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While I’m on retreat, I’ll give a ‘shout out’ to one of the board members for Catholic Rural Life. Dr. Christopher Thompson, a theologian on faculty at the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, penned this piece for a recent gathering.
While millions of us take advantage of these summer months to travel with family to our national parks and forests, we can take a moment and thank God not only for the extraordinary earth he places before us, but (especially this year) for the vision and courage of our fellow Americans who took up the challenge of establishing and protecting such wilderness spaces.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System, and now protects over 100 million acres of “Wilderness Places” from unnecessary development and exploitation. The passage of the Wilderness Act is a distinctively American achievement and marks one of our greatest accomplishments concerning the protection of our heritage and the promotion of the common good. Whether in the crisp waters of northern Minnesota or the sultry grasses of the Everglades, at the Crown of the Continent in the Montana Rockies or the soul searing heat of Death Valley, each space provides a sacred occasion, uniting all of us Americans as one nation under God’s bountiful regard.
This common national treasure, which is our vast wilderness space, is a gift that calls out for gratitude and an obligation that unites us as one.
It is a gift from the Creator and speaks to us of God. Our Catholic faith takes no issue with those who feel close to the Lord in the splendor of His creation. Ours is a sacramental system of worship to be sure, but we are willing to see all of creation, all of God’s creatures, as a quasi-sacrament, an outward sign of God’s invitation to love in grace. Catholics especially should not be indifferent to this preambula fidei writ-large that is our wilderness, because we are not indifferent to the Word of which it speaks. The book of nature and the books of the sacred scriptures are one, for God is the serial editor of the whole series.
Wilderness also entails an obligation. No longer to be taken for granted as something which will always be there, our national commitment to the protection of wilderness spaces demands a prudent regard, a respect and restraint in light of the deeper values implicit in creation and the power it holds to expand our wonder and concern. Our faith teaches us that there is a natural law ethic to be observed. As creatures who participate in the eternal laws of God’s creation, we have an obligation, through our rational choices, to respect this order of creation and to observe a natural piety in relationship with the God from whom all these good things come.
This sense of obligation concerns not only the wilderness, but extends to our concern for ourselves and others as well. The awe you and I experience on the precipice of some vista or under a star-studded sky is the same wonder you and I are called to feel before the precious gifts of human life, our sacred bodies, our families and our beloved community. A trip through a wildlife “sanctuary” can be a catechesis in first things, a primer in the fundamental values about the goodness of God and our obligation to trust and honor Him in our lives. The impulse to praise we so often feel along a quiet trail or stream ought to strengthen our resolve to obey God and His ways.
Of course the language of the original Wilderness Act can’t speak with such theological tones, but its persistent defense of the values of the wild, hint of its origins in the American, indeed ancient, tradition of gratitude — gratitude to the one who has planted in us the magnificent gift of wonder before creation and the felt need to respond, to live a life consistent with our dignity amidst this delicate fabric of nature and under the loving care of nature’s God.
Father, all powerful and ever living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise. You never cease to call us to a new and more abundant life.
God of love and mercy, you are always ready to forgive; we are sinners, and you invite us to trust in your mercy.
Time and time again we broke your covenant, but you did not abandon us. Instead, through your Son, Jesus our Lord, you bound yourself even more closely to the human family by a bond that can never be broken.
Now is the time for your people to turn back to you and to be renewed in Christ your Son, a time of grace and reconciliation.
You invite us to serve the family of mankind by opening our hearts to the fullness of your Holy Spirit.
In wonder and gratitude, we join our voices with the choirs of heaven to proclaim the power of your love and to sing of our salvation in Christ:
(Roman Missal, Third Edition; Preface for Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I)
In Another HHS Ruling Today, Diocese of Cheyenne and Affiliates Granted Injunction Pending Relief From Tenth Circuit Court
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States reached a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties. The Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as applied to these employers to the extent that it would have forced them to provide insurance coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions on respect for human life. This decision of the Supreme Court indicates that Americans should have the right to follow their faith while operating family businesses, even when these businesses are tightly held corporations. This is a great victory for religious freedom.
Also, today, the tenth circuit court of appeals granted The Diocese of Cheyenne and affiliated Catholic organizations, an injunction pending appeal. The order reads as follows:
“we hereby order as follows. If the plaintiffs-appellants inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcing against the plaintiffs-appellants the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending further order of the court. To meet the condition for injunction pending appeal, plaintiffs-appellants need not use the form prescribed by the Government and need not send copies to third-party administrators.”
Today’s rulings are certainly welcome news and a victory for religious freedom. We continue to pray for a successful conclusion to our pending litigation brought on behalf of Wyoming Catholic Charities, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, Wyoming Catholic College, and St Anthony’s Tri-Parish School.
It has been a wonderful feast day! And, the good stuff is just beginning. I arrived at St. Meinrad this afternoon in time to settle in and join the monastic community for Solemn Vespers. Not a bad way to enter into a weeklong retreat…
The tabernacle at left is found in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of the abbey church, which is behind the great pipe system for their organ. I plan on spending many hours with the Lord in this holy place, and it is one of my favorites.
There is something very sacred about this monastery. I’m sure much of it has to do with growing up in southern Indiana, and knowing many of the monks from the time I was a small child. There is no doubt the connection of the seminary, where my own uncle, Fr. Bernie Voges studied and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Even though I did not study here, many of the priests I know and love did.
But it is a blessing to be able to make my retreat here once again this year.
So, other than some business that will no doubt result from tomorrow’s SCOTUS ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, and hopefully, a ruling from either the 10th Circuit or SCOTUS on our diocesan appeal for injunctive relief from the HHS Mandate, I’ll be shutting down the electronics for the next week. Please pray for me, and know you are in my prayers.
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The mere fact that this solemnity over-rides the usual Sunday celebration tells us much of the significance of these two saints.
In Rome, it is a particularly favored day in the liturgical year recognizing that the Church was built upon the faith of Peter: “Lord, you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Similarly, though the primacy goes to Peter, the Church recognizing the great teacher, Paul along with his great faith and perseverance: “I have fought the good fight; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
While today remembers the entire life and ministry of St. Peter and Paul, it also gives thanks for their final ‘confession,’ that of laying down their life, pouring out their blood, as the greatest witness of their faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. The Church is built upon the blood of the martyrs, and every such ‘confession of faith.’ That faith of St. Paul is captured in these words: “I know the one whom I have trusted and I am certain that he, the just judge, has power to keep safe what he has entrusted to me until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
We have only to read the Gospels, Acts of Apostles and Paul’s Epistles to recall the many hardships each of these saints endured as they faithfully followed Christ. We have only to study the history of the Church and the teaching of Jesus to be reminded that carrying the cross is a part of every true Christian’s life.
From my first visit to Rome back in 1986, I learned how moving it is to visit the places where these saints walked, taught, were imprisoned, martyred and are buried. Standing and praying in these hallowed places increases one’s desire to know Christ as they knew Him in order to love and serve Christ with the same singleness of purpose. That is the beauty of the life Christ calls each of us to discover. How inspiring it is to pray and celebrate Mass where these saints are buried, giving thanks for their friendship with Christ in the hope that we too will here Christ say to us: “I call you friends”. (John 15:15)
I believe the Church today is experiencing a ‘New Springtime.’ With such hope comes the conviction that God is raising up holy men and women for our time for the renewal of the Church, just as in His Providence, He had men such as Peter and Paul to establish His Church. Let each of us today be renewed in our confidence in God’s love as revealed in Christ. Let us be renewed in the faith celebrated today in Saints Peter and Paul as we profess with St. Peter:
“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we believe and we are convinced that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (John 6:68)
An this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I celebrate my 22nd anniversary as a priest, the last four and a half years of which have been in the capacity of Bishop of Cheyenne. I have so very much to give thanks for this day. I was up very early this morning so that I could celebrate a Mass before departing (once again) for the airport. Certainly, for every priest, there is no better manner or place to give thanks for the gift of the priesthood than the altar of the Lord.
Since this anniversary falls on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, it is also a day of prayer for the sanctification of priests. I wish to invite the readership of this blog to pray for your priests, that we may be faithful to our promises, and be holy, credible witnesses to Christ, and effectively lead others to Christ. More and more, I realize that a fundamental responsibility of the priest is to work for the salvation of God’s People.
On this day, I pray not only that our priests will grow in holiness, but also, that many other young men will open their hearts to God’s call. The most important thing for any person is to discover God’s will in their life. For life to be lived to the full, it is to be discovered in God, given to God and lived for God. An0ther reason I make this prayer is because my own life as a priest has been so fulfilling and rewarding. And finally, we, the Church, God’s people, need priests.
So, dear friends, please join me in giving thanks to God for all of our priests. Please join in prayer for the sanctification of all priests. Please join me in prayer that God will bless our Church, particularly the Diocese of Cheyenne, with many more holy vocations to the priesthood!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pray for us!
I would like to welcome to the Diocese of Cheyenne Fr. Arulanandu David. I told Father that he will have to get used to people around here calling him “Fr. David” since most of us will struggle with his first name.
Fr. David will become the new parochial administrator of St. Patrick in Kemmerer along with its two missions of LaBarge and St. Dominic in Cokeville. He will arrive in Kemmerer this Thursday.
We are so very grateful to the Diocese of Nellore for sharing priests to minister in our Diocese. Fr. David had a 33 hour trip yesterday to get to Denver, and then the remaining hour and a half drive from Denver to Cheyenne. He arrive here around 2:00am this morning. He flew from Chennai, India to Doha, Qatar, from there to New York, and from there to Denver.
Chennai is the location of three shrines to St. Thomas the Apostle. It was in this area of India where the Apostle was martyred. The Catholic faith is very strong in the southern portion of India, and we are benefitting from the large number of priests they have in this part of the Church and world.
Fr. David was ordained a priest in 1998. He has 1 brother and 7 sisters. All of his siblings are married, so he also has many nieces and nephews. He served for four and a half years in the Scranton Diocese, so this is not his first tour of service in the United States. He enjoys sports of all kind, including soccer, even though India does not have a contender in the World Cup.
Besides Fr. David, there are two other priests from the Diocese of Nellore presently serving in the Diocese of Cheyenne. Pictured alongside of Fr. David is Fr. Thomas George. Fr. Thomas is an associate at the Cathedral in Cheyenne, and has already in two years stolen the hearts of many.
Fr. Denis D’Souza, also of Nellore, is the pastor of Immaculate Conception in Green River. Green River is not far (by Wyoming standards) from Kemmerer, and it will be nice for Fr. David and Fr. Denis to be relatively close to each other.
Please join me in welcoming Fr. David to the Diocese of Cheyenne!
Last evening I went out after a brief rain thinking it would be easy to pull weeds in my small flower garden. To my disappointment, I discovered only the surface was moist, and I needed a tool to break the ground deep enough to pull the weeds from their roots. I realized after the weeds were pulled that having broken the ground in the process, this would be a good time to give the flowers some water. I thought the rain was over for the evening.
Then, around 9:45 pm a huge thunderstorm moved through, dumping not only copious amounts of water, but about five minutes of hail. The ground and streets are covered with the leaves stripped from the trees. My walk this morning revealed piles of hail on street corners where the gutters and drains were clogged from the hail, and could not carry the runoff of hail and rain fast enough. The hail did not do my flowers any good either!
But I digress from my point… The experience last night of pulling weeds and working the ground are a good analogy for the human heart. When the ground becomes hard, the rain does not have the immediate ability to penetrate the ground. Rather, the rain runs off, providing little long-term benefit to the roots, and thus the plants themselves. But, when the ground has been cultivated, it is not only free of weeds which compete for the nutrients of the crops and flowers, but the soil is far more receptive to the moisture required for growth and health.
Similarly, the human person must tend to the interior needs of the heart and soul. The attitude espoused in Psalm 108 expresses beautifully the openness of one who understands the life-giving relationship we have with the Creator: “My heart is ready, O God …” A healthy human life is one that does not allow the heart to become hardened by worldly ways, nor the soul to become fruitless through regular patterns of sinfulness and vice.
Hearts that cultivate relationships and love, souls that develop virtue and grow in holiness are ready tools in the hands of God. The Prophet Isaiah teaches: As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61)
So, dear friends, as we enter another day, let our hearts be open to the Lord. It is good to remember that each day we enter into a Love that is eternal. We take up fresh and new a relationship with Christ who is always pouring out grace upon grace to keep us vibrant in the life and ministry He shares with us. With cultivated and grateful hearts, let us ‘soak up’ the grace and love of Christ, that we may bloom where he has planted us and bear the fruits that are ours when we remain in His love. (John 15)
While yesterday’s ordination is still vivid and fresh in memory, I wish to share a few thoughts. The Cathedral has been full in my time as bishop for numerous other joyful celebrations, but this standing room only congregation came to celebrate like none I have witness before. Clearly, the local church, with the home parishes of each ordinand well represented, came to give thanks to God for the gift of these two new priests. The cathedral has known good liturgy and good music, but the liturgy for this celebration was elevated to a new level.
Acknowledging the unique joy of the celebration, and the pointed need for priests in the Church today, I shared with the parents of one of the newly ordained at the reception following Mass: “Why would anyone not want to know and live God’s will in their life after witnessing this ordination ceremony?”
I was very pleased to see the number of young adults that came to the Mass. I was also impressed with the caliber of young men the priests and deacons brought to the cookout and Holy Hour the evening before the ordination. I have no doubt God is calling young men of our time and of our diocese to enter the seminary and prepare for the priesthood. Yesterday’s ordinations revealed once again the beauty of priesthood as well as the love and respect the People of God have for their priests.
I believe the incredible turn out not only reveals a love many people have for these two new priests, but I believe it also speaks to the deep longing held by the People of God for holy priests; that our priests lead them to God.
From the very beginning of the ceremony, processing in to a packed church, throughout, my heart was filled with gratitude to God for sending two new, young priests for service in the Diocese of Cheyenne. As these two young men begin their life as priests, I cannot help but be reminded of the incredible Providence and Goodness of our God.
Let us pray for Fr. Bob and Fr. Brian. Let us pray for all of our priests, that God may bless them to be the priests God wants and needs them to be for all of us. Let us also continue to beseech the Lord regularly and earnestly for more humble yet ardent servants of the altar, to serve the People of God as priests.
Let us pray for each other, that we will all continually grow in holiness. May all of our young Church discover God’s will, and be only and always “Yes” to God!
Here is the homily from today’s ordination ceremony. I’ll be back later with photos. Please join the Diocese of Cheyenne in grateful prayers for the gift of these two new priests; Rev. Bob Rodgers and Rev. Brian Hess.
There are very few moments in a local church filled with the kind of joy and hope as when the People of God gather to ordain new priests. Deacon Bob and Deacon Brian, you have just been formally called to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and to join the Order of Priests, to share in the Eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The simple gesture of your change of seats speaks volumes. Just a few moments ago you were seated with your family, seated in the assembly of the faithful. Now, you have been ‘called forth’ from your family, ‘called forth’ from the congregation, ‘set apart’ for consecration and service.
Before I discuss the implications of this simple gesture for each of you, I wish to briefly reflect upon its significance for the Church.
First of all, every priest comes from a family. Every priest is a gift to the Church, given by God, but given through his parents and family. To you, Jim and Kim, Neil and Connie and to your families, I wish to express our deep gratitude for the precious gift of your sons and brothers. One of my very regular prayers is that more and more parents will help their children discover God’s will for their lives, while at the same time rejoice to offer a son to God for service to the Church as a priest.
Also, we note that just as these sons, these future priests come forth from a family; they also come forth from a parish family. So, to Our Lady of Fatima in Casper and to this Cathedral parish, we say ‘thank you’ today for nurturing the faith and vocation of each of these men. To the rest of our parishes, a word of encouragement to take note, that a priestly vocation is just one sign, though a significant one, of a vibrant, faith-filled community. We look forward to many more such vocations to the priesthood to flow from the families and parishes of this diocese.
Now, to you, Brian and Bob:
In one respect, today marks the culmination of many years of prayer, discernment and formation. For years, indeed, as the First Reading today describes so beautifully, “before you were formed in the womb,” God has called you to this moment. Perhaps, stated even more completely, God has called you from the beginning of time to share in the eternal priesthood. Christ and His grace (the grace of Holy Orders) will allow you to exercise His priesthood in a manner that heals the ills of today. Just as Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we who share His priesthood are to be all things to all people.
It is a daunting task, some would even say an audacious undertaking, but when a priest lives his life in faithful communion with Christ, he is a blessing and an inspiration to his people and to the world around him. In such faithful communion with Christ, the priest himself comes to know the joy that Christ promised, and the fulfillment of a truly, authentic human life, because a truly human life is one firmly rooted in God and given freely and lovingly in service to others.
Every human life, because it is rooted in God, is a treasure, and thus St. Paul says to the Corinthians in our second reading today: “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” So, in the words of St. John Vianney, “do nothing that you cannot offer to God.”
None of us sitting here with you today, can tell you in specific detail what the years ahead will entail, but we can certainly paint in broad strokes what you can anticipate, and the rite of ordination which we are about to celebrate will give its own instruction of the responsibilities which you are about to embrace.
Perhaps the best advice I can give is that you look always to Christ. He has called you to follow Him. If you do that, you will always be on the right path in the journey that begins today, for indeed, the life of a priest is one of a journey, a pilgrimage. At this moment, you leave behind father and mother, family and home. Christ is and will be your One constant Companion, and His Church is now your new home. Your daily circuit as a priest will encompass the entire universe, as you move from the altar to the tabernacle; from the pulpit to the baptistery to the confessional, no matter if in the smallest mission or largest parish, this faithful daily path will continue to wrap all of creation in the saving mystery of Christ.
The dwelling place of the priest is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This may sound like a throw-away, pious platitude. But to the priest who truly understands this reality, that priest is a tremendous source of grace, love, mercy and blessing to his people. To live in the heart of Christ is to know one’s self as infinitely and eternally loved. Living in the heart of Christ, the priest learns how to pour out his life as a grateful return to the God who created him. From the cross, that heart of Christ was pierced, and poured forth the blood of cleansing, mercy and salvation. The priesthood flows from this Sacred Heart of Christ. The priest celebrates the Eucharist that is the eternally flowing font of salvation for and from the Church.
The Gospel of Luke and the Responsorial Psalm you selected for today’s readings speak to us of Christ’s teaching to take up this blessing cup, this cup of salvation in his memory. This blood of Christ, which is His new and eternal covenant with us, is the source of healing and mercy for the world. A priest lives in the Heart of Christ in order to be the Heart of Christ in the world.
As a priest, you will be a Father of a family. As a Father, you are to pray and strive always for the UNITY of God’s family.
As a priest, you will be a brother to me as your bishop, to other priests, and especially to the marginalized; the poor, the incarcerated, the sick, those disheartened by the difficulties of life. In the Gospel today, Jesus commends his disciples for standing by him in his time of trials. Such compassion expressed for the distressed and disheartened of the world today is the hallmark of priests. Jesus also tells the disciples that He confers upon them a kingdom, the same kingdom he received from the Father. This is the same kingdom every priest is to share and expand in this world. We do this by our association with Jesus and our service to the least among us.
Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest among them is the one who serves the rest. Bob and Brian, always search out those who are most in need of Christ. Humble yourselves as St. Paul instructs us in the second reading today: “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.”
Just as you were called from your mother’s womb, Christ entered the world in similar fashion. Jesus in the Incarnation left the sanctuary of Heaven to enter the world to be among God’s People – to reveal the Father’s love. Likewise, priests today are to be found not only in the sanctuary – but in the world, among God’s people – revealing the love of God. The challenge here is to remain in Christ, rooted in His Gospel, so that while being in the world as emissaries of God’s Kingdom, the priest does not become of the world himself.
With your eyes fixed on Christ, learn from Christ, that you may teach in His name. Recognizing Christ as the Master Teacher, every priest is to teach in His name. As the Prophet Jeremiah, God has placed His Word in your mouths and upon your lips. Brian and Bob, I encourage each of you to take this role of teacher very seriously. There is much confusion in our world today about God, about the Church, about the human person. With the Truth of Christ, and the Truth that is Christ The Church has much to offer our people.
The obvious and most privileged place of teaching is the homily. Be faithful to prayerful and studious preparation for this task. But recognize that your role of teacher goes well beyond the pulpit. I encourage you as priests to be generous in spending time with our youth. Teach them how to pray. Teach them how to serve Mass. Take time to teach them in our Catholic schools and in our religious education programs. Spend time with our youth in our Y-Disciple and youth ministry programs. Teach them in simple conversation. Teach them and all others by the way you live your life, by means of simplicity, humility and chastity.
Any homily on priesthood would be incomplete without an instruction to the newly ordained to be men of prayer. One of the promises a priest makes is to pray for the Church. Prayer is ultimately about hope and trust in God. Prayer is a simple admission that we are not God, and God IS. Prayer does not try to influence God, as much as it is a conversation that opens one to the influence of God. I can assure each of you, Brian and Bob, that rarely does a day pass that someone does not ask a priest to pray for them. I would wager that the most often repeated request of our own Holy Father, Pope Francis has been: “Please, pray for me.”
Prayer for the priest has essentially two lungs: The daily celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of Hours. The greatest prayer of the priest is the daily celebration of the Eucharist. Be faithful to this daily rhythm of your priestly lives. The Divine Office can become routine, and I caution you to not allow this practice to simply become a mere obligation. The Liturgy of Hours is a beautiful habit of being in and with and for the Church. In many ways, it is like the mundane house chores, like washing dishes, doing laundry, making beds, cleaning and cooking, that when done with love, make a house a home. These simple, hidden prayers of the priest are what make the world the Kingdom of God. Brian and Bob, be men of prayer.
In short, as Jesus, lead us; lead the People of God to God.
Finally, as you now take up your dwelling in the Heart of Christ and make the Church your home, a word of encouragement that you take Mary as your Mother. No one in this world knew Christ more intimately, and no one has ever loved Christ more faithfully. Mary gave birth to Christ, and was at the foot of the cross when Christ gave birth to the Church. Mary will help you know the heart of Christ and will help you always grow in love for the Church, and none of us could ask more for you or of you as a priest.
Allow me to close with the words of Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta: Bob and Brian, “be only and all for Jesus, through Mary.”