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!
Ashes – a call to humbly recognize our origins: dust of the earth and the creative love of God. As in death we return to the earth, so we shall return to God. God is our origin and our glorious destiny. Any accomplishments on this earth belong to God, while all failure and sin is solely our responsibility. There is no reason for pride for any human being.
Fire – burns the palms that proclaimed Christ as King on Palm Sunday into the ashes before us today. Marked with these ashes we are reminded of our fundamental mission as Catholics – Proclaim Jesus Christ as King. Lent is a time to personally and communally admit our failures in this mission of proclaiming Christ to the world.
Fire – also represents the Holy Spirit. Fire is an element of transformation. Transformation as conversion means something must yield or die for something new to come forth. Lent is a time to allow the consuming Fire of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our sins. Lent is a time for the Fire of the Holy Spirit to consume all selfishness and division so that the newness of the Risen Christ may bloom forth in each of us and in his Church.
I am reminded of comments attributed to Cardinal Bergolio during the consistory meetings of Cardinals prior to the conclave of 2013 that elected him Pope Francis.
Reference has been made to evangelization. This is the Church’s reason for being: Pope Paul VI speaks of ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’ It is Jesus Christ himself who, from within, impels us.
The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not just the geographical but also the existential peripheries: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, of ignorance and lack of religion, those of thought and those of every kind of misery.
The evils that, over time, appear in Church institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism. In the book of Revelation, (3:20) Jesus says that he is at the door and calling, and evidently the text refers to him standing outside the door and knocking to be let in. But I sometimes think that Jesus is knocking from the inside, for us to let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ for itself and not to let him out. (The Great Reformer, by Austen Ivereigh, pp. 357-358)
We know Jesus Christ is King and Lord, and nothing can bind him. On the contrary, he is the one who casts out demons. However, we, the members of the Church, are susceptible to the deceptions of the enemy. We are the one’s who can be restricted in proclaiming Christ to the world.
This Lent, set Christ free! Let the Church come to new life. Let the breath of the Holy Spirit flow and fill our lungs as on the day of creation and birth; as on the day of our baptism and confirmation. The Lord is doing something new in the Church! Please, God, let us cooperate.
But, before the Newness – the Fire. First, during this Lent, we must allow ourselves to be touched, even consumed by the fire of purification, penance, self-denial, confession, and conversion. Such purification and cleansing requires us to trust that our God is a God of compassion and mercy. Let us avail ourselves to the God of creation and the God of mercy, that we may encounter the Christ of Redemption. This encounter is necessary if we are to fulfill our mission of proclaiming Christ to the world.
This Lent, as St. Paul says: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5: 20)
This morning’s reading from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 6:5-8) expresses God’s grief in the face of the human capacity for evil.
When the Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.
While the Lord was planning to destroy all he had created from the face of the earth, he was moved by the goodness of one man, Noah.
As we prepared to begin another season of Lent, let us be reminded of these two simple truths. First, because God created us with a free will, we have the capacity to offend God with every kind of evil. Lent is a season to prayerfully reflect about the ways we choose to exalt our self rather than God. This season of conversion is a time to return to the Lord. In his light, we are capable of seeing our darkness. In his mercy, we are capable of rediscovering our goodness. In his love, we are reminded to be loving towards all of our brothers and sisters.
Secondly, Lent calls us to reflect upon the good God can accomplish through just one person. Today’s reading from Genesis reminds us of the good that flows from being attentive to God. Because “Noah did just as the Lord had commanded him,” God was able to renew the face of the earth through him.
This Lent our Holy Father, Pope Francis is challenging us to overcome our indifference to God and to our neighbor. The starting point for this is allowing one’s self to be reminded that we are not self-sufficient. We need God. We need the redeeming love and mercy of his Son, Jesus Christ. We need the fire of love and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to lead us out of ‘self’ to love others, especially those most in need.
Since we need God, we need the Church. We need the support of one another in faith. This Lent, may we grow in charity and concern and experience the conversion of heart that leads to new life.
This morning many of the Wyoming State legislators and other state officials gathered at Little America for the annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. I was asked by Governor Mead to give this year’s address, which I share with you here.
The Power and Necessity of Prayer
Address at Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, February 11, 2014
The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne
First of all, please allow me to thank you, Governor Mead for your invitation to be with all of you this morning for this time of prayer. I wish to thank you and all our other distinguished guests present here today for your service to the people of Wyoming.
I’ve gone through a number of ideas and drafts of what I might say this morning, but finally settled on this question: “Why a Prayer breakfast?”
In his First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:17) St. Paul says: “Pray without ceasing.”
And again in the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones…” I would suggest that ‘all the holy ones’ are God’s people, and God’s people are those you and I have been called and or elected to serve. So, it is right to pray for them.
The encouragement to pray is in and of itself an instruction that the human person is created for relationship with God. Most of our life we wrongly think that prayer is about our action towards God, when in reality, it is what opens us to the reality of God’s unrelenting pursuit of each one of us. True human greatness is achieved when we are open to what God is longing to do for us and within us. Once a human person understands that their greatest dignity is found in their relationship with God, their own life is no longer self-referential, or self-serving. The realization that we are called to relationship with God then opens us and all of society to something that lies beyond us, but yet, with God’s assistance, is always within our reach.
So, again, why a prayer breakfast? Do we come to simply check-off this particular part of the day’s to-do list and then be on our way, as if our conversation with God has nothing to do with what we do the rest of the day? When we rise from prayer, do we put God in a box until we are ready to talk to Him again? This would be the safe thing to do. For, God is an awesome God. Indeed, when He summoned the People Israel to the base of the mountain before calling Moses up the mountain to receive the commandments, the people were so frightened with this epiphany of God’s presence and power they begged Moses to speak to God on their behalf, because they were too afraid to do so personally.
To approach prayer in this manner, and to approach God in this manner undermines the reality that we are all created by God, for relationship with God. To put the God who created us in a box as if we created Him and He not us leaves the human heart frustrated and closed off from its highest calling and human potential. All of creation finds its order and harmony in the Creator, and this is especially true of the human person, and if this is true for the human person, then it only makes sense that it holds true for society.
I would like to share with you three stories today which speak of the creative genius of God. They will go from humorous to serious; from creation, which is naturally ordered to God, to the human which must freely embrace God’s call to discover the fullness of one’s potential.
Three years ago, I was discovering the joy of fly fishing. As a native Hoosier, I did not have any experience with fly fishing when I came to Wyoming in 2009. I had asked one of my priests to go with me on a fly fishing trip which someone gave me as a welcome gift to Wyoming. So, we went to Saratoga, Hack’s Tackle, and made our way to the launch point on the North Platte for an all day float trip.
We had a very good guide who was being very attentive to the “bishop.” A few hours into the float, just about an hour before we stopped for lunch, I was noticing that my priest friend was having much more success from the back of the boat than I was from the front. I pointed this out to the guide. He told me to just keep fishing. So, after a little more of the same pattern, I told the guide: “If I don’t start getting some hits, I’m going to start cheating.” He got this strange look on his face and looked at me and said: “Bishop, how does one cheat when fishing?” I told him: “I’m going to start praying.” He just laughed…
So, after another 20 minutes or so, I said: “OK, I’m going to start cheating.” He just smiled. About a minute later I tied into a significant fish. I did not realize just how nice a fish I had on the hook, but the guide and my partner did. The guide about had a heart attack when I started one-handing the fly rod to reach into my pocket to dig out my camera to give him to take a picture. He started stammering: “Both hands, Bishop! Both hands!” Within an unusually short time, I landed a 26 inch Brown Trout. The guide had to anchor the boat to calm down. He told me: “Bishop, I’ve been guiding this stretch of river for ten years, and many people have hooked some big fish, but that is the biggest fish anyone has landed in my boat!” I learned this fall that record still holds for him.
Now, I’m not suggesting that praying will always conjure up the largest fish, or a win for your favorite team, but I believe it made a significant impression upon this young man.
The next story takes us to a hunting scenario. This past Fall, Justice Scalia was in- State for a few days to do some antelope and mule deer hunting. Justice Scalia being a strong Catholic, the family where he was staying asked if I would come out to celebrate Mass for them while he was there. I of course obliged, and made two visits during his stay.
The home is situated on a ranch, so I set up the altar on a small table in the living room with my back to the window. After Mass, one of those in attendance told me: “Bishop, we wish you could have seen the view we had during Mass. As you were celebrating the Eucharist, the cows gathered outside the window and were peering inside.” I told them: “That is no surprise, because all of nature has an innate sense of the Divine. All of nature is naturally ordered to the Divine.”
Later that evening, Justice Scalia shared a personal story of his days at Georgetown University. He recalled his final exam before graduation. He said in those days, you had to pass a comprehensive oral exam. So, I found myself in a room with six Jesuit professors asking me questions. My degree was in history, and I will never forget the final question of that exam.
The Jesuit professor looked at me and said: “Well, Mr. Scalia, you have answered quite well, showing a good mastery of the material. I have one final question for you: “What in your estimation was the greatest event in history?” I thought to myself: “Well, you’ve just been told that you have aced this exam, so this answer does not really matter all that much. I remember thinking of a couple possible responses and diving in. After I was done, the professor looked at me and said: ‘Mr. Scalia, you are wrong. The greatest event in history was the Incarnation. Never separate your faith from your work.’”
Great advice for each and every one of us.
Finally, on a more personal story: Recently I was unable to sleep at night. This is quite often the case, and seems to happen more regularly when the legislature is in session! But, this night, I was quite disturbed about something, and was not quite sure what the right approach was and was quite restless. I have a Blessed Sacrament Chapel in my residence, so I just went to the chapel, and sat there before the Blessed Sacrament and told the LORD: “How do you expect me to serve you tomorrow if you will not let me sleep tonight?” And just like that, I knew I had only one option: place my burden in his hands.
In closing, we pray because we are in relationship with God. We pray not so much to tell God what is going on in our life, but to open our hearts and minds and lives to God, that He may share with us the desires of His heart. This divine desire for the human person is the true source of hope that causes every human heart to soar. God is the true Good that when pursued and served brings satisfaction to the human heart and harmony to the human community.