augustine said, the Spirit is the mutual love between the Father and the Son.  The Spirit gives us the Love of God.  The apostles had an initial experience of the Holy Spirit the evening of the resurrection, but at Pentecost they were flooded with the Love of the Spirit.

At Pentecost, everything changed.  Peter went from being fearful to fearless…… He was changed by the Holy Spirit.

If you are confirmed and you’re not changed, then something is wrong.  People should see some basic changes in you.  For one thing, that you are stronger, more courageous.  That you are joyful because you feel God’s faithful mercy, like Peter felt his heart burning with Jesus’ mercy.  Also, that you are bold.  You speak out about the truth.

One person being confirmed this weekend chose as a saint Blessed Chiara Badano.  As a teenager, she showed amazing strength and joy despite great suffering.  Here is what a confirmation student wrote about Chiara.  “One day as Chiara was playing tennis she felt a pain in her shoulder.  She was rushed to the hospital where she found out she was diagnosed with bone cancer. . . . A lot of patients would spend their time in the hospital being sad and wondering if they were ever going to get better.  Blessed Chiara was the exact opposite.  There was not a day that went by when she didn’t make someone smile or laugh; she was always happy.” 

 Once she said to her mom, “I suffer so much physically, but my soul is singing.”  Someone nicknamed her ‘Luce,’ the Italian word for ‘Light’ because she was always so joyful in her suffering.  The doctors and other patients liked to visit her because she was so joyful.

Chiara was so strong in her suffering and so joyful.  But she knew that her strength and joy were gifts from God.  Shortly before she died, she said to her mom, “I feel so small and the road that I have to walk is so difficult.  But my Spouse [Jesus] is coming to get me.”  This girl who enjoyed playing tennis was reduced to nothing and died at 18 years old.  Yet, she was joyful right up to the moment of her death because she lived inside of the Love of the Holy Spirit.

Confirmation gives us the grace to be as bold as Peter, and as joyful as Chiara.

Tonight God gives you the best of his gifts.  He longs to fill you with his Spirit.  He wants you to feel the Risen Jesus close by your side, and dwelling in your heart.  But you need to long for that gift.  You need to open your heart to God and desire his help.  It is possible to be confirmed and not be changed.  You must desire to be changed.  You need to believe in the gift of the Spirit and want it.  You need to engage your own heart with faith.

The main way to pray is to simply ask God with faith and to be receptive.  The more you ask, the more God will give.  Ask for great things.  Dare to ask God to make you a saint.

Pray in two ways.  First, where do you need his power over your sin?  Being rude or selfish to your parents or peers?  Being a gossip?  Struggle with impurity?  Being lazy about coming to Mass or praying?  Ask God to free you from sin and from the habit of sin.

Second, ask God to freely give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Piety, Fear of the Lord.  Or the fruits of the Spirit:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, Chastity, Humility, Perseverance.

The goal of Confirmation is to make you like Jesus. The goal is to become as strong as Christ, as fearless as Christ.  God wants to confirm you in his Love, to make you so strong in his Love so that you are fearless.  Open yourself to that gift…… not only today, but as you pray each day.

Rejoice and Be Glad

Rejoice and Be Glad

Today, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Exhortation titled, GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE (Rejoice and Be Glad) which he wrote as a contemporary reflection on the universal call to holiness.

In the Introduction, Francis wrote. “My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love.’”

Like his previous writings, the 40 page text is easy to read and comprehend.  In this Easter season, it is a great source for meditation.  The exhortation can be found on the vatican website (vatican.va).