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Now that the Lenten Season is begun, are you out of the starting gate?
Yesterday believers gathered around the globe for Ash Wednesday services. Ash Wednesday is one of those poignant moments when we allow God to ‘take off the gloves’ and remind us, indeed reveal to us, our sins.
It is helpful at the beginning of this penitential season to humbly, soberly allow ourselves to be consciously clear about our sin. As the First Letter of St. John instructs us: “If we say “We are without sin,” we decieve ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) This is the season to pray as St. Catherine of Siena: “I am nothing. God is everything!”
Now is the time to be asking the grace to acknowledge our sin, as well as the grace of true contrition. Ask God in these early days of Lent to help us see the consequence of sin in our lives. Once we recognize how sin diminishes our own self worth, damages our relationship with God and leads to broken relationships with one another, then we are in a proper place to begin a season well motivated towards conversion.
Yesterday’s Gospel from Matthew (6:1-6; 16-18) reminds us that the three pillars of the season are prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Prayer is a time to renew our relationship with God. Prayer leads us to deeper and deeper intimacy with the God whose love for us is far greater and more intense than we will ever know in this life.
Pope Francis is calling us to create a “culture of encounter.” Why not this year for Lent, instead of ‘giving up’ something, instead, focus on building up relationships of love. Recall that Jesus summarized the commandments by giving us a New Commandment; “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Perhaps this Lent our focus is to be a more loving individual. In other words, put love into concrete action(s), big and small. For example, spouses, spend more quality time with one another. Parents, spend more time with your children. Children, spend more time with your family. Believers, spend more time with the Family of God at Church (on Sunday.) No doubt, such choices do require sacrifices, because, to do one thing means choosing not to do other things.
My Lenten resolution this year is to be genuinely more ‘present’ to others by performing many concrete acts of love. What is yours?
LENTEN MESSAGE OF OUR HOLY FATHER FRANCIS 2014
He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As Lent draws near, I would like to offer some helpful thoughts on our path of conversion as individuals and as a community. These insights are inspired by the words of Saint Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). The Apostle was writing to the Christians of Corinth to encourage them to be generous in helping the faithful in Jerusalem who were in need. What do these words of Saint Paul mean for us Christians today? What does this invitation to poverty, a life of evangelical poverty, mean for us today?
1. Christ’s grace
First of all, it shows us how God works. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and wealth but rather in weakness and poverty: “though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor …”. Christ, the eternal Son of God, one with the Father in power and glory, chose to be poor; he came amongst us and drew near to each of us; he set aside his glory and emptied himself so that he could be like us in all things (cf. Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15). God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us. Indeed, Jesus “worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he truly became one of us, like us in all things except sin.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says “that by his poverty you might become rich“. This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. It is striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well aware of the “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8), that he is “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2).
So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25ff ). What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love. Christ’s poverty which enriches us is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins as an expression of God’s infinite mercy to us. Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all: Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves its parents, without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant. Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son; his unique relationship with the Father is the sovereign prerogative of this Messiah who is poor. When Jesus asks us to take up his “yoke which is easy”, he asks us to be enriched by his “poverty which is rich” and his “richness which is poor”, to share his filial and fraternal Spirit, to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother (cf. Rom 8:29).
It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.
2. Our witness
We might think that this “way” of poverty was Jesus’ way, whereas we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of human resources. This is not the case. In every time and place God continues to save mankind and the world through the poverty of Christ, who makes himself poor in the sacraments, in his word and in his Church, which is a people of the poor. God’s wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ.
In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.
No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.
The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelization and human promotion.
Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.
May the Holy Spirit, through whom we are “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor 6:10), sustain us in our resolutions and increase our concern and responsibility for human destitution, so that we can become merciful and act with mercy. In expressing this hope, I likewise pray that each individual member of the faithful and every Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you safe.
From the Vatican, 26 December 2013 Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr
Please pray for the Holy Father’s prayer intentions for the month of March which are:
◦Respect for Women. That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
◦Vocations. That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
When I read these intentions of our Holy Father, I noted how they reflect, in a manner, two of the Diocese of Cheyenne’s priorities from our pastoral plan, namely family and vocations. Here are just a few of the Goals and Objectives from our plan. Please keep these in mind in your prayers as well. You can visit our entire pastoral plan on our diocesan website.
Priority 6. Family Life and Vocations
To make Jesus Christ the center of parishes and homes through
community building and formation of faith.
Action Step 1:
To educate and emphasize to families and parishes the value and
dignity of all human life.
Action Step 2:
To use faith formation, particularly sacramental preparation, as
opportunities to catechize and re-engage families.
Action Step 3:
Explore opportunities to bring all generations together for prayer,
formation and community.
To educate, promote & support the Sacrament of Marriage and
its effects on family, church & society.
Action Step 1:
The diocese will require strong marriage preparation classes in each
Action Step 2:
To train and assist ministry leadership chosen by pastors in each
deanery to incorporate teaching on the Theology of the Body into various ministry programs, including any or all of the following:
Marriage preparation, Marriage enrichment, Catechesis (particularly middle and high
school levels), Evangelization and Adult Catechesis, including RCIA
Action Step 3:
To provide additional trained NFP teachers throughout the diocese.
Action Step 4:
To make NFP classes more widely available throughout the diocese
via online venue.
Action Step 5:
To increase the presence of Marriage Enrichment (strengthening
married couples spiritually) in the Diocese of Cheyenne and make it more accessible.
Action Step 6:
Strengthen the Domestic Church
To create, promote and encourage a culture of vocation among families
and parishes so the faithful can recognize and respond to God’s call.
Action Step 1:
To promote awareness and prayer for all vocations throughout the
Action Step 2:
To increase the role of the laity in support of vocations.
Action Step 3:
To create a professional vocations video to assist the diocese in
As we continue to focus our attention on the New Evangelization, I wish to draw your attention to the recent writing of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. In November, Pope Francis published his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy Of The Gospel. The first thing I wish to do in this article is encourage all of you to buy a copy of this incredible work and read it, study it, and pray with it. Pope Francis is quite simply calling every baptized member of the Church to actively and joyfully live their faith.
As we have been hearing for quite some time, the first step of the New Evangelization is an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. The opening sentence of The Joy Of The Gospel says: “The Joy Of The Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” (#1) Our Holy Father moves quickly to say: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (#3)
This is a direct challenge of Pope Francis to each of us, to open our hearts and lives to the person of Jesus Christ. The Pope’s exhortation wisely points out some of the obstacles to living a vibrant relationship with Jesus in today’s world, which can serve as a self-examination for each of us. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the simple doctrine of the Church that Christ dwells within each of us! We do not have to search for Him high and low, nor ask for any ‘revelations’ to know him. He is with us! We need only give some time to prayer, making the act of faith that He is with us, and seek Him every moment of every day, in prayer, worship, work, relationships, in every act of kindness.
Wherever we find Jesus, His fundamental message to us is that He cares for us and about us. He came to reveal the infinite mercy and love of God. He suffered, died, and rose from the dead to forgive and heal us of our sins, that we might be renewed as the sons and daughters of God. His life and ministry, His death and resurrection teach us that we are created for relationship with God to be co-heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. Have we had this encounter with Christ? Have we through the Sacraments and in our own personal way thanked God for this precious gift? Do we day-to-day commit our life to God by making of gift of my life to my sisters and brothers?
The encounter with Christ leads to joy and the fullest possible experience of life. Jesus came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) Each encounter with Jesus is an invitation to follow Him. Our encounter with Jesus is meant to change us! Jesus established the Church to share in His mission. The Church exists for mission, and that mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. This is the fundamental work of the New Evangelization, to proclaim Christ by the witness of our life; the witness of faith and the exercise of charity.
In Mark’s Gospel, (5:1-20) we see such and encounter with Jesus. There is a man who is possessed by a demon. The man had been frequently bound with shackles and chains because he was so violent. Jesus frees this man of the demon and restores him to ‘his right mind.’ This man undergoes a profound transformation once Christ enters his life, and so do we. The man then asks Jesus’ permission to come along with him. Rather, Jesus tells him: “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you. The man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.”
Part of our work as Church is to facilitate the opportunities for people to have this life-changing encounter with Jesus. Our mission as disciples of Jesus is to joyfully share our own encounter, our own faith story.
To understand the New Evangelization, it is important to understand ‘Church’ in the fullest sense. Pope Francis teaches this reality in plane language: “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service.” (#102) So, if the mission of the ‘Church’ is to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world and the majority of the Body of Christ that makes up the Church are lay people, guess what the primary task is for each of the baptized? Live your faith! Be a credible witness to Christ in the world.
The Holy Father further teaches in The Joy Of The Gospel, “In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization.” (#119) “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” (#120) “…each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives. In your heart you know that it is not the same to live without him; what you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope, is what you also need to communicate to others.” (#121)
In short, Pope Francis is calling each member of this Body of Christ to a vibrant faith-life. He unflinchingly challenges any complacency or mediocrity that may have crept into the life of believers. The remedy to any such apathy IS the person of Jesus.
This Lent is the perfect opportunity to renew our intimacy with Christ. Now is the time to make or renew my commitment to Christ and His Church. To the lay people in particular, Christ is renewing His call to follow Him and be His witness in the world; in the political, economic and social dimensions of everyday life. Christ is asking us to let Him enter our lives in such a manner that our lives will never be the same. Let us take up the challenge of Pope Francis to be effective ‘missionary-disciples’ in the world today.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-16) Go into the world and proclaim the Good News!
On this Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we receive some great wisdom for living a fruitful Christian life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the ebb and flow of the spiritual life. In the 49th Chapter of Isaiah, the first 13 versus speak of the restoring love of God, and how God in his mercy will provide pastures where once there were barren heights; springs of water to those who thirst; food for the hungry; shelter to those exposed to the wind and sun.
Then, today’s reading follows, and the same ‘Zion’ cries ‘The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has forgotten me.’ How often do we feel the same in our own pilgrimage of faith?! But do not these very same words remind us of Jesus in his moment of abandonment upon the cross? The Prophet Isaiah goes on to say in today’s reading: ‘See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you’. Indeed, Jesus allowed each of us to be carved into his hands as he was nailed to the cross. Such a love!
What does Jesus have to teach us in this moment? Jesus teaches us that love bears all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7) Jesus came from the Father, to reveal the love of the Father. This humble love of Jesus is best revealed in his own willingness to ‘abandon himself’ to the Father’s will, which is to be love to us. Jesus allows himself to be completely ‘emptied’ so as to be completely ‘filled’ with the love of God, extended to each of us. Recall the beautiful hymn of St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians:
“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!”
This love of the ‘abandoned Jesus’ is simply and yet profoundly a love that empties one’s self of ‘self’ to be filled with the ‘Other’ to live completely for ‘others.’ How does that translate for each of us? Let’s keep looking at today’s scriptures.
Psalm 62 puts it simply: “Rest in God alone.” In other words, we are to trust in the fidelity and love of God. This is also the message of today’s Gospel: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:24-34)
Another key for understanding comes from the beginning of today’s Gospel when Jesus tells his disciples “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Even though this is not ‘specifically’ what Jesus is speaking of in this context, I believe a valid application would be in reference to ‘love of self’ versus ‘love of God.’
This is exactly what Jesus did in his earthly ministry. He chose to always love God, and did so concretely in his tender, merciful love for people. This is what we are also to do. We are to love God first, foremost and always, and to do so concretely in our love for our neighbor. Another key comes from today’s second reading, 1 Corinthians 4: 1-5 when St. Paul tells us: “Be servants of Christ.”
We are servants of Christ when we love one another. This is the basic commandment of the Christian life. The question for us is simply: “Have we begun to truly love?” True love is willing to leave one’s self behind for the good of another; to place one’s life at the service of another. Often, if not always, this creates the cross of each disciple’s life. Do you know what that particular cross is for you? Have you freely, lovingly persevered in allowing that cross to ‘empty yourself of self love’ so that you may be filled with the love of Christ?
Who of us does not want to experience the love of God?! The key is loving another. If you want to know God’s love, then love someone else, humbly, silently, tenderly. Chiara Lubich says that when we love another, Christ is present in our midst. When we love another, we open a bit of heaven here on earth. When we love another, we advance the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, let us seek first God’s Kingdom. Let us rest in God. Let us seek God first and above all else, and all else will follow.
Jesus abandoned himself to the Father. Jesus rested in God alone. And because he did, we see Life flow from his open side which is the beginning of the Church. This open side of Christ (and the Church) are like a Font from which we drink the life-giving love and mercy of Christ. Recall the words from John’s Gospel:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. (…) whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14)
This relationship of Christ with his Church is so intimate and rich, that in his homily this past Friday, Pope Francis noted that ‘you cannot understand the Church without Christ, and you cannot understand Christ without the Church.’ The Church flows from Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ.
Finally, we look to Mother Mary as another ‘fruitful’ model of one who ‘rested in God’ and made a complete gift of her life to God in order to conceive and give Christ to the world. An essential part of the Christian life is this dynamic of ‘receiving’ and ‘giving.’ Let us seek Mary’s intercession that we may allow the Lord to ‘carve out’ sufficient space within each of us ‘for him to dwell’ (receive) so that we have the same Treasure to share with others, Christ our Lord.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
As I wrote earlier this week, the bishops gathered with the Focolare Movement this week had the opportunity to visit with Pope Francis. For anyone, to be in the presence of the Holy Father is a unique blessing, and it is no different with Pope Francis. I can tell you that being face-to-face with this man makes evident that his personal witness of faith gives great credibility to all he is preaching and prodding in this first year of his pontificate.
The joy of his persona is contagious. The message he preaches is one he himself has interiorized over a lifetime of prayer, relationship and priestly and episcopal ministry of service. He is genuinely authentic when he invites all believers and non-believers alike to be open to an encounter with Christ, or an even more intimate relationship than may presently exist.
In this photo, I simply thanked him for his ministry, and assured him of our gratitude and prayers.
Another very important stop during our time at the Vatican was a visit to the tomb of St. Peter. For every bishop, this is a great grace to visit the “Rock upon whom the Church is built.” I always seek St. Peter’s intercession for my own apostolic ministry as a bishop, that I may have the grace, love and courage to be the bishop God desires me to be on behalf of and in the midst of God’s people.
On Thursday, we also visited the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II, both of whom will soon be canonized as Saints. Prayerful request is also made of them for their intercession for a fruitful episcopal ministry, and for the needs of the Universal Church today.
My time in Rome is winding down. I have just a few more meetings and then will fly home on Tuesday in time for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent with the People of God in my own diocese. May all that the Good God desires for each of us this Lenten season be obtained by our practice of prayer, fasting, charity, and our humble walk with one another towards the fullness of God’s Kingdom.
Today, our group of bishops seeking to live these days in fraternity and mutual love, began with Morning Prayer and Mass. The group of ‘focolarini’ who have cared for us during these days also join us for Mass, and they add a richness with their voices and songs. After Mass, we had breakfast and then dressed in our cassocks for our trip to the Vatican and our audience with Pope Francis.
Our presentations continue to be very insightful, very concrete in sharing the spirituality of mutual love which was at the heart of Chiara Lubich, and continues to be the foundational way of life for the focolare family. Yesterday afternoon our panel discussion was well staffed by the Cardinal Prefect of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of Christian unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch. Joining him was the Bishop of Limerick, Bishop Brendan Leahy, who gave a brilliant discourse on the Synodality and Communion of the Church.
In shorts, this means that we (believers) are all on this pilgrimage of faith together. An image for our ‘communion’ with one another, the mutual love that we are to practically live every day, is the Trinity. The ‘communion’ of love shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not only the fountain of our existence, and the fountain of our love, but also the image of how we are to love one another in practical ways in our daily life.
The Church is a sign of ‘communion’ of God with all of His people. We must work to ‘cultivate’ space within the Church where this communion exists. As Pope Francis strongly emphasized in his Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, we all share a co-responsibility for the mission of the Church, which is to proclaim and present Christ to the world.
God in Christ has taken up His dwelling within each of us through Baptism and He continually nourishes this Presence through the other Sacraments. Likewise, God in Christ is at the center of the People of God. He is in our midst, as we journey together on this pilgrimage of faith to the Kingdom of Heaven.
This morning, we arrived at St. Peters well in advance of our meeting with Pope Francis. Once we were led into the Clementine Hall, we had time to visit prior to the Pope’s arrival. The more ‘relaxed atmosphere’ under Pope Francis is quite noticeable. Once the photographers arrived, we know Pope Francis could not be far behind.
“Bishops are called upon to bring to these meetings the broad range of the Church, and to ensure that all they receive is put to the benefit of the entire Church”.
“Today’s society has a great need for the witness of a style of life, from which their transpires the ’newness’ offered to us by Lord Jesus: brothers who care for each other in spite of their differences of character, origins, or age. This testimony gives rise to the desire to be involved in the great trajectory of communion that is the Church”.
Citing Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope Francis went on to say:“’To make the Church the home and the school of communion’ is truly fundamental for the efficacy of every commitment to evangelisation, inasmuch as it reveals the deepest yearning of the Father: that all His sons live as brothers; and it reveals the will of Christ, ’that all of them may be one’; and it reveals the dynamism of the Holy Spirit, its free and liberating force of attraction. Cultivating the spirituality of communion also contributes to making us more able to walk the path of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue”.
These days have been a tremendous blessing. We bishops are forming many new friendships, learning more about the various parts of the world and of the Church. More than anything, our fraternity and prayer are renewing our joy, strength and enthusiasm for the apostolic ministry entrusted to each of us.
We will conclude our assembly tomorrow with Mass and lunch. Know that all of you continue in my prayers!
Several months ago, I was asked to join a group of bishops from around the world who come together once a year as ‘friends of the Focolare movement.’ Our conference this week is being held at their ’Mariapolis Center’ in Castle Gandolfo. This facility was originally the audience hall for the pope’s while they were at the summer residence.
This movement, officially known as the ‘Work of Mary’ was founded around 1943 by a lay woman whose name was Chiara Lubich.
The movement has a very simple, yet profound spirituality which is found in the Gospel of St. John. Fundamentally it is a charism of unity based upon the new commandment of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13: 34) It is also in John’s Gospel that we hear Jesus pray the night before he died: “Father, may they be one, as you and I are one.”
I was first introduced to the Focolare in 1988 when I met a couple in Indianapolis who were living the Focolare spirituality. Jim and Millie Komro have been friends every since, and my sole connection with Focolare until I became a bishop.
Present for this convocation are approximately sixty five bishops, representing just about every continent of the world. Our reflections and prayer are focused on strengthening our own fraternity and collegiality. Thus far, it has been a tremendous experience of fraternal and mutual support. There are three other bishops present from the US and bishops from such places as Damascus, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Cameroon, Quito Ecuador, Brazil, Thailand, Italy, Germany, Belgium, South Africa, and Madagascar. Our common language for the week is Italian, which means my brain is getting quite a workout!
One concrete example of the possibilities such a gathering affords was the opportunity I had earlier today to visit with Bishop Joseph Arnaoutian, the Patriarchal Eparch of Damascus, Syria. I reassured him of our prayers for him and the Church in Syria, as well as all the people of his country presently under the scourge of war. He said the Church in America has a great role to play in helping secure peace for his country. He also wisely offered that perhaps the biggest challenge of today is to re-unite the Eastern Churches with Rome. Unity is indeed the desire of Christ for all of us and for His Church.
We are joined by numerous others for our reflections. Yesterday we had the good fortune of a visit by Cardinal Joao Bra de Aviz, Prefect for the Congregation of Consecrated Life and Bishop Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Bishop Zani gave a brilliant synthesis of Pope Francis’ recent Exhortation, The Gospel of Joy. And then both he and Cardinal Aviz responded to questions and insights from the gathered bishops. Today, the President of the Focolare movement spoke to us on the theme of this year’s gathering; the reciprocity of love among the Disciples of Christ. She is clearly a woman who lives the Gospel, and carries out beautifully the spirit of their foundress, Chiara Lubich.
Our discussions will resume shortly for the remainder of the day. In the morning, we are blessed to have an audience with Pope Francis. I hope to write more following our gathering tomorrow with our Holy Father.
The life of a Christian is one of service and humility, born in close association with Jesus Christ. The life of the Christian is to bear the good fruit of love, harvested in the many acts of charity, great and small. As a good fruit comes from ‘good stock,’ so the Christian must daily cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ. As St. Paul says, we must daily keep our eyes on Christ. (Hebrews 12:2) St. John speaks the more familiar phrase regarding the intimate closeness of Christ to us: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. .. Remain in me, as I remain in you.” (John 15: 1,4)
The association with Christ is what brings the Christian to full maturity. As the sun is necessary day after day for the fruit to ripen, so the Christian walks in the Light of Christ. For the good fruit to grow to maturity, it remains free from damage by insects and infestations. So does Christ allow the Christian to enjoy health and growth in virtue by his or her close association with Christ. At a minimum, for fruit to mature, it must remain on the tree. Storms and strong winds can separate the fruit from the tree before it is truly ripe, thus the Christian learns to cling to Christ during the storms of life, trusting that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.’
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35-39)
The tree must be well cultivated and pruned. Part of this cultivation and pruning for the Christian means ‘ridding ourselves of every burden and sin’ (Hebrews 12:1). Jesus teaches that we can expect such pruning in our own life. “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” (John 15: 2-3)
As another Lent approaches, let us begin even now taking stock of how closely we allow Christ to walk with us. Let us examine what in my life is in need of pruning; sinful patters of behavior, fear of the cross as it falls across the path of my own journey of faith. Let us not be afraid of the pruning of even ‘fruitful branches’ of my life in order that I may bear even more fruit. Perhaps I am too attached to some things or relationships. Do not be afraid to approach Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He longs to meet us there with the healing balm of His mercy.
The true Tree of Life is the Cross, and every mature Christian life passes through the Cross to fullness of life.
May each of us find the way to walk ever more closely with Christ, remain more fully within His Light, and rely more upon His Word and Wisdom than our own.
On Friday, February 14, Msgr. Charles Taylor completed his earthly pilgrimage. The Diocese of Cheyenne mourns the death of Msgr. Taylor, but rejoices in his life of dedicated service as a son, brother, uncle, friend and priest.
It seems fitting that I write these words from Rome, where Fr. Taylor studied canon law as a young priest at St. John Lateran from 1956 – 1959. Monsignor was born in Kemmerer, Wyoming on September 7, 1926. He was so proud of being from Kemmerer, and of the deep influence his ancestors had in the layout of the city. Kemmerer is the home of the first J.C. Penny store which opened over 100 years ago, and is still open today.
After a short stint in the navy, Msgr. entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. Msgr. Taylor was ordained in 1953. During his years of priestly ministry, he served many parishes and many parishioners throughout the Diocese of Cheyenne. He served in Green River, Casper, Rock Springs, Laramie, Jackson, Powell, Lander, Kemmerer and Buffalo. He retired…twice.
Upon completing his canon law degree in 1959, he was named defender of the bond. He continued his studies in the midst of an active priestly ministry, and obtained a doctorate in canon law in 1968. He had a brilliant mind, a dry wit, and a generous heart. He generously assisted our tribunal well into his retirement. Hard telling how many of our priests will miss his guidance.
Fr. Carl Beavers, who preached at the Mass of Resurrection, recalled that perhaps his greatest care as a priest was for the dying. Msgr. Taylor was tireless in his visits to those who were near death, making sure they knew of the abiding presence of the Lord. He faithfully, compassionately provided the sacraments of the Church, assuring people of the mercy of Christ. Msgr. was also well known for his strong beliefs and opinions, which Fr. Beavers summarized as “yes and no on steroids.”
Msgr. Taylor was a man on a mission, and the energy to accomplish it! As Msgr. Taylor served the church so well for so long, and desired to do so until his dying breath, I ask him now to continue to serve us by praying that other young men from around the Diocese of Cheyenne will hear God’s call to serve the Church as priests. I pray that Msgr. Taylor rest in peace, and enjoy the promises of eternal life that he hoped in and preached faithfully for nearly 61 years.