As this readership already knows, this bishop has a great devotion to St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today. She wrote many people during her short but very active life, and each of her letters were replete with rich doctrine. Very often her letters were means of encouraging people in their own faith journey.
Today, I wrote a young man who asked me some time ago to pray for his vocation. I decided that this feast of St. Catherine would be a good time to write him.
Modelling my letter on one of St. Catherine’s I tried to share some of St. Catherine’s spirituality with this young man as a means of guiding and encouraging his own discernment.
Since I had not prepared anything else ahead of time as a means of honoring St. Catherine today on this blog, I wish to share this letter with all of you (slightly edited.) I hold in heart and mind especially those young men and women who seek to know God’s will in their own vocational discernment. If St. Catherine were writing you today, I have no doubt, some of these elements would be a part of her loving encouragement to each of you:
Dear Paulo / Paula:
Since you requested my prayers for your vocation, I want you to know that I have faithfully called you to mind and prayed for you over these past few months. Since today is the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, one of my favorite saints, I decided it was time to write you.
Last month, as I was re-reading some of St. Catherine’s letters, I came across one she wrote to a young man to encourage him to pursue religious life, and I thought of you.
St. Catherine had the habit of always writing ‘in the blood of Christ’ and asking that the recipients of her letters bathe themselves in the blood of Christ, which means, to be bathed in his love.
Near and dear to Catherine was her love for the truth, and she often referred to Jesus as Gentle First Truth. She prayed often that people would come to know the truth, be enlightened by that truth, hate all things contrary to the truth, love all that is within truth and whatever truth loves.
She knew that many were blinded by selfishness, unable to see by the light of faith, and because of this blindness, were unable to know the truth. The only way to be rid of this selfishness was humility, which allows us to recognize our sins, and in that knowledge recognize how generously ‘divine Goodness deals with us.’ This knowledge of God’s goodness within us makes us grow in charity.
This charity is accompanied by discernment. In such charity, we love God, rid ourselves of sinful behaviors, and give our neighbors the love they deserve. This is what true knowledge of self and of God is all about, humility, charity, and discernment. This light is what leads to true service of God. St. Catherine says of such people: “Though they are living in the night of this darksome life they walk with the light, and though they are on the stormy sea they receive and experience interior peace.”
I know from my experience of discerning my own vocation, the many doubts that I had regarding the demands of priesthood, and my own ability to successfully fulfill those demands. This is one particular area where the demon can work on us, making us believe that we can never live up to these demands and hardships. St. Catherine counters: “No, those who have the light laugh in the face of all this. They respond as people dead to their selfish will and enlightened by the light of most holy faith, ‘I can do anything through Christ crucified, for I know truly that he does not lay a heavier load on his creatures than they can bear. So I want to leave the measuring up to him and, for my part, bear these things with true patience. For in truth I know the truth. And I know that whatever God grants or permits, he does it for my good, so that I may be made holy in him.’”
The key to discernment and ultimately to following Christ faithfully is abandoning one’s self, to live fully for God. Granted, this requires faith, and most of all, God’s grace, along with a strong will and deep desire.
Paulo/Paula, all of this is my prayer for you. Please know that my prayers for you will continue. Please remain open to God’s will in your life. I believe God is calling many young men / women today to share in the mission of Jesus. You are the kind of young man / woman who can serve God and God’s Church well. God is at work in the world and in the Church today, and in each of those who open their hearts to him. Christ will renew this Church, but only by those of us who are willing to follow him wherever he leads, and are obedient to him as he was to the Father’s will.
Paulo/Paula, it is with young men / women such as you that, should you choose to accept this invitation to follow Christ, The Lord will re-invigorate and renew his Church. There is much good already at work in the Church, and yet, She is ever called to renewal and even greater holiness. We need you, and I pray daily for you whom God is calling to serve the Church.
As Jesus taught us, if we remain in him, if we remain in his love, our joy will be complete, and we will bear much fruit! (See John 15) Paulo/Paula, remain in Jesus, and you will know his love, your joy will be complete, and you will bear much fruit. I remain,
In The Heart of Christ,
In today’s Gospel (John 14: 27-31) Jesus prepares his disciples for his passion and death. For the final time, he instructs them that he will be leaving them, but only to return. He reassures them that even though the ‘ruler of the world is coming,’ he has no power over Jesus.
Then Jesus says an interesting thing:
He (the ruler of the world) has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. (John 14: 30-31)
Even though the ‘ruler of the world’ has no power over Jesus, he still submits to the passion, the cross, even to death. Jesus endures all of these injustices and indignities in obedience to the Father, as evidence of his love. Then, as proof that he laid down his life freely, that no one took it from him, (John 10: 17-18) he rises from the dead.
In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (14: 19-28) Paul is stoned and left for dead. Paul, surrounded by his disciples, gets up and continues to preach the good news. Paul travels from one city to the next making new disciples, strengthening others in the faith, and exhorting them to persevere in faith, even in the face of difficulties. He instructs them: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Two tenets of faith stand out for us today. First, we should not be surprised when we run into roadblocks in our efforts to live our faith. We should even expect to experience resistance in our efforts to proclaim the good news in the world today. When we encounter these obstacles, we as Jesus must remember that the ‘ruler of this world’ has no power over us, because of our faith in Jesus. We, as Paul, are to be courageous and persevere in the faith.
Second, Jesus, who has power over all things, who is LIFE itself, has shared his life with us. This is the power of the resurrection, the LIFE that IS God has conquered sin and death. This is the Divine Life that Jesus shares with us through Baptism. This is the Life that is nourished in us through the Eucharist. This is the Life we sustain be means of the virtues.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that even when the disciples saw the risen Lord, ‘they worshipped, but they doubted.’ (Matthew 28: 17) We also have our doubts at times, but we persevere. Jesus reminded them once again:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The Life of the Risen Christ is now ours. Christ lives in us, and we live in him. He has entrusted his mission to us. Let us be about the work of preaching the good news, making disciples. Let us be on our way, in faith and confidence. Let us live in the Peace of Christ, even as we face hardships that are a part of our entering the Kingdom of God.
On Friday of this week, many people came together to celebrate the Mass of Resurrection for one of our retired priests, Fr. Dan Colibraro. Father was born to Italian immigrant parents in Casper, Wyoming in 1922. He died early Tuesday morning, April 19. He has a younger sister, Sr. Mary Carlo, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas, and a younger brother, also a priest of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Rev. Phil Colibraro.
Father Dan was a brilliant man, with a unique personal history. He had a profound capacity for math. I’m told when he could not sleep at night, he would work math problems. Before he was ordained, he obtained a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wyoming. He then spent two years in the navy, and then again as a civilian worked on the famous Manhattan Project, in Los Alamos in Albuquerque.
Even before ‘the bomb’ was dropped, he was becoming restless working with numbers, and was curious about his next step in life. President Truman made the decision to drop the bomb over Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945. Dan, along with all the rest of the world witnessed its devastation, and he was convinced he would spend the rest of his life serving people. He was ordained a priest in 1956.
Fr. Dan was a solitary man. He lived a simple life, and demonstrated extraordinary charity to many. He served as the editor of the diocesan newspaper from 1958 – 1967. He was then given permission for continued theological studies in Rome and in Cambridge, England. When he returned to the States, he taught Philosophy at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver from 1970 – 1974. He spent the rest of his active ministry as a pastor, the last twenty years as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Casper.
We are grateful for his life and ministry. Please join me in praying for his eternal rest. You may also wish to join me in my request that he now intercede for us, especially that many other young men of Wyoming hear God’s call to serve this local church as diocesan priests!
Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him!
May he rest in peace.
With great joy and gratitude, people gathered today with Sr. Ruth Ann Hehn at Holy Trinity for Mass and a luncheon to celebrate her retirement as Administrator of Holy Trinity Manor. For twenty-six years she faithfully shared with the manor residents the love of Jesus Christ.
Sr. Ruth Ann is a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. Her religious community professes a vision that embraces the charisms of Saints Vincent, Louise and Mother Xavier. Those charisms live vibrantly in Sister as a disciple who truly loves the poor and chooses to live simply as a child of God.
We give thanks to God that in His providence Sr. Ruth Ann responded to God’s call to religious life and ministry within our diocese. The critical needs of our brothers and sisters call forth from us charity. She has witnessed to her own faith and served as a model for many of us. Sister’s assistance to COMEA Shelter, Family Promise of Cheyenne and Interfaith Hospitality, to name a few, exemplifies her commitment to the dignity of the human person.
Before coming to serve in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Sr. Ruth Ann was a teacher for many years, then began working in housing with the poor and homeless in the Denver area.
Sister Ruth Ann, thank you for your years of faith-filled ministry. We are grateful that you will remain with us in your retirement. May you know the gratitude of this local church, the Diocese of Cheyenne.
When the birds begin to sing in the early morning dawn, everyone knows that spring is just around the corner. I have always been an early riser, and I love the sound of birds chirping before sunrise. For the first time this week I have witnessed this wonder of nature once again.
I should have known there is another harbinger of spring, when lacking, also indicates that winter has not yet relinquished its grip. Normally, the turkey cannot keep from gobbling this time of year, but they have been noticeably quiet so far this spring. Now I know why.
Once again much of Wyoming is facing a Winter Storm Warning. Yep, another spring snow storm is due to begin this evening, dumping another couple feet of snow in the mountains, and anywhere from 6 to 12 inches at lower elevations. Some local areas will experience heavier amounts. The warning runs through Sunday evening, with snow expected to continue into Monday. Of course, there is a forecast of strong winds to accompany the storm, which will make travelling even more hazardous.
While I am hoping this latest storm does not interrupt next week’s confirmation travels, I’m equally concerned for the calving and lambing operations around the state. These late spring snow storms can be detrimental to ranchers at this critical time when the herds and flocks are giving birth.
I asked a rancher last week in the Riverton area how he had survived the last storm a few weeks ago. He said he lost a few calves, but thought it was a small price to pay for the needed moisture. That says a lot about how much this state relies upon these spring snows to build the snow pack in the mountains, which will provide the needed moisture to get through the summer months. After the last storm, most parts of the state were reported to be at or near 100% of snow pack for this time of year. This storm, if it lives up to predicted strength and longevity, should put us well above average.
Be safe everyone!
For some time now, I have been increasingly aware of the number of people around the state of Wyoming who have lost their jobs. Over the last two years, there have been steady layoffs in the oil and gas industry, with other jobs being lost in the coal mining industry. With the impact on these core economic drivers other areas of the economy are also beginning to feel the impact.
Besides those who have lost jobs, other business are also experiencing a slowdown, leading to less demand for their products and services, meaning fewer hours worked for those still employed and less income for the business owners. Even those fortunate enough to still have a job, there is anxiety about the stability of their futures.
I write as a pastor, concerned for all of those whose lives are affected during these difficult economic times. I want you to know that I care, and the Church cares for you. You are not alone. We are here to walk with you to provide the moral, spiritual and practical support of your faith family. Please know that many people pray for you and your families, and we are just a phone call away. Our parish and church doors are open, and we want you to know we are here to help you.
Very often, when life gets difficult, we need a shoulder to lean on. We are here to provide an understanding heart, an ear to listen and a voice of encouragement and whatever practical support we can muster.
I also wish to extend a challenge to the many who are still working to be attentive to the needs of your neighbors. Besides our human presence and understanding, we are also to do what we can to provide for the temporary needs of others. Most of us have more than enough personal items that we can share during times of need. Perhaps our parishes can set up a simple network that posts the needs of one family that another family can easily meet. And, yes, where it is possible to provide financial assistance, I encourage those who can to do what they can.
As Church, we are all members of the one body of Christ. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) This is an important time for us to live as the one Body of Christ. In this Year of Mercy, let us be mindful of those who are suffering. Let us share their suffering, and in our works of charity, may we also share in the joy of serving Christ in one another.
With assurances of prayer, and gratitude for your willingness to serve one another, I remain,
In The Heart of Christ,
Bishop Paul D. Etienne, DD, STL
Today’s Gospel (John 21:1-19) is one of my favorites. In John’s Gospel this is the third time that Jesus appears to the disciples after being raised from the dead. I believe it took all three appearances for the disciples to finally fully understand the significance of the resurrection for their lives.
Immediate conversions are rare, and so it was for the disciples. Their hearts were broken after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Their hopes for the future were dashed, leaving them confused and disillusioned. There was a process involved in which even the Risen Lord needed time to reassure the disciples that he indeed now lives and that his mission is now theirs.
I believe it was in this time of confusion that Peter was questioning his own future and how he was to proceed. It is no wonder that he ‘falls back’ to what is familiar, and decides to go fishing. After an unsuccessful night of fishing the Risen Lord appears to them from the shore. The Lord gives direction to the disciples, and their obedience to him bears fruit, leading to a large catch of fish.
At this, John tells Peter: “It is the Lord.” Over-joyed at that news, Peter jumps into the sea and makes his way to shore to greet the Lord. As he approaches Jesus, he cannot help but notice the Lord is once again near a charcoal fire. This scene no doubt recalls that tragic night when near a charcoal fire, Peter denied Jesus the first time. (John 18:17-18) No doubt, this painful moment is still fresh in Peter’s mind, and the wound of his actions still stings his conscience.
After feeding the disciples, Jesus begins a loving and healing conversation with Peter. He asks him: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” To which Jesus responds: “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asks a second and third time the same question. Each time Peter responds affirmatively, “Lord, you know I love you.” And each time, Jesus responds with a corresponding commission: “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus is tending to a deep wound in Peter, as well as reminding him that he is not defined by his sins, but rather by his love for Jesus. We all know how our sins make us question our own love for Jesus. Even worse, the shame we experience when we deny Jesus by our sinful choices begins to gnaw at us, and we can quickly fall into a trap of believing that we are no longer worthy of being loved, and that our love for Jesus is fickle and weak.
Jesus is asking if Peter loves him not for his sake, but for Peter’s sake!
Our sins rob us of our human dignity. The Risen Jesus restores our dignity by his loving mercy. As Jesus helps Peter rediscover his love for him, he is restoring Peter to his true identity as a beloved child of God. With each instruction to ‘Tend my sheep.” Jesus is renewing Peter in the great mission that is his as the rock foundation and leader of this fledgling Church.
One can almost hear Jesus also asking Peter: “What are you doing back in that boat?! I gave you a new mission.” In this third appearance of the Risen Jesus, we are led to believe that Peter and the other disciples finally understand that the Risen Lord is always with them, and that their love for Jesus translates into practical service of others. That was what Jesus taught and modelled in his own ministry. Love as service is now their mission. This mission has continued as the fundamental mission of the Church down through the ages to each of us today.
As our Easter journey continues, let us continue to look for and expect to discover the Risen Lord in our lives. As Peter, let us renew our love for Jesus. As we renew our love for Jesus, we too can expect to rediscover our mission of loving service to God’s holy people.
We are the Church. Our mission is to serve Christ in others. Our mission is to bring others to Christ.
The significance of the resurrection for our lives is the same as Peter’s. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Yes, Lord, I will serve you in my brothers and sisters!”
One of the most important efforts of a bishop is the assignment of priests to parishes. Perhaps one of the things that creates the most amount of consternation among the People of God is the transition of priests from one parish to the next. It is wonderful that people love their priests so much. Therefore it is easy to understand why their is so much frustration when priests are reassigned.
Having said that, it is also important for everyone to understand that priests are ordained for service to all of the people of a given diocese. Equally important is the amount of prayer and discernment that is involved in the decision making process. I am very grateful to the deans and to my Vicar General and Chancellor who provide great counsel in the month’s long process of making these decisions.
At Masses this weekend, the following clergy changes were announced:
With the Gospel from St. Luke fresh in our memory, when the Risen Lord appeared to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, here is a flash back to July 2013 from Pope Francis. Can the Church today still warm the hearts of our people?
The icon of Emmaus as a key for interpreting the present and the future
Before all else, we must not yield to the fear once expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman: “… the Christian world is gradually becoming barren and effete, as land which has been worked out and is become sand”. We must not yield to disillusionment, discouragement and complaint. We have laboured greatly and, at times, we see what appear to be failures. We feel like those who must tally up a losing season as we consider those who have left us or no longer consider us credible or relevant.
Let us read once again, in this light, the story of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15). The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the “nakedness” of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day (vv. 17-21). Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age. It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.
Faced with this situation, what are we to do?
We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.
A relentless process of globalization, an often uncontrolled process of intense urbanization, has promised great things. Many people have been captivated by their potential, which of course contains positive elements as, for example, the shortening of distance, the drawing closer of peoples and cultures, the diffusion of information and of services. On the other hand, however, many are living the negative effects of these realities without realizing how they affect a proper vision of man and of the world. This generates enormous confusion and an emptiness which people are unable to explain, regarding the purpose of life, personal disintegration, the loss of the experience of belonging to a “home” and the absence of personal space and strong personal ties.
And since there is no one to accompany them or to show them with his or her own life the true way, many have sought shortcuts, because the standards set by Mother Church seem to be asking too much. There are also those who recognize the ideal of man and of life as proposed by the Church, but they do not have the audacity to embrace it. They think that this ideal is too lofty for them, that it is beyond their abilities, and that the goal the Church sets is unattainable. Nonetheless they cannot live without having at least something, even a poor imitation of what seems too grand and distant. With disappointed hearts, they then go off in search of something which will lead them even further astray, or which brings them to a partial belonging that, ultimately, does not fulfill their lives.
The great sense of abandonment and solitude, of not even belonging to oneself, which often results from this situation, is too painful to hide. Some kind of release is necessary. There is always the option of complaining. But even complaint acts like a boomerang; it comes back and ends up increasing one’s unhappiness. Few people are still capable of hearing the voice of pain; the best we can do is to anaesthetize it.
From this point of view, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.
I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?
Many people have left because they were promised something more lofty, more powerful, and faster.
But what is more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love! Are we still capable of demonstrating this truth to those who think that the apex of life is to be found elsewhere?
Do we know anything more powerful than the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and beauty?
People today are attracted by things that are faster and faster: rapid Internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships. But at the same time we see a desperate need for calmness, I would even say slowness. Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency? Dear brothers, let us recover the calm to be able to walk at the same pace as our pilgrims, keeping alongside them, remaining close to them, enabling them to speak of the disappointments present in their hearts and to let us address them. They want to forget Jerusalem, where they have their sources, but eventually they will experience thirst. We need a Church capable of accompanying them on the road back to Jerusalem! A Church capable of helping them to rediscover the glorious and joyful things that are spoken of Jerusalem, and to understand that she is my Mother, our Mother, and that we are not orphans! We were born in her. Where is our Jerusalem, where were we born? In Baptism, in the first encounter of love, in our calling, in vocation. We need a Church that kindles hearts and warms them.
We need a Church capable of restoring citizenship to her many children who are journeying, as it were, in an exodus. (Pope Francis, Address to Bishops of Brazil, July 28, 2013)
In these first days of Easter, the Gospel stories remind us of the women who kept vigil at the tomb. These women were the first to discover the tomb empty, and the first ones to whom the Risen Jesus appeared. Before the Church moves on in this Easter season to other witnesses to the resurrection, please allow me to share a reflection of St. Catherine of Siena on Mary Magdalen:
The dear Magdalen … thought no more of herself but with true heart clothed herself in Christ crucified. She no longer turned to prestige or grandeur or her own vanities. She took no more pleasure or delight in the world. She didn’t think or worry about anything but how she could follow Christ. No sooner had she set her affection on him and come to know herself than she embraced him and took the path of lowliness. For God’s sake she despised herself, for she saw that there is no other way to follow or to please him. She realized that she was the lowliest of all people. She was no more self-conscious than a drunken woman, whether alone or with others. (see note below) Otherwise she would never have been among those soldiers of Pilate, nor would she have gone and stayed alone at the tomb. Love kept her from thinking, “What will it look like? Will people speak ill of me because I am rich and beautiful?” Her thoughts weren’t here, but only on how she might find and follow here Master. She, then, is the companion I am giving you. I want you to follow here because she knew the way so well that she has been made our teacher. (The Letters of Catherine of Siena, Vol II, p. 42)
Editor’s Note (Suzanne Noffke, O.P.: see Letter T25 to Tommaso dalla Fonte (early 1378): “One who is drunk loses all self-consciousness and feels nothing but the wine; all feeling is immersed in the wine. So it is when we are drunk on the blood of Christ crucified. We lose all selfish self-consciousness.”