This Third Sunday in Ordinary Time instructs us that God is always calling us. The clearest example today comes from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus calls Simon and Andrew away from their nets to “Come after me.” Again, he finds James and John working with their father and he calls them to follow him.
These ‘call accounts’ are easy to recognize as such, but let us take a closer look at the work of God in Jonah’s life and through him, calling to the people of Nineveh. The scriptures tell us that Nineveh was on the brink of destruction. This story is really about two calls; the call to Jonah and the call through Jonah to the people of Nineveh. The scriptures simply tell us: “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah.” We do not know if this was an ‘inner voice,’ an ‘outer voice’ or if it came through an angel or some other person. But we know that somehow, God made His voice heard in Jonah’s life.
We know also that Jonah did not at first heed the voice of God, and in fact, He tried to disregard this call. This response is important, because it represents a fairly common response to the call of God. My own vocation story is one of ‘putting God off’ while I pursued my own interests, until God would be put off no longer.
The second part of God’s call in the Book of Jonah regards God’s invitation to the people of Nineveh to repent. The whole reason God sent Jonah to Nineveh was to turn the people back to God. In fact, by God’s power, Jonah’s proclamation: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” led the people to believe God, and they repented and were saved.
Even though God gives every person the free will to ‘choose life or to choose death,’ God is not content to leave us alone when we choose poorly. God is always inviting us to a full and more abundant life, (John 10:10) which can only be achieved by living according to His law.
The Psalmist understands this path to human fulfillment when he says:
Teach me your ways, O Lord. Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. (Psalm 25)
One needs only look at the working of his or her conscience to see that God is always calling; that God is never content to leave us alone in our sinful patterns of life. In moments of grace, God awakens in us a subtle awareness that something is not right. The proclamation of Jonah and the proclamation of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry is the voice of every human conscience: “Repent and believe in the gospel of God.”
Just as God sent His Word to Jonah, just as God sent Jonah to Nineveh, God sent His Son Jesus into the world. Jesus is the Word of God, the Word of life. God could have left the world without a savior, without a Way to immortality. But God’s desire is for something far greater for us. God’s desire is that we hear His voice, that we receive His mercy, and that we live in His love.
This has practical implications for each of us individually and for our society and world as a whole. God continues to call. Many and varied are the ways that any one person can hear God’s voice. What is important is to be listening! No matter how badly one may have sinned and how low one’s self esteem may be, God is calling. God longs to free us from anything and everything that enslaves us. God’s great desire is share a new and more abundant life with each of us.
Finally, no matter how bad things may seem to be in our world, God is still calling. And, God is still sending people in his name to preach the Gospel. Just as Jonah was sent to Nineveh and they repented; Just as God sent His Son into the world for the salvation of the world; Just as Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John and many others, Jesus is calling you and me. “Come, follow me.”
In the days of this week when this nation recalls the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade (1973) which legalized abortion, I would like to offer a few reflections.
As we face the reality of abortion in this nation, the first thing we are faced with is a legal system (which is made up of men and women) that is willing to be stingy with the truth if not outright lie about what is taking place. By law, moral and civil, to take the life of any human being is a crime. Yet, when it comes to the unborn, our law of the land somehow seems blind to the truth that a new life has begun in the womb of the mother. A human life has been conceived. This life is not alien, it is not a member of the wildlife of nature nor of the domestic life of the rural landscape, but the life of a new member of the human race. Roe vs. Wade turned a blind eye to this truth, and has allowed many more since then to do the same.
Abortion is the taking of human life. The legality of this killing of the unborn for the last 42 years has numbed the conscience of our people. So, one of the ‘gifts’ we can pray for is that God would allow the grace of a renewed and vibrant conscience that will properly guide the decisions of those considering abortion.
Prior to abortion, there is another common place practice that contributes to a willingness to take the life of an unborn child, and that is the practice of artificial birth control. Sadly, it seems that in this nation abortion has simply become another means of contraception. The distinction of these two of course is that the one is simply closed to the possibility of life while the other is the taking of life.
All of us already know the moral drill: artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong. They are sinful. This teaching is consistent, and it will not change. On one hand, we as bishops, priests and deacons can probably be clearer in expressing this teaching, especially when working with engaged couples and with married couples. It probably needs a clearer place and time in our religious education programs as well.
The challenge seems to be clarity about our teaching, without the judgment. In response to the many couples who practice artificial contraception and to the many millions of unborn children whose lives were never allowed to see the light of day, our response should be that of Moses. When God was so angry with the people of Israel and wanted to remove them from the face of the earth, he told Moses of His desire, and that He would make of Moses a great nation. Moses then argued with God on behalf of this sinful nation, begging God’s mercy. Moses continued to walk with both the people of Israel and the Living God. (see Deuteronomy 9)
Along the lines of avoiding judgment, we must recall the serious difficulty of those contemplating abortions. Rather than fearing bringing this news to us as Church, we want them to not only come to us for assistance, but also to find in us a compassionate response. Even those who have already chosen an abortion should be able to find in us a merciful response and a willingness to help them find healing and reconciliation.
Another big part of our challenge is to better proclaim the Good News that underpins these teachings. We have a God Who is LIFE. Our God loves us so much that He created us for communion with Himself. Once we damaged this relationship with God, He sent His only Son into the world to both reveal God’s love and to redeem us from our sins.
In short, what this week is calling us to is a greater openness to Life, the Life that flows from the overwhelming love and grace of Jesus Christ! We cannot go back to another time, when life was simpler, and there seemed to be a greater adherence to a moral code of life. Life never retreats, it marches forward, always. We are called to move forward in this day, with all of its secular challenges. We move forward in faith to a new Jerusalem.
We are called as people of faith to first live this life of abundant grace and love that are ours in Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) If we are to create a culture that is open to life, the first step for each of us is to grow in the life that is ours in Jesus Christ. Christ is the author of life and the One Who restored life through His redeeming love. When we live our life in Christ, the abundance of life Christ promises begins to flow through us. This is the stream of grace which we are to bring into the world. This is the work of the New Evangelization.
The next step is to engage our modern world and culture. We must be in dialogue and relationship with the people of today. This is one of the great challenges being regularly posed to us by Pope Francis. Here is just one such instruction from The Joy of the Gospel:
#71. The new Jerusalem, the holy city (cf. Rev 21:2-4), is the goal towards which all of humanity is moving. It is curious that God’s revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and of history is realized in a city. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares. God’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives. He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice. This presence must not be contrived but found, uncovered. God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.
So, as we prepare to take part in marches yet to come this weekend, or the next prayer service, let us pray that each of our lives may be ‘life-giving’ to the culture around us. Let us continue to pray for a greater openness to life while each of us strive even more to be open to the Life Jesus Christ is offers us.
Every year, we gather the diocesan priests and deacons for a few days of prayer and renewal. The national norms for both priests and deacons call for various forms of on-going formation. These days are set aside each year for purposes of offering such formation as well as the opportunity for strengthening fraternity through prayer and quality time together.
This year we are very fortunate to have as our speaker Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. Fr. Gallagher is a well known member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. The community is dedicated to promoting the spirituality of St. Ignatius. Thus, the focus of Fr. Gallagher’s presentations this week is to help our clergy better understand the movements of the spirits in our day-to-day life. This will help each of us to grow in holiness through deeper awareness and understanding of what spirit is at work in our life at any given time. Such awareness is necessary if one wishes to more fully cooperate with the Holy Spirit and wisely reject any promptings of the counter spirit (Satan).
Such sensitivity to the working of the spirits also applies to the life of the church. As priests and deacons, we wish to be able to sense where the Holy Spirit is leading each of our parishes and our broader Church. We hope to be better equipped to be more docile and ready to follow God’s desire and direction for God’s People.
Please pray for our clergy in these days, and always!
In the readings this Sunday, we hear how Eli helped Samuel understand that God was calling him. We hear how St. John the Baptist points the way to the Lamb of God. And once Andrew follows and discovers Christ, he goes to bring his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. We must all do the same.
Here is an excerpt from my recent pastoral letter: Generous Distributors of God’s Grace which expands upon this account of Samuel.
The Role of Parents, Families, Parishes: Recognizing “The Call”
Most of us are probably familiar with the bible story of young Samuel. Samuel’s mother prayed in the temple for a child, more specifically, for a son. In her prayer, she promised that if God would bless her with a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord “all the days of his life.” (1 Samuel 1: 11) God heard and answered her prayer, and young Samuel was born. True to her word, Hannah took her son after he was weaned and presented him to Eli in the temple of the Lord. The prayer she offered at that time (1 Samuel 2:1-10) is echoed years later in the Magnificat of the Blessed Mother during her pregnancy and visit to her cousin, Elizabeth.
These women of faith, Hannah, Mary and Elizabeth, demonstrate the profound understanding that all life is a gift from God and that each child conceived comes from the hand of God. These women of faith still speak to us today, instructing us that every child has a path to follow according to God’s will. We pray for continued openness to life in all of our married couples, and for a faith-filled understanding and openness to God’s will for every child. The Church continually needs faith-filled husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, who are generous in bringing new members into God’s family, who prayerfully discern with their children God’s providential will for each of their lives.
As the story of young Samuel continues, we hear the famous call of God as it was heard and eventually understood in his life. One day while Samuel was asleep in the temple, the Lord spoke to the young boy. He answered “Here I am.” He ran to Eli, thinking it was he who called him. Eli told him, “I did not call you. Go back to sleep.” After this happened three times, Eli finally realized that it was the Lord calling the young boy, so he told him: “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:9)
Eli’s role in helping young Samuel hear and understand God’s call is the role we are to play in helping our young people hear and answer God’s call in their lives. God speaks in the depths of every human heart. God’s love is “stronger than death, its arrows are arrows of fire, flames of the divine. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away.” (See Song of Songs 8:6-7) It is not only our responsibility to aid our young people in understanding God’s mysterious calling in their life, but it is also a distinct privilege to be a servant of God in the process.
As the story of Samuel demonstrates, it is not easy to recognize God’s love and we need the help of others to understand how God is at work in our own lives. This is the role of parents and family. This assistance we give others in hearing and answering God’s call is the work of priests and parishioners; it is the work of every parish. This work is called discernment and it is the work of the Church.
May each of us open our lives to God and our hearts to his will!
Morning Interfaith Prayer Service @ St. Mary’s Cathedral In Cheyenne To Kickoff Legislative Session, 2015
This morning, we celebrated what appears to be an historical event at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne.
The 2015 legislative session begins today in Wyoming, and for several years I have been wanting to bring together faith and government leaders to pray for the work of our legislators. Today, that dream came to life. We were blessed with a great representation of all three branches of government, including Governor Mead.
Also making a strong showing were state-wide faith leaders from the majority of faith communities. Present were Rabbi Larry Moldo, from the Mt. Sinai congregation in Cheyenne; Dr. Mohamed Salih, Imam of the Southeast Wyoming Islamic Center of Cheyenne; Rev. Ernest Fitzhugh, Pastor of the Unity Missionary Baptist Church in Cheyenne; Rev. Rick Veit, Pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Cheyenne; and Hank Bailey, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Cheyenne.
The Holy Spirit was clearly at work this morning, breaking down barriers and opening doors to new relationships.
The Prayer Service was simple. Two hymns were sung for opening and closing. Three passages were proclaimed from God’s Word; Rabbi Moldo chanting a Psalm in Hebrew, Dr. Salih reading a passage from the Koran, a Catholic woman, Carey Hartmann reading a passage from St. James. I offered a brief reflection and several designated clergy of various faiths offered a prayer followed by a closing prayer and hymn.
Below are my remarks during the prayer service. Please keep our government leaders in your prayers during this busy legislative season, and please continue to pray for greater unity among all of God’s people!
Prayer Service: Legislators and Religious Leaders
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cheyenne; Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne; January 13, 2015
Good morning! Again, thanks to all of you for joining us this morning, and thank all of you for your service to the people of this State, which is ultimately a service to God.
The readings this morning recall that God is the Creator of all. Each of us and this beautiful State of Wyoming are a part of God’s creation. We are reminded as well that everything flows from the loving hand of God, a God of light and truth in Whom there is no change. We come together this morning to acknowledge the God and Father of all, and as we do so we realize this same God makes us more than neighbors; this One God makes us all brothers and sisters. So, we come together this morning to celebrate and strengthen our unity.
The Scriptures tell us that all nations will praise the Lord (Psalm 72) and that Sovereignty over the earth and over every person is in the hand of God. (Book of Sirach 10:4) As a new legislative session begins, this simple truth can bring a proper perspective and wisdom to our work. Authority and governance are in our hands for a short time, but they have been placed there by God. We give thanks for this privilege and pray for the grace of bearing well the responsibility.
As pastoral leaders and public servants, who among us does not pray regularly for wisdom? We pray for this gift because we need wisdom more than knowledge, and we know that wisdom comes from God, as the scriptures tell us “fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7)
We need wisdom to find our way in this world. It is wisdom that teaches respect for the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of every human life. Wisdom guides us to build relationships with one another, even with those with whom we disagree. It is wisdom that teaches us the language that breaks down barriers and builds bridges of justice, peace, and unity. It is wisdom that grants humility to learn from our mistakes and the courage to take up anew the task God has given us. It is wisdom that teaches us the language of God, the language of love here on earth so we will not be foreigners when we arrive in the fullness of God’s eternal Kingdom.
As public servants and pastoral leaders, let us be consciously aware today that each of us is created by God, called from our mother’s womb, called by name, taken by the hand and given the task of leadership. But God does not just drop us into these roles and then abandon us. God is present, and promises to give us everything that we need to accomplish our work, which is ultimately God’s work. The freedom in this understanding is that we bring no personal or selfish agendas to the work of governance, but only the work given us by God, for it is God’s designs that stand forever. (see Psalm 33)
Each of us is called to be holy and righteous in the sight of God. Striving for holiness and righteousness is not a part- time effort. It is fundamental to who we are as individuals created and called by God. It means we bring integrity and honesty to everything that we do. As God’s servants we are servants of the truth, and thus we do not seek to call bad good or darkness light.
All of us present this morning are public servants, and thus, servants of God. At some point, each of us had to make a conscious decision about the form of our service, but ultimately, it is God who chose each of us, and we are chosen by God for God’s work.
We may have decided to get into public service to make the world a better place, but the bigger picture and the biblical language for this is called building God’s Kingdom. It is important to keep in focus this broader perspective of being chosen by God if we are to rise above the temptations to allow narrow and personal agendas to dictate our efforts. Our sole purpose and only agenda is the common good, which is the service of God’s family, the people of God. Since we are all children of the One God, the common good is nothing short of our service of the ‘Common God.’
God is our helper; his mercies and kindness are ours through every age. We gather today to raise our voice from this earth to the God of every land and nation, to praise his name, and implore his wisdom and mercy upon us, that all we do may be for God’s greater glory and for service of the common good.
May the blossoms upon the vine of this new legislative session bear good fruit that will serve well the people of Wyoming. May the members of this government lead us in the paths of righteousness, justice and truth.
May God bless each of you, and may He bless the work of our hands.
After some final edits and formatting, my recent pastoral letter is now available on line (here) and will soon be mailed from the printers to every home in the Diocese of Cheyenne. I pray you will take the time to read this letter, and more importantly, join us in carrying out these new priorities for our Diocese.
As we are making our resolutions for the new year, I hope a few of those resolutions involve renewing your relationship with Jesus Christ, through prayer, sacrament, and greater involvement in the life of the parish. Another great resolution is to make more time for family.
This pastoral letter offers several suggestions for prayers, including a prayer for vocations, a prayer to be included with the recitation of the rosary, and the Angelus. I strongly encourage as well each person learn when your local parish is offering a Holy Hour for Eucharistic Adoration, and that you spend some time in intimate prayer with the Lord.
May 2015 hold many blessings for each of you. Together, let us hold each other in prayer, asking for the grace to grow in holiness as we strive to fulfill God’s will in each of our lives. Peace, +pde
It is so easy in this world to have hearts cluttered by superficial and transient things. Human hearts easily become like the ruins of ancient cities, covered over by centuries of debris, only to be discovered after much excavation. Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord by clearing the hubris of heart that leads to so much confusion and discontent. Advent is a time to let in the Light of Christ that the darkness may be scattered.
Today record high temperatures allowed me to wash windows. That must have been a first in Wyoming, washing windows in the middle of December! I love looking through a clean window. No doubt, our Good Lord loves the same purity when gazing into our souls.The glimmering view lifts my spirit, much as a dirty window tends to diminish not only the view, but one’s outlook.
Let us seek the intercession of our Blessed Mother that we may grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit; those gifts that clear away the inordinate attachments to the things of this passing world. Let us beg the Holy Spirit to grant us growth in virtue, and thus sweep our hearts clean at the approach of our Lord.
WE pray the Father most kind through You, His only-begotten Son, who for us became Man and were crucified and glorified, that He send us, out of the abundance of His wealth, the Spirit of sevenfold grace that rested upon You in all fullness: the gift of WISDOM, that we may taste in its life-giving flavor the fruit of the Tree of Life which You truly are; the gift of UNDERSTANDING, through which the vision of our mind is clarified; the gift of COUNSEL, that we may follow in Your footsteps and proceed along the paths of righteousness; the gift of FORTITUDE, that we may meet the violence of our enemies’ assaults; the gift of KNOWLEDGE, that we may be filled with the light of Your sacred teaching to distinguish good from evil; the gift of PIETY, that our hearts may be filled with kindness; the gift of FEAR, that we may draw away from all evil and be kept in peace by the awesome might of Your majesty.
For You have willed that we ask for these things in the holy prayer which You taught us: so now we beg them of You, in the name of Your cross, in praise of Your most holy name. To You, and to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor and thanksgiving, all splendor and power, forever and ever!
(St. Bonaventure, The Tree of Life)
Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The call of God in every life is to love. Those who truly love know that it comes not only with great reward, but with a cost as well. It takes great energy to enter into the life of another person; to accompany them, to know and understand their person and their needs.
Through the Incarnation, Jesus took on our human condition. He knows what it is like to enter into the life of another person. He experience hunger, thirst, and weariness, even pain. We can look at the Incarnation as a means by which Jesus took our yoke upon himself in order to show solidarity in the process of revealing the presence of God in our midst. Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ invitation to us to take his yoke and learn from him.
During my walk yesterday, I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. As I pray the rosary, I like to take just a few moments at the beginning of each decade to ponder the mystery for deeper understanding. The first Sorrowful Mystery recalls the agony of Jesus in the Garden as he enters into his passion.
What did Jesus see and hear from the Father during that period of prayer? Surely, Jesus experienced the Father ‘giving Himself’ in love. Truly, what the Father was asking of the Son, namely to give himself for the salvation of the world, Jesus received from the Father, namely, the Father giving himself in love to Jesus.
My reflection came to mind as I read the first reading today. This is what Jesus received from the Father:
Do you not know or have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:25-31)
The Father not only sustained Jesus during his passion, but gave him the strength to bring to completion the Paschal Mystery. In the same way, Jesus comes to be our strength, most especially when we are doing his work. Jesus is the one who sustains us that we may complete the Father’s will in each of our lives.
So, when we grow weary in the day-to-day demands of striving to grow in holiness, of being faithful to our life as a husband or wife or priest or consecrated man or woman, we have our strength in Christ. When you get frustrated as a single person longing to discover God’s plan for your life, find comfort in Christ.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people; blessed are those prepared to meet him. (Today’s Gospel antiphon)
Today is a day of Thanksgiving as I celebrate the 5th anniversary of my ordination as a bishop. The words come to mind of Blessed Mother’s response to Elizabeth upon hearing the words: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” My own heart is so full of gratitude to God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1 43, 46-47)
Today’s readings could not have better captured the joy and responsibility it is to be a bishop. The Gospel from Matthew (18:12-14) speaks of that Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep behind to go in search of the one who has strayed. This is certainly the task of every good shepherd, to look for the lost and to restore them to the family of God.
As I reflected upon this role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I am first struck by the reality that I had to first be ‘found’ by him in order to know his presence in my own life as the Good Shepherd. I am so grateful that the Lord chased me and hounded me in my younger life, in order to help me find my true way, which is to follow him.
Once I allowed myself to be found, I came to know Jesus also as my Friend, and to know myself as his friend. I recently had the opportunity to return to my college seminary, St. John Vianney in St. Paul, Minnesota. I longed to sit again in the chapel where I first began to ‘give in’ to the Lord’s love, and allow him to come to me in the Blessed Sacrament. A part of my deep desire as bishop is to find ways to help people today come to know the close friendship of Jesus in their lives.
The Prophet Isaiah in today’s reading (Isaiah 40:1-11) is instructed to give comfort to God’s people. These are the same words the Lord speaks to the shepherds today: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Preaching the Gospel is perhaps one of my greatest pleasures as a bishop. Preaching and living God’s Word is one of the privileged means by which we bring comfort and consolation to God’s people today. One of my greatest prayers is that more and more of our people will discover the truth of the Gospel and allow this Word of Life to give direction and purpose in their lives.
The final image of Christ that comes to mind today is that of Spouse. As a bishop, Christ has invited me into a deep and intimate union of love with himself. This love is lived and experienced in many ways, in preaching, celebrating the sacraments and carrying out the day to day demands of governance. This spousal union with Christ is experienced in my day to day encounters with God’s People, particularly in the many ways I am asked to serve this local portion of God’s People.
Perhaps even more, Christ comes as Spouse in those private moments of prayer, not all that unlike the private moments of husbands and wives. It is in those moments when Christ comes to console, strengthen and renew his love for me, and allow me to express my own love for him. These are the moments that ‘underpin’ all the other aspects of my ministry.
So, to the People of the Diocese of Cheyenne, I say it is good to be with you, and a privilege to serve you as your bishop. May each of us rediscover the joy of being ‘found’ by the Good Shepherd. May each of us renew our commitment to follow and serve him for he truly is the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the World.
May Christ continue to capture our hearts and imaginations so that we may never leave him. Rather, may our response to the Lord be the words of St. Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate the mystery and magnificence of God. With great love, God created all things, the culmination being the creation of man and woman in his own image. Imagine our dignity, being created in the image and likeness of God, for relationship with God, for sharing in the Divine Life Itself! This is the beauty and the dignity of the human person, our communion with God.
But when sin entered into God’s plan for creation, it diminished the human person and dimmed the brilliance of life because sin ruptures the life between the soul and God. But for God, nothing is impossible, even healing the division brought about by sin. And so it is that God who created all things allowed himself to be born of a woman, maintaining his nature as God while at the same time taking on our human nature.
Today we celebrate the love of God that chose Mary to be the Mother of God. In his goodness, God provided for Mary to be conceived without sin by applying to her the grace of the Paschal Mystery which would be accomplished by the death and resurrection of her own son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because of this unique action of God and the deep faith of Mary that would cooperate fully with God’s providence, Mary is indeed ‘blessed among women.’
It is somewhat ironic, that on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, I will find myself sitting in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver listening to arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor as their legal representatives make the case that they should be exempt from providing the contraceptive services required under the HHS Mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The decision in this case will have a strong impact on the case of the Diocese of Cheyenne which is also before the 10th Circuit Court.
Today’s Solemnity is an invitation for all of us to recall the reality of sin at work in our world, and more specifically, in each of our lives. It is more importantly an invitation to reflect upon the incredible mercy of our God who humbly entered into our human condition in order to save us from our sin. Our Blessed Mother reveals the beauty of a life lived in complete obedience to God’s Word. This woman, fully human, by her cooperation with God’s grace, conceived the Savior in her womb, and lived her life as his first disciple.
Christ, as the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived his human life in this world uncorrupted by the ways of this world. Though never touched by any sin, during his passion his body was disfigured by the sin of the world, which he freely took upon himself in order to conquer sin and death.
This life and grace of Christ is now shared with us through baptism and the sacraments of the Church. The Divine life God intends to share with us is once again possible through the Immaculate Conception. The love and cooperation of Mary gave the world the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus through his life, ministry and preaching reveals God to the world once again. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, sin and death are conquered and the gates to eternal life are opened anew.
We are now called to cooperate with this grace and Divine life Jesus restored and renewed. Advent is a time of preparation and hope. As John the Baptist demonstrates, preparation precedes the coming of the Lord; repentance precedes salvation. On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, let us be mindful of our need for a Savior. Let a part of our giving thanks for the immeasurable love shown us by God be availing ourselves once again to the font of mercy that flows through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.