Today, we proclaim him as King, while the events of this week will unfold to reveal what Kingship looks like through the eyes of God.
Let us accompany him to the Upper Room where he washes the feet of his apostles, teaching them that true leadership is service.
Let us follow him to Gethsemane where we will pray with him in his hour of handing everything over to the Father.
Let us stay close as he is arrested, betrayed, handed over to the chief priests and elders to be condemned.
May we listen to the false testimony against him, and watch as he is spat upon and humiliated.
As we watch, follow and listen to Christ this week, may we learn the ways of God. May we learn the ways of love.
May we learn to give of ourselves freely and fully, that we may live as Christ, and thus live with confidence of entering into the fullness of God’s Kingdom which is won for us through the Paschal Mystery we celebrate this week.
Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Pray and fast and offer acts of penance.
Attend the services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Though not verbatim, here is the essence of my homily from last night’s Chrism Mass. Sorry, no pictures this year.
CHRISM MASS HOMILY
March 26, 2015; St. Patrick Catholic Church, Casper Wyoming
The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne
The readings we have just heard announce the incredible closeness of God. They speak of the relationship that is ours with God. The setting for tonight’s Gospel is Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. Here, Jesus is in familiar territory, surrounded by family and friends. Jesus has just been anointed by the Holy Spirit in his own baptism. Jesus is beginning his public ministry of renewing the relationship of God with his people.
In this Chrism Mass, the Church recalls our own experience of entering into this foundational relationship of being anointed by God:
- In His Spirit
- In His Son
- In the Priesthood
- In those who are anointed in Baptism and Confirmation
The oils that we bless during this Chrism Mass are used for the purposes of anointing. In Sacramental celebrations these oils both seal us in our life in Christ and heal us in His work of Redemption. These oils are our means of entering into relationship with Christ. Through Christ we are drawn into the Divine Relationship itself. This Divine Life of love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit exists at the core of every human person. This is what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.
I recall a recent experience of gaining insight into my own relationship with God. I always pray a rosary when I walk. I had finished my walk, and began speaking with the Lord about my recent experience. This Lent, the cross has become my home. I recall telling the Lord: “I am trying so hard to love and serve you. But where are you?” It then dawned on me that the problem was not God’s, but my own. I was trying too hard. The Lord revealed to me that He was with me. He is always with me, in the depths of my heart. I am never alone.
I would like to share with you a quote that speaks about relationships, about the interior presence of God in every human person.
We cannot know ourselves on our own. – Simply deciding to experience healthy relationships doesn’t give us the ability to relate. A capacity for relating means that I am not the only one at stake, as a single point of reference. Relationships do not depend on me alone. – Relationships are like a network, a tapestry unfolding through space and time, reaching down into the depths of the inexhaustible love of the triune God, the Three Persons who are truly free and faithful in their love. And such a tapestry, enfolding all humanity, can be restored only by a Person who, in the drama of sin and death, in the travail of the history of all creation, can live a love that is total, universal, and free (cf. Col 1:15 – 20). Human Frailty, Divine Redemption by Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ (pp. 15-16)
This Person is obviously Christ. My problem was that I was placing too much emphasis on myself. My inability to experience God was that I was failing to realize the interior presence of God as my starting point. I was trying to ‘make the relationship happen,’ rather than simply yield to what was already present.
The anointing that we receive from God opens us to the desire of God’s heart, and to the presence of God within our own heart. This relationship with God is not something we white-knuckle and resolve ourselves to discover and ‘make happen’ in the American ‘can do’ way. No! This Trinitarian relationship is within every human person. This is what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.
The anointing we receive in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Sacrament of the Sick, seeks to open us to this core relationship with the Trinity. The anointing we receive seeks to heal this relationship wounded by sin.
In communion with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, we are de facto in communion with every other person and all of creation. Ours is only to bow humbly and gratefully to this interior presence, this harmony and wisdom of God, to learn love, to receive love, to live love.
This posture of bowing to the presence of God calls to mind Moses before the burning bush. Moses took off his shoes and put his face to the ground, recognizing the holiness of the moment, the sacredness of the encounter with the living God. It reminds me of the night the world was introduced to Pope Francis. As he stood upon the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica, he said he wished to give his blessing to all who were present. Then he said: “But, before the people receive the blessing of the Bishop, I ask that you give me your blessing.” And then he humbly bowed, while asking everyone to silently pray over him.
Our relationship with Jesus, our holiness, is not a matter of self-willing or self-striving as much as it is a matter of yielding to the Holy Spirit. (This is the anointing we receive from God.) This relationship with Jesus is not so much my effort as it is a humble, open stance before the desire of God. So what does this yielding to the Holy Spirit look like?
I offer for an analogy the teaching of Jesus about the grain of wheat that falls to the ground. We are all familiar with this story. Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But, if it dies, it yields a fruitful harvest.
The grain of wheat that falls into the ground grows and bears fruit because it yields to the Divine plan of God; to God’s holy ordering, the harmony of creation that already exists within the seed itself. The seed yields to the soil and the many living organisms within the soil, to the cycle of days and nights, the sun and heat, dew and rain. The farmer does not so much grow the wheat as he humbly submits to the wonder of nature; as he bows to the wisdom of God. The farmer becomes a steward of the mysteries of God.
Similar, the priest, the Christian disciple, all of whom are anointed and sent by God, must bow in similar fashion to the presence of God Who is within. In this humble recognition and submission to God, we become stewards of the mysteries of God present within the human person and the history of salvation.
When we humbly yield to this relationship with Christ, allowing Christ to be our center, we become one with Christ. Once this is achieved (by anointing) Jesus becomes our source of unity. Our wholeness and unity are found in Christ.
The anointing we have received is for mission. It is not a private possession. The anointing makes us one with Christ, one with his body, one with his body the Church.
The anointing we receive is a fire, a fire that is to spread. So what is the quality of the flame of our anointing? Is it a single ember that has popped out of the fire and sits alone on the hearth, slowly going out? Is it an ember making up a bed of hot coals among many other embers, but has been covered over by the ashes, just waiting for some burst of wind to come along or more fuel to be added to come to life again? Or is our anointing fully aflame, spreading light and fire to all we encounter?
When we leave here tonight, we will be sent on mission by the anointing we receive. Let us not leave here as an ember that has popped out of the fire, only to wither and lose its heat. May the Holy Spirit in our celebration tonight be that source of new fuel and refreshing breeze that causes our anointing to explode, so that we are aflame with the life and love of God that sends us into the world to further spread his love, his light, his life, his Kingdom.
After another cold snap, it is nice to have a clear blue sky day with the sound of runoff from melting snow. Though Wyoming is just entering our two biggest months for snowfall, there is a renewed spring in my step with a forecast of warming temperatures.
This week has been filled with many hats, travel and meetings. Monday was spent in the office tending to the business of the diocese. A typical day includes catching up on phone calls and correspondence and touching base with the members of my team.
With the transition of staff this past year and the addition of one new member, we are preparing for a bit of team-building next week for our leadership team. With the end of another fiscal year approaching, it means time to review priorities and begin planning for the coming year’s budget. Also next week the entire chancery staff will get away for a daylong Lenten retreat day.
Tuesday I made a quick trip to St. Paul, Minnesota for some intense planning for an organization I serve as President, Catholic Rural Life. I met with our executive director, one board member and our policy advisor. Catholic Rural Life is presently engaged in some very exciting work regarding Faith, Food and Environment. It seems rather providential that our work in this field is nearing completion as the Church universal highly anticipates the release of an encyclical on human ecology and the environment by Pope Francis.
Thursday was another full day in the office which included meeting with a group of 1st and 2nd graders from St. Laurence O’Toole Catholic School in Laramie who were in town for a bit of a field trip. One can never anticipate the mind of a six year old! That afternoon I met with a group of priests and deacons preparing to launch our next round of recruiting and forming a new class of permanent deacons. It was nice to end the day celebrating the evening Mass at the Cathedral.
This morning is had the pleasure to meet with some members of the House of Representatives on this final day of the Wyoming Legislative session. Following the early morning meeting, I was invited to offer the prayer on the House side of the legislature, which I offer below. The life of leadership is truly a life of service, and Christ will never be outdone in generosity.
Prayer Before House of Representatives March 6, 2015
I wish to open this prayer with a quote from Cardinal Newman:
God created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I never may know it fully in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow, I am necessary to His purposes…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.
On this final day of this legislative session, let us take a moment of silence –
In this silence, let us listen for that Voice: God’s Voice
God calls each of us by name:
One God – many people:
Each of us given a task
One God – One Will:
Each of us entrusted with some definite service
Heavenly Father: we give you thanks for the gift of life you have bestowed upon each of us and upon all of your sons and daughters. Help us with greater clarity to hear your voice. Grant us the grace to know ourselves in relation to you. In the depths of our hearts, grant us the desire to know and serve only your will. In your one, holy, will God our Father, may we find our unity.
We pray, O Lord, that you grant your choicest blessings upon all of our people, for in the end, we are Yours.
Lord, bless these men and women who have given so much of themselves and their varied gifts and talents to serve the people of Wyoming. You have entrusted them with the difficult task of leadership. Grant them the resolve to serve only You. Grant them the love to serve You in their service of the people of this State of Wyoming. As this legislative session draws to a close, grant them peace and rest from their labors.
Let us close with a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas:
Grant us grace, O merciful God,
to desire ardently all that is pleasing to You,
to examine it prudently,
to acknowledge it truthfully,
and to accomplish it perfectly,
for the praise and glory of Your name.
During this season of Lent, I call your attention to the power of God’s WORD. To progress in our efforts to turn our hearts more completely to the LORD, I draw your attention to the three primary priorities of the Diocese of Cheyenne: proclaim, celebrate, invite. This article will focus solely upon the first priority to proclaim Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ established the Church, and the Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is our foundation, and, as members of His body, we are to be vigilant in “keeping our eyes fixed on Christ” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus came into the world to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and instructs the Church to continue this mission.
In a tweet on January 31, Pope Francis sent this message: “A credible witness to truth and to the values of the Gospel is urgently needed.” The season of Lent is a call to conversion, that is, a call to mirror Christ more fully in every aspect of our lives. This conversion process is like an excavation of old ruins. Layers of dirt and debris must be removed in order to get to the original structure that lies beneath. In Baptism, we have become new persons (2 Corinthians 5:17), but the layers of darkness, worldliness, and false philosophies continue to pile up over time, obscuring the presence of Christ and the values of the Gospel within us.
The mission of the Church calls us to be witnesses to Christ. The power or the weakness of this witness is determined by how well we have embodied the values of the Gospel: meekness, poverty of spirit, humility, compassion, mercy, working for justice, purity of heart, peacefulness, and a willingness to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus (Matthew 5:3-12). Once we have embodied the Gospel values in our own priorities and attitudes and taken up our rightful place in the community of believers, we are to proclaim the Gospel to others.
St. Paul, in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, teaches us about the power of the Gospel: “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Lent is a time to allow the power and the Holy Spirit and the conviction that come from the Gospel to renew us interiorly. When the power of the WORD of Christ dwells richly within us (Colossians 3:16), we are fortified by the Holy Spirit to bear all of life’s afflictions with joy. When we are bolstered by the conviction that flows from the truth of God’s WORD, others will see us as models of a life lived by faith in God.
It is the integrity of a life permeated by God’s Word that makes for a credible witness to others. The words of Blessed Pope Paul VI ring true when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, #41).
This Lent, we are invited to spend more time with God’s WORD. The truth of the Gospel brings peace and tranquility in the midst of the full days of life’s ups and downs. God’s WORD is a lamp to our feet and a light along the path of life’s journey (Psalm 119:105). God’s WORD became flesh and dwells among us, and we see his glory, the glory “as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This season of Lent, allow the glory of Christ to shine upon you and the power of his WORD to strengthen your faith in Him.
It is the power of Christ that is always bringing about something new in His Church. It is faith in Him, abiding in His WORD that allows this “something new” to come to life in you, in me, and in the Church today. Our conversion is the renewal of the Body of Christ, the Church. Let us die a little more to self this Lent, that Christ might rise within us fully and powerfully this Easter.
On this Second Sunday of Lent, our first reading continues from the Book of Genesis. God tells Abraham “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22: 2) This seems such an unreasonable request. Some would define the request in harsher terms.
But we must recall that God knows us better than we know ourselves. The first thing I think of is how clearly Abraham is in communication with God. How clearly God can manifest himself and his will to Abraham. Thus, Abraham is called the Father of our faith. Abraham believed in God. Abraham believed in God’s promise to make of him a great nation, even in the face of this heart-wrenching moment and confusion of God’s command to take the life of his only son, the means by which God’s promise to Abraham would be kept.
We are called to believe that God is in communication with us.
Today’s story of Abraham recalls last Sunday’s story of Noah who walked with God. (Genesis 6: 9) And Noah’s righteousness in the sight of God recalls the communion Adam and Eve enjoyed with God, who walked with them in the garden. (Genesis 3:8)
God creates each of us for communion, not only with one another, but communion first and foremost with God. Communion requires communication – conversation. How often do we think that the people in these biblical accounts enjoyed a special favor that we do not? These accounts are given to us in God’s Word precisely to be formative of our own attitudes and behaviors towards God. These Old Testament personalities and their relationship and communion with God are given us to inform us that we are called to such intimacy with God in our own lives.
Sure, sin has entered the world, but so has Jesus Christ, our salvation. God’s covenants in the old testament eventually were symbolized ‘in the flesh’ by means of circumcision. (Genesis 17:11) Eventually, in Jesus Christ, the new and eternal covenant took on human flesh in the incarnation! (John 1:14) Thus, Jesus can instruct us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
God could command Abraham to offer up his son Isaac because he knew of Abraham’s faith and trust in God. God could command Abraham to do what seemed unreasonable because God knew at the appropriate time, Abraham would also hear the voice of a messenger saying; “Do no harm to the boy, … Do not do the least thing to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you did not withhold from me your son, your only one.” (Genesis 22: 10-12)
We must have the same faith and trust in God as did Abraham.
The binding of Isaac, the willingness of Abraham to ‘offer up his only son,’ the replacement of the ram for Isaac as a sacrificial offering all point to the new covenant that would be sealed by the Father offering up his only Son. (Romans 8:32) The covenant between God and Abraham prefigures the new and eternal covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus who offered himself in love as the one offering that could atone for the forgiveness of the sins of all humanity.
God desired to offer up His only-begotten Son for our sake. Jesus offered up his life as an acceptable offering to the Father out of love for us. Jesus took up his life again in the resurrection. Abraham was willing to offer up his only son to God, and God gave him back his son that God might bless Abraham and through him, bless all his descendants, and through them bless all the nations of the earth. (Genesis 22:18)
We must be willing to hand over everything to God, that He may give it back to us filled with grace and blessing beyond measure.
Today’s transfiguration account from Mark is another foreshadowing of the approaching passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the transfiguration of the Lord, the glory of God is revealed to Peter, James and John as a means of preparing them for the Lord’s pending passion and death. The appearance of Elijah and Moses to Jesus is the Father’s way of preparing even Jesus for the difficult mission that lies ahead.
Prior to the transfiguration, Jesus tells his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. (Mark 8:31) Once again, by human standards, this seems unreasonable. So, Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him that it cannot be this way. Jesus minces no words in telling Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8:33)
Following this, Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship. Here, the demands of God get very personal (and unreasonable?) for each of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8: 34-35, 38)
It is in this context that Jesus is transfigured before his disciples.
In this season of Lent, God will continue to challenge and invite us to shed everything that cannot be a part of His Kingdom. Will we be scandalized by the demands of God, thinking them unreasonable? God commands us to listen to His Son. (Mark 9:7)
We are called to believe that God is in communication with us.
We must have the same faith and trust in God as did Abraham.
We must be willing to hand over everything to God, that He may give it back to us filled with grace and blessing beyond measure.
There is nothing like mixing politics and religion to cause disagreement and great tension. Both religion and politics cause people to take strong and emotional stands. A recent survey by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops indicates that most Catholics do not like it when the Church gets involved in politics. But the same research also reveals that politics means getting involved in any topic that can be divisive.
Such is the tension we are presently experiencing in Wyoming during these waning days of the 2015 legislative session. It is important for all of us to hold on to UNITY even while we vehemently disagree about various social issues. It is important for all of us to truly believe that it is possible to still be UNITED even while disagreeing. This is a fundamental mission of the Church, to remain united as the Body of Christ, and it is the Lord’s desire that we be ONE.
Thus, I would like to share with you this month’s Word of Life from the Focolare movement. Despite what proposed legislation becomes law as a result of this legislative session, UNITY is where we must keep our focus. You may be interested to know that, Chiara Lubich began the Focolare movement during the 1930′s and her cause for sainthood was introduced last month.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Rom 15:7).
The apostle Paul wanted to go to Rome on his way to Spain, and he sent a letter to the Romans before he arrived. Through their countless martyrs they were about to give witness to the sincerity and depth of their devotion to the Gospel, but among them, just as elsewhere, there was no lack of tensions, misunderstandings and even rivalries. In fact, the Christians in Rome came from a variety of social, cultural and religious backgrounds. There were some who came from Judaism and others from the Hellenic world and the ancient religion of Rome, perhaps from Stoicism or from other philosophies. They brought with them their traditions of thought and ethical convictions. Some were called ‘weak’, because they followed particular rules about eating, being, for instance, vegetarians or complying with calendars that indicated special days of fasting. Others were called ‘strong’ because, free from these kinds of conditioning, they were not bound by food taboos or specific rituals. To all of them Paul made the urgent invitation:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Before this point in his letter he had already spoken about the issue, addressing first of all the ‘strong’ and inviting them to ‘welcome’ the ‘weak’, ‘without quarrelling over opinions’. Then he says that the ‘weak’ in turn should welcome the ‘strong’ without judging them, since they are says that the ‘weak’ in turn should welcome the ‘strong’ without judging them, since they are ‘acceptable to God’.
Paul, indeed, is convinced that each one, even amid the diversity of opinions and ways of behaving, acts for the love of the Lord. There is no reason therefore to judge those who think differently, and even less to scandalize them by behaving arrogantly and with a sense of superiority. Instead, what is necessary is to aim at the good of all, at ‘mutual edification’, that is, the building up of the community, its unity (see Rom 14:1-23).
It is a matter of applying, in this case too, the great standard of Christian life that Paul had recalled shortly before in his letter: ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom 13:10). No longer ‘walking in love’ (Rom 14:15), the Christians in Rome were lacking in the spirit of fraternity that ought to animate the members of every community.
As a model of mutual welcome, the apostle proposes Jesus dying on the cross when, instead of pleasing himself, he took upon himself our failings (see Rom 15:1-3). From the height of the cross he drew all to himself, and he welcomed the Jewish John together with the Roman centurion, Mary Magdalene together with the criminal crucified by his side.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
In our Christian communities too, even though we are all ‘God’s beloved’ and ‘called to be saints’ (Rom 1:7), there is no lack, just as in Rome, of disagreement and contrast between different cultures and ways of seeing things that are often poles apart. Often the clash is between traditionalists and innovators (to use language that is slightly simplistic but readily understandable), persons who are more open and others more closed, interested in a more social or a more spiritual form of Christianity. The divergences are fed by political conviction and by differences in social background. The current fact of immigration is present in our gatherings for worship and further in our various church groups, bringing diversity of culture and geographical origin.
The same dynamic can be seen in effect in the relations among Christians of different Churches, but also in families, in the workplace or in the political arena.
With it creeps in the temptation to judge those who don’t think like us and to feel ourselves superior, in a sterile conflict and mutual exclusion.
Paul’s model is not uniformity that flattens everything out, but a communion among contrasts that enriches. It is not by chance that two chapters earlier in this very letter he speaks of the unity of the body and diversity of its members, and of the variety of gifts that enrich and give life to the community (see Rom 12:3-13). His model is not, to use an image taken from Pope Francis, a sphere where every point is the same distance from the centre and where there are no differences between one point and another. The model is of something many-facetted with surfaces that are different from one another and not symmetrical, with particular characteristics that maintain their originality. ‘Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked. It is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone.’
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
This Word of Life is a pressing invitation to recognize the positive that exists in the other, at the very least because Christ gave his life also for that person you feel inclined to judge. It is an invitation to listen, letting go of your defence mechanisms, to stay open to change, to welcome diversity with respect and love, to manage to form a community that is both plural and united.
This word has been chosen by the Evangelical Church in Germany to be lived by its members and to be light for them throughout 2015. If, at least in this month, the members of various Churches were to share it, this would already be a sign of mutual welcome.
Like this we could give glory to God together with one voice (Rom 15:6), because as Chiara Lubich said in the Reformed cathedral of St Pierre in Geneva: ‘Our world today asks each one of us for love; it asks for unity, communion, solidarity. And it also calls upon the Churches to recompose the unity that has been torn for centuries. This is the reform of all reforms which heaven is asking of us. It is the first and necessary step towards universal fraternity with all men and women of the world. The world will believe, if we are united.’
Let us welcome one another, and pray for unity.
In the Office of Readings today we read in the Book of Exodus (Chapter 3) of God’s appearance to and call of Moses from the burning bush. One of the things I love about this season of Lent is the opportunity to read again the Book of Exodus. Moses is such an inspiration to me, earlier as a priest, and especially now as a bishop. Moses was sent into a very difficult situation, to deliver God’s word to a defiant King of Egypt and to lead the people of Israel out of slavery into the promised land. Over and over again, Moses’ efforts were challenged, even unappreciated by the people of Israel, yet he continually followed God’s commands and put his trust in God’s fidelity and power. This is a great model for all of us.
Today’s Gospel (Luke 5:27-32) is another account where Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to leave his post and follow him. This revelation of God to us; this call of Jesus to follow him seems to be the fundamental call of Lent as well as the historical reality of God’s design and dance with and for all of humanity.
In the times following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the burning bush has become the Church. We are now the Light in the world, calling out to God’s holy faithful people. This is now our mission as the Body of Christ, to reveal God’s goodness and to invite others to follow Jesus.
A challenge in our ever-growing secularized culture is to see how the Goodness of God has been turned on its head to serve individual needs. Rather than becoming frustrated with the many distortions of truth in our world today, we are never-the-less called and sent by God into the midst of this world to be his light and to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world.
Very often today, people want to say: “Do not judge me. Jesus does not judge me.” Granted, we are to treat all people with the same compassion and understanding of Jesus. But let us turn this thought on its head. Sure, Jesus does not want us to judge anyone, but let us invite them to also follow Jesus.
It is in following Jesus that a life becomes purified from the many ways we seek to conform our life to the ways of this world. Jesus called prostitutes (Luke 36-50) to follow him, and they came to understand the great dignity that was theirs, as well as the joy of living the moral life that Jesus preached. People like Levi were called to follow Jesus, and in the process abandoned unethical business practices. People caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11)received compassion and forgiveness from Jesus, and in their experience of this mercy found the motivation to follow the deeper desire of their heart to live a moral life.
So, my dear friends, the mission of the Church is the same today as it always has been. We are first to encounter Jesus and his mercy to discover our own deepest dignity and most meaningful purpose. Then, we are to go into the world as his witness. We are to invite others into the life of Christ, and into the life of the community of believers, which is the Church. Here, we discover and live God’s Kingdom and receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation.
Most of this readership who reside in Wyoming know that there is presently a bill (SF 0115) making its way through the Wyoming legislature regarding expansion of our anti-discrimination laws. You may click on the bill above to read the bill in its present form. It essentially is adding sexual orientation and gender identity to groups already protected from discrimination by state anti-discrimination law. Though the bill does include a religious exemption, it also limits constitutional rights to religious freedom for religious institutions and especially businesses owned and operated by people of faith.
As many of you know, our opposition to this bill has been severely criticized. I wish to share with you the statement I had read before the Labor Committee today during the time for public testimony before the Committee passed the bill by a 6-2 vote (with one absent member of the committee not voting.)
The bill now goes to the entire House of Representatives for reading and vote. Please continue to pray for all of our elected officials, that they will respect and defend religious liberty.
Here is my statement:
Members of the Labor Committee,
Thank you for all of your work on this very important decision regarding SF 0115. Please allow me to share a few brief thoughts.
As the Bishop of Cheyenne, I wish to state clearly that as Church, we embrace all people, and we desire to walk a journey of faith with any who invite us into their lives. One of our primary teachings is that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. For this reason, all life is sacred and bears an inherent dignity. We respect the dignity of every person. If this bill were simply about anti-discrimination, we would give it our full support, because we teach and believe that discrimination is wrong.
However, this bill as presently written poses serious threats to constitutional protections of religious liberty, for churches, faith institutions, and businesses run by people of faith. As Church and people of faith, we do not seek to impose our teachings on anyone. And we ask the Government to honor our constitutional rights to not have others impose their beliefs or practices upon us, especially by force of law.
Thank you again for your wise attention to the concerns we raise about SF 0115.
To anyone paying attention during this nearly two years of Pope Francis’ papacy, he or she has learned by now that one of Pope Francis’ favorite documents is an Apostolic Exhortation by Blessed Pope Paul VI known as Evangelii Nuntiandi; On Evangelization in the Modern World.
I highly recommend reading this document as a part of your Lenten journey. If you do not own a copy, you can find it on the Vatican website here. I am rereading the document myself, and it is absolutely clear about the mission of the Church. I quote just two paragraphs below as food for thought about just where the Lenten journey of conversion is leading us to:
9. As the kernel and center of His Good News, Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him. All of this is begun during the life of Christ and definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection. But it must be patiently carried on during the course of history, in order to be realized fully on the day of the final coming of Christ, whose date is known to no one except the Father.[MT 24:36, Acts 1:7, 1 Thess 5:1-2]
10. This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force – they belong to the violent, says the Lord,[MT 11:12; Luke 16:16] through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart.[MT 4:17]
Where is the Lenten journey of conversion leading? To Jesus Christ. To the Church. To the Kingdom of God. To Salvation “from everything that oppresses man.”
This Lent, let us give ourselves completely over to Christ. As we do this, let us remember and believe that the Church is completely inseparable from Christ, as Blessed Paul VI also says in his Apostolic Exhortation:
16. There is thus a profound link between Christ, the Church and evangelization. During the period of the Church that we are living in, it is she who has the task of evangelizing. This mandate is not accomplished without her, and still less against her.
It is certainly fitting to recall this fact at a moment like the present one when it happens that not without sorrow we can hear people – whom we wish to believe are well-intentioned but who are certainly misguided in their attitude – continually claiming to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church. The absurdity of this dichotomy is clearly evident in this phrase of the Gospel: “Anyone who rejects you rejects me.”[Luke 10:16] And how can one wish to love Christ without loving the Church, if the finest witness to Christ is that of St. Paul: “Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her”?[Ephesians 5:25]
Let us be converted to Christ and live!
Today the Scriptures remind us of a fundamental truth: our life is in God. Thus, Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (30:15-20) instructs the people:
Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy. … Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
In similar fashion, Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 9:22-25) goes even further when he says:
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
Now that Lent is begun, we are surely aware of those areas of life where we are not choosing life, those sinful patterns of decisions and behaviors that allow us to experience the truth of God’s Word that when we fail to keep God’s ways we experience death. At the beginning of Lent we are filled with hope and good intentions that we will amend our ways and root out these sinful patterns.
But, we need to be wise and realistic that such conversion will be met with resistance from the enemy. Our good intentions and free will cooperation with God’s grace are all important, but we must be aware of the subtle ways the enemy will seek to keep us chained and bound to our deadly ways.
Take a look at the way the enemy sought to keep St. Augustine from taking the final step of handing his life over completely to God:
The very toys of toys, and vanities of vanities, my ancient mistresses, still held me; they plucked my fleshy garment, and whispered softly, “Do you cast us off?” and “From that moment shall we no more be with you forever?” and “From that moment shall not this or that be lawful for you forever?” And what was it which they suggested in that I said, “this or that,” what did they suggest, O my God? Let Your mercy turn it away from the soul of Your servant. What defilements did they suggest! What shame! And now I much less than half heard them, and not openly showing themselves and contradicting me, but muttering as it were behind my back, and furtively plucking picking at me, as I was departing, but to look back on them. Yet they did delay me, so that I hesitated to burst and shake myself free from them, and to spring over whither I was called; a violent habit saying to me, “Do you think you can live without them?” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book VIII, Chapter 11)
Notice how the enemy ‘whispers’ despairing thoughts about ever leaving his sinful behaviors behind, how he paints a hopeless future. The enemy hopes to create doubts that we are ever going to live a better, holier life. Deceptions are all the enemy has to work with, and they are therefore to be rejected, as St. Augustine does in this moment.
And now, look how God came to his aid to strengthen his choice for good:
But now it asked very faintly. For on that side whither I had set my face, and whither I trembled to go, there appeared unto me the chaste dignity of Continence, serene, and joyous, but in no wanton fashion, virtuously alluring me to come and doubt not; and stretching forth to receive and embrace me, her holy hands full of multitudes of good examples: there were so many young men and maidens here, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and aged virgins; and Continence herself in all, not barren, but a fruitful mother of children of joys, by You her Husband, O Lord. And she smiled on me with a persuasive mockery, as would she say, “Can you not do what these youths, what these maidens can? or can these youths and these maidens do this of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand on your self, and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself upon Him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall. Cast yourself trustfully upon him: He will receive and heal you.” I felt great shame, for I still heard the muttering of those trifles, and still I delayed and hung there in suspense. And she again seemed to say, “Turn deaf ears to those unclean members of yours upon the earth, so that they be mortified. They tell you of delights, but as of the law of the Lord your God.” This controversy in my heart was self against self only.” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book VIII, Chapter 11)
God’s desire is to lead us to Christ, to lead us to Life! This is our greatest longing. This is the light and interior voice we are looking for and promising to embrace at deeper levels this Lenten season. May God grant us such awareness, wisdom and grace.
There is another line from Scripture that is very applicable to our efforts to grow in holiness: “Do not surrender your confidence; it will have great reward. You need patience to do God’s will and receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36) So, my dear friends, cling to those good intentions of these early days of Lent, but more importantly, cling to Christ Who is our salvation!