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This Easter Sunday morning I am experiencing the manifold fruits and graces of the Lenten journey, and most particularly of this beautiful Holy Week. My heart is filled with gratitude for God’s Goodness.
I am told that this year, the number of people seeking the mercy of God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation far exceeds any previous year of recent memory. The attendance, and just as importantly, the participation during the Sacred Liturgies of these past few days reflects a dawning understanding and appreciation the People of God are showing for a renewed relationship with the God of Life and Mercy.
I cannot thank enough all those who have shared of their many gifts to make this Holy Week and Easter Vigil such a grand celebration, and a true act of worship. Mr. Patrick Stoltz, our Cathedral music director works with many talented individuals and choirs to provide the musical backdrop for our liturgies. God only knows the time and energy he puts into this key ministry.
I also wish to recognize Fr. Thomas George, the associate at the Cathedral who is always present for episcopal liturgies to not only serve as the Master of Ceremonies, but who makes sure everything is prepared ahead of time. The underlying blessing for me is that I can focus on praying the liturgy, and leave the details to others, and this provides for such a prayerful celebration for all.
I want to acknowledge all of our priests and deacons who give so much of themselves during these holy days. Between tending to the liturgical preparations, working with liturgy committees and musicians, preparing homilies, hearing confessions and presiding at the various services, Holy Week can be quite demanding. Be sure and give a word of encouragement and thanks to your parish priests, deacons, and anyone else who helps them with all the details of Holy Week.
Last night at the Cathedral, we received 23 catechumens and candidates into the Church. I believe there were eight baptisms and everyone else made a profession of faith, and all received the Sacrament of Confirmation. These newest members always bring renewed joy and enthusiasm to the faith family. Be sure to seek them out and welcome them and help them find their ‘place’ in our faith-family. Congratulations to all who joined the Church this Easter!
Today, all of us renew our Baptismal promises. As we do, let us be mindful again of the Divine Life the Risen Lord won for us and shares with us. This truly is our reason for being.
Go! And LIVE the FAITH!
As always, the First Reading of the Great Easter Vigil is the creation account from the Book of Genesis. We are called back to our roots, to our Divine DNA. The One Who created everything we worship this Holy Night for He has now Redeemed and Restored the same creation.
Everything comes from God’s creative love. Easter is celebrated in the Spring – and not by chance. As Cardinal Ratzinger reflects in his book, Behold the Pierced One, Jesus spoke often of “his hour” and that his ‘hour’ had not yet come on those occasions when the Pharisees and Priests sought his life. Jesus chose the ‘hour’ of his death (and resurrection), in association with the Passover, with the first full moon of Spring. Thus he unites once again the entire universe with His saving act.
Spring, is a time when the earth is waking up from the sleep of winter to give birth to every form of life all over again. The Passover is a time set aside each year to remember how God in his marvelous works set his people free from slavery. Recalling the death of the first born (Christ) and the slaughter of the unblemished lamb (Christ) are meant to evoke the saving power of God through His Son. They are meant to evoke the salvation of all people of every time.
Springtime is as powerful a symbol of resurrection as creation can offer.
This Holy Night uses well the primary forces of creation. LIGHT: The Easter Fire initiates our celebration as we begin in Darkness to reveal once again that the Light of Christ conquers darkness (resurrection!) We sing the praise of the paschal candle which is the symbol of the Light of Christ.
WATER is another sign of Life. Water bestows fruitfulness. Nothing grows without water. The absolute necessity of water is uniquely understood in the desert. Water as we know is also a primary source of cleansing and refreshment.
Finally, as the Easter Vigil and the entire Easter celebration reveal, the human voice is another powerful force of nature. Today, the Church sings again the great Alleluia! and gives praise to God.
As all of creation ‘gives birth’ once again this Spring, so too, the Church in the waters of Baptism, “the grace by which God has erased sin, restored innocence, and conferred justification that makes the soul worthy of eternal life.” (St. Bonaventure; The Triple Way)
The Paschal Lamb; The Lamb of God: “According to the Book of Revelation, the Lamb alone can open the seals of history. It is the Lamb, who appears as slain and yet lives, who receives the homage of all creatures in heaven and earth. The lamb which lets itself be killed without complaint is a symbol of meekness: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5). The Lamb with his mortal wound tells us that, in the end, it is not those who kill who will be the victors; on the contrary, the world is sustained by those who sacrifice themselves. It is the sacrifice of him who becomes the “Lamb slain” that holds heaven and earth together. True victory lies in this sacrifice. It gives rise to that life which imparts a meaning to history, through all its atrocities, and which can finally turn them into a song of joy.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger; Behold The Pierced One, p. 114)
Christ Conquers Death (Sin); Christ is our Life.
When I have known darkness in my own life, it is only when I turn it over to Christ that I experience conversion, light, victory, resurrection … holiness. Christ, in uniting us more closely with Himself – makes it possible for us to live in greater harmony with others. For true life is one of relationship, of communion. When these are damaged or do not exist, there is despair, and persons quickly shrivel up and die without this light, this truth, this goodness.
But when we encounter Christ, when we allow Christ to be our Truth, our Way, our Life, then we know the fullness of life! Then we know joy, meaning and purpose. Then we know true freedom, because then we know God.
Look around, all of creation is coming to life again, and all of creation, every one of us, traces our origins back to One Source, God. Just as every part of God’s creation has an inner orientation to the Creator that gives rise to the cycle of life, so too does every human being. When the harmony of all that God created was disrupted through sin, He came among us and took the full force of this consequence, in all of its ugliness and force, to restore and redeem through the power of Love. “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
God, the Risen Christ, the God of LIFE and LOVE is our true DNA. That is why we can live each day with the faith and hope that it is possible to live without sin; that it is not only possible, but it is God’s desire that we live lives of holiness.
Christ said: “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” My dear friends, let us find the Risen Christ within us again this Easter as we renew our Baptismal promises. Let us love and serve the Risen Christ within our neighbor. By such acts of faith and love, we bring heaven to earth. Let us follow the Lamb of God, Risen and Redeemer to a better world in this life, and to to eternal life!
Homily; Good Friday, 2014
The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
We now stand at the foot of the cross. What have we seen? What have we heard? We have seen Jesus today stand before Caiaphas, the high priest, and before Pilate and those who falsely accuse him. We have seen Jesus before guards who abuse him and his own disciple, Peter, who denies and abandons him. And, we stand alongside the faithful ones, Mary and John.
Before Caiaphas and Pilate, Jesus is partially on trial for claiming to be King of the Jews. In reality, as Jesus’ own testimony reveals, this title falls far short, for he is King of a far larger Kingdom; the Kingdom of God. Listen again to the testimony of Jesus: “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
Again, when challenged by Pilate to recognize the authority he wields over him, Jesus responds with the deeper truth regarding ultimate authority: “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” Thus we learn that all worldly power does not come from human sources, but from the One alone Who IS All Powerful.
We have seen Peter bravely proclaim his fidelity to Jesus, and his own willingness to die for Jesus. We know the rest of the story, and we know that this profession of faith and fidelity is ultimately achieved by Peter. But on this day, Peter falters and fails his test of discipleship.
Upon his arrest, Jesus is asked, if he is Jesus the Nazarene, he responds with the same words which God uses to reveal His identity to Moses: “I AM.” His response acknowledges his identity among men, but also reveals the far greater and Divine Nature of His Being. Jesus in this moment is clearly identifying himself as God, the one who comes as the Lamb of God to be led away for slaughter for the salvation of the world.
Peter on the other hand when asked: “You are surely one of Jesus’ followers!” responds also with an answer rich in meaning. “I am not.” Peter is well on his way to fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus that he would deny him three times. But on a deeper level, the response of Peter, particularly in contrast to Jesus’ response, reveals the truth of every human being. God is the One Who IS, and we are nothing. Indeed as Jesus teaches: “Without me you can do nothing.”
Finally, we arrive at the cross, where Jesus – beaten, stripped, weary and humiliated is nailed to the cross and lifted up for all to see. We cannot help but be moved to tears as we witness this terrible and painful torture. And yet we are moved even more deeply when we come to understand that the greater pain of our Lord is the cross he endured in his soul; the painful desire he carried from birth for the salvation of the world. As obvious is his weariness from the physical pain of this crucifixion, Jesus is far more afflicted by his deep desire to restore the honor of obedience to God and salvation to his neighbor. (Blessed Raymond of Capua, p. 186)
Before his death, we hear Jesus say: “I thirst.” Physically, these words make perfect sense. But again, on a far deeper level, they reveal an infinite desire in the heart of Jesus for our wellbeing. This desire is expressed by Jesus at the Last Supper when he declares to his disciples: “‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 22:15)
The urgency of this longing is contained in the words he speaks to Judas before Judas departs to betray him: “After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’” (John 13:27) Jesus now sees the hour of the completion of his deepest desire at hand. The painful cross of this desire has reached its culmination. He drinks the final drops from the chalice of his desire for the salvation of mankind to slake his ‘thirst’ and fulfills the Father’s will.*
At the hour Christ drinks the final drops from the chalice of his infinite desire for our salvation, a soldier pierces his side. We now gaze into this open side of Christ, into the sacred chamber of his chest which contains his Sacred Heart. From our vantage point as we stand with Mary and John at the foot of the cross, we see the infinite love of God revealed in the finite sufferings of Jesus. From this open and wounded side of Christ flows the Blood that fills the chalice which is given us for our salvation.
Standing with Mary and John, what have we learned? We learn that discipleship comes with a cost. Mary and John teach us that we are capable of enduring the pain and trials of this life. They teach us that love is the only response to the Love of the Savior as well as to the evils of this world.
Our life as disciples of Jesus will lead us to stand with Mary and John at the foot of the cross. Our discipleship of faith in Christ will offer us opportunities to share in His sufferings. This formation at the foot of the cross is to help us take God’s Word seriously, to love Christ devotedly, to follow Christ faithfully, to live without sin and to surrender to God’s Holy Will in all things.
Jesus’ desire was the desire of God for our own wellbeing. As disciples of Jesus, we bear the same desire for obedience to God and love of neighbor.
I wish to close this reflection with the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Jesus, may all that is you flow into me. May your body and blood be my food and my drink. May your passion and death be my strength and my life. With you by my side, enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross. Lord, let me not run from the love which you offer, but hold me safe from the forces of evil. And on each of my dyings shed your light and your love. Keep calling me Lord, until the day that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever.
*This reflection comes from St. Catherine of Siena as described by Blessed Raymond of Capua in his book: The Life of St. Catherine of Siena, pp.186-188
Mass of the Lord’s Supper; Holy Thursday 2014
Homily, Bishop Paul D. Etienne
Who does not long to see Jesus face-to-face? Who does not yearn for the reassurance of Christ’s love? He comes! Let us receive Him in the manner He chooses.
In this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus reveals the enduring reality of the Church as He gives Himself to His apostles under the form of bread and wine. Jesus points once again to the way of God’s love. He who “had come from God and was returning to God” took off his outer garments and wrapped the towel of humble priestly service about His waist. As He washes the feet of His apostles and tells them; “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
And thus begins the perpetual gift of Christ, a gift that will reach its completion on the cross, buried briefly in a tomb and be lifted up for all to see in all of its brilliance on Easter Sunday; a Gift we know today as the Church; as Eucharist, as Priesthood; in short, as Love.
We enter tonight the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The One Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity, Who lowered Himself as Son of God to become Son of Man, Who walked among us, Who preached the Good News, Who renewed and restored life to the sick and lost, Who gave hope to the desperate, Who forgave sinners, enters tonight into His Passion, which is the very Passion of the Heart of God, Whose Heart is overturned with mercy towards us.
Do you want to see the Christ face to face? Then enter with a heart of love into the Mystery opening before us this Holy Night. He comes! Let us receive and welcome Him as He chooses.
The Eucharist that perhaps has become a routine experience is revealed again tonight in its Original Beauty – a Communion of Love between Christ and His beloved friends. The Eucharist that at times is impoverished by our inattentiveness is revealed again tonight for its Truth and Beauty, as the very Body and Blood of Christ; the Gift of Divine love and life in its fullness. The Eucharist which some have left behind as something old and boring we celebrate with joy and gratitude tonight as the ‘sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of Christ’s love.’ (Collect, Mass of the Lord’s Supper)
As the Apostles gazed upon the face of Jesus during the Last Supper, so do all believers who gather around the table of the Lord. As the beloved disciple leaned upon the breast of Jesus during the Last Supper, so do we who adore Him in the Eucharist, who eat His Body and Drink His Blood. We do not come tonight to drink and still thirst, nor to eat and not be filled. We do not labor for food that perishes. Rather, we come to partake in the Food that endures for eternal life. (cf John 6:27)
As Christ changed water to wine, (John 2:1-11) so Christ comes to us under the signs of wine and bread that become His Body and Blood. May our faith in this marvelous exchange be renewed tonight, and may the eyes of the doubting be opened to believe and receive Christ in His precious Gift.
Do you want to see Christ face to face? Then adore Christ in the Eucharist. Discover Christ in the Blessing Cup of Communion that is the Blood of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:16) He comes! Let us receive and welcome Him as He chooses.
The Priesthood which has been soiled through human weakness is still the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priesthood that at times is diminished with too much emphasis on privilege rather than humility, worldly trappings rather than simplicity, power rather than service, control instead of collaboration is called tonight to return to Christ Who is our Head, our Master, our Model and Friend.
The priesthood that is at time isolated in parish rectories and offices is called tonight to walk with God’s people to accompany them in their darkness and lead them into the Light of the Church, the Light of the Gospel, the Light of Jesus Christ. Priests are reminded tonight that Christ Who became poor for our sake likes to whittle us down to nothing in order that He can be our Everything. The priests who leave everything behind to follow Christ are reminded again tonight that as they give their all to love those entrusted to them, He always returns love for love.
Do you want to see Christ face to face? Then look into the eyes of your priest. Love your priests. These are the mysterious, loving ways of our God. He comes! Let us receive and welcome Him as He chooses.
Finally, the Church. Christ washes the feet of His apostles tonight, and with this gesture he gives us not only the model for priesthood, but the model of life for all who will come to believe in Him and follow Him. As Christ approached Peter to wash his feet, Peter at first protests: “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answers: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” This inheritance is not just of apostolic ministry, but the inheritance of eternal life and the new commandment “to love one another as I have loved you.” To be washed by Christ is to be bathed in His blood and renewed in the waters of baptism. And thus Jesus tells Peter tonight: “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over;”
Tonight, as we join the apostles in the upper room, as we have our feet washed by Jesus and partake of the new and eternal banquet of the unblemished lamb slain for our salvation, as we walk with Christ across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane, while we stand by and watch him betrayed and arrested and tomorrow stand at the foot of the cross, we come to the headwaters of the Church.
The Church is the Body of Christ, nourished by His Body and Blood and called to service as we model Him “Who loved His own in the world, and loved them to the end.” Yes, each of us are called to the same loving service of Christ, called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ, called to love as Christ, Who loves without measure. And when we learn to go out of ourselves and love with all the love of Christ, then we will see Christ face to face in those who need us most.
Do you want to see Christ face to face? Then love another, love one who cannot or does not love you in return and you will see the face of Christ and know the love of Christ in return. He comes! Let us receive and welcome Him as He chooses.
Today, the Church enters into the Sacred Triduum, beginning with the celebration this evening of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During this beautiful celebration, the Church recalls the Last Supper, in which Jesus loves his own to the end and offers his body and blood to his apostles under the form of bread and wine. This Holy Night, Jesus gives us the Church and institutes the two Sacraments of Eucharist and Priesthood.
As a bishop, I will spend today in prayerful thanksgiving for all of our priests, who give so generously of themselves to the Church and the People of God. I also invite all of you to join me in this prayer.
Also today, I pray for all of those God is calling to serve the Church as priests. At this point, the Diocese of Cheyenne has no applications from young men wanting to begin their seminary studies to serve as a priest for the Diocese of Cheyenne. Please join me in prayer today for all those whom God is calling to humble service at the altar of the Church as generous distributors of the Mysteries of God. Priesthood is a beautiful life, and I pray more young men will open their hearts to God. Here is a simple reflection from Pope Francis during this morning’s Chrism Mass in Rome:
All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.
On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.
Tonight, we will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral at 7:00. I invite you to please join us, or to please attend this Mass with your own parish family.
There is a great tradition in the Church this night that I encourage you to experience as well. Following the Mass, a special ‘altar of repose’ is set up in the church where the Hosts consecrated during the Mass are placed for a designated period of prayer. Recall that after the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with his Apostles. This is the time and place for his arrest and the beginning of his passion.
“Will you spend one hour with me in prayer?” These are the words of Jesus to Peter, James and John.
This is my invitation to all of you here in Cheyenne this evening. Following Mass at the Cathedral, I will spend some time in prayer at our altar of repose. Then, I along with whoever wishes, will travel to St. Joseph’s Church for a period of prayer at their altar of repose. Finally, we will travel to Holy Trinity parish for a period of time at their altar. My intention at each of these moments will to pray for priestly vocations from the family of the People of God of this Diocese of Cheyenne.
Of course, I fully anticipate many will simply choose to pray at their respective parishes, which is appropriate, as we do not wish to leave the Blessed Sacrament alone at any one parish.
My dear friends, today we prepare to enter the Sacred Triduum. I wish to encourage all of this readership to make sure you know what the liturgical schedule is for your parish these next three days; Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Great Easter Vigil. Our presence and full participation at these liturgies is critical.
Every Christian has a vital role to play in the life of the Church and from there in the world to further God’s Kingdom. We can only accomplish our God-given role when we are walking as disciples with Christ. The Triduum celebration is a privileged means of accompanying Christ in His passion, death and resurrection. The Triduum celebration is an opportune moment to be strengthened in our Life in Christ.
The Easter Triduum recalls the culmination of Christ’s earthly life and ministry.
“Christ redeemed us all and gave perfect glory to God principally through his paschal mystery: dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life. Therefore the Easter Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. Thus the solemnity of Easter has the same kind of preeminence in the liturgical year that Sunday has in the week.”
Let the paschal fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, wherever possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, as a way of coming to the joys of the Sunday of the resurrection with uplifted and welcoming heart.
These days are therefore unique in the liturgical year and their celebration is of utmost importance in the spiritual and pastoral life of the Church.” (Ceremonial of Bishops, nn. 295-296)
While many dioceses around the country are conducting “The Light Is On For You”, a time when priests are available in every church of the diocese to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation for an extended period of time, we here in Cheyenne are offering the Sacrament in our three parishes over the three evenings of Sunday, Monday and final one tonight.
Sunday evening was a very good crowd at Holy Trinity. Last night was a near capacity crowd at the Cathedral, and tonight, we will gather once again at 7:00 at St. Joseph parish. I believe each of these evenings we had seven priests present to hear confessions, and last night we celebrated the Sacrament with the People of God from 7:00 until 9:00pm. It was a very edifying experience, and a wonderful way for our priests (and myself) to celebrate our priesthood in Holy Week.
Here are my thoughts from the homily last night.
When we gather for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our focus is fundamentally directed in one or two directions: a) confessing my sins or b) receiving God’s mercy. The first focus is to some extent the very definition of sin – a ’self-focus.’ The second is the remedy of sin – the unforeseen and infinite mercy of God! Even though both foci are a necessary part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are ultimately here to receive God’s Mercy!
Our First reading tonight, Hosea 11:1-11 recalls the marvelous ‘Passion of God’ as he experiences the pain of His Eternal and Divine Heart, caused by the infidelity of His people Israel. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) shares the following thoughts in his book, Behold The Pierced One:
- In the Song of Songs 4:9 we read about the love of God as expressed in the drama of this human love: “You have ravished my heart,” and again in 8:16 “set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is strong as death.” When we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are approaching the very Heart of God.
- In Hosea 11, the Prophet speaks of the depths of God’s love for His people: “The first verses of the chapter portray the immense proportions of the love which God has bestowed on Israel from the very morning of its history: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” But there is no response from the people to this unwearying love of God which is always running after Israel: “The more I called them, the more they went from me…” (v.2) (p. Behold The Pierced One, p. 62)
- Israel has a long history of fidelity and infidelity. Such turning away from God carries a sentence of judgment, so Hosea continues: “He shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be his king; The sword shall begin with his cities and end by consuming his solitudes. . . God shall not raise them up.” (vvv. 5,7)
- But then, there is this marvelous change of heart for God! Israel may abandon the salvation offered by God, but God shows how high and different are His ways over ours: “How could I give you up, O Ephraim, or deliver you up, O Israel? . . . My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my anger, . . . For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.” (vv. 8,9)
- “Here we see the upheaval in the Heart of God as God’s own, genuine Passion. It consists of God Himself, in the person of his Son, suffering Israel’s rejection.”…. “According to Hosea, the Passion of Jesus is the drama of the divine Heart: “My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” The pierced heart of the crucified Son is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of the Heart of God, which overthrows its righteousness by mercy and by that very action remains righteous.” (Behold The Pierced One p. 64)
My second point comes from Pope Francis, and an October 2013 Angelus reflection:
Pope Francis speaks about the central importance of God’s mercy when reflecting on the Lukan stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son:
Here is the entire Gospel! Here! The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here! But make sure that it is not sentiment; it is not being a “do-gooder”! On the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the “cancer” that is sin, moral evil, and spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God’s joy!
Another passage from the prayers of the Roman Missal following the Lord’s Prayer gives insight into the all-important role God’s mercy plays in our efforts to live holy lives: Deliver us, LORD, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress…
- It is only by God’s mercy that we are capable of being without sin (through reconciliation)
- Pope Francis in a recent interview identified himself as a sinner… a sinner redeemed by Christ. Here is a man who has a profound sense and personal experience of the mercy of God – a mercy that stands as true justice – a justice that is beyond this world.
Finally, a word from Cardinal O’Malley while reflecting upon the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy. He recalled the Holy Father’s episcopal moto: Miserando Atque Eligendo, which translates: “Having Mercy and Calling me.”
From this moto, and from the Pope’s own personal experience, Cardinal O’Malley sees a new manner of living a moral life emerge. He describes this moral life as not so much seeking to live by sheer force of will, not a matter of never falling down, but an always getting up again. God’s mercy is the focus.
My friends, we are here tonight to receive the Mercy of God. The Paschal Myster, the Work of Redemption is a one-time event, the effects of which are eternal and never ending. However, in our humanity, we often ‘fall into sin.’ We are here tonight that God make raise us up, dust us off, renew us in His Merciful Love, and send us on our way!
The annual Chrism Mass is perhaps the liturgical celebration of the year which emphasizes the unity of the Church. I wish this evening to focus on this theme of communion, of unity.
Communion begins in the heart of God, and is best witnessed in the unity and love shared in the Trinity. The communion between the Father and the Son became visible in the incarnation and witnessed by so many of Jesus’ followers. This communion eventually and intentionally found its way into a group of twelve whom Jesus called to be his apostles, his most intimate friends. He did this to secure his desire to found a Church for the salvation of humanity. He did this also to model the fraternity, the ‘communion’ that is the essential nature of the Church.
The communion shared between Jesus and his apostles is the same fraternity that exists between a bishop and his presbyterate. This dynamic of life and walking together that existed in the early Church is fundamentally the same nature of the Church today as the People of God journey together, proclaim the Good News, and give witness to the living presence of Jesus Christ in the midst of the world today. This communion that existed between Jesus and those who believed in Him and followed Him is the same dynamic communion at work today between the bishop, his presbyterate, and the entire People of God. Our celebration in this Cathedral tonight is one of the strongest symbols of this communion that we are to live and nourish every day.
Christ is the source of our unity and the promoter of our communion. The communion Christ shares with the Father, the communion Christ shares with the Apostles is the communion Christ shares with His Spouse, the Church. This fraternal co-existence is what defines us as Church.
Our church and society today are in great need of a priestly witness and lifestyle which is permeated by the Good News of Jesus. As priests, our witness to the world begins with the fraternity and love we share among ourselves. Tonight my brothers I invite you once again to grow in harmony in service with me as your bishop, and with one another as brothers in the Lord.
In an address given to Bishops gathered in Rome in late February, our Holy Father put it this way: “brothers who love each other despite their differences in character, origin or age … This testimony gives birth to the desire to be part of the great parable of communion that is the Church. When a person feels that “mutual love among the disciples of Christ” is possible and is capable of transforming the quality of interpersonal relations, he /she feels called to discover or rediscover Christ, and opens [up]to an encounter with the Living and Working One.” (Pope Francis to Bishops and Friends of Focolare, Rome, February 27, 2014)
Speaking of this important reality of communion, Blessed John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Inuente: “To make the Church the home and the school of Communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God’s plan and respond to the world’s deepest yearnings.” … “Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up.” (# 43)
My brothers, promoting a spirituality of communion among ourselves is at the very heart of Jesus who longs for an intimate communion with each of us. His desire for such communion is expressed in His prayer the night before He died that ‘we all may be one.” (John 17) St. Paul speaks of this unity in Christ when he says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
The Second Vatican Council speaks of the Church as a people of faith on a journey. This image of life as a journey, as a pilgrimage of faith is a powerful, often repeated image for Pope Francis, who proposes that the model of communion for the Church today is the Gospel image of the Risen Jesus walking with two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.
“We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.
… we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.” (28 July 2013; Pope Francis Address to Bishops of Brazil; World Youth Day, Rio De Janero)
My brother priests, in our ministry, we are to go out of ourselves to encounter others, to accompany others. In so doing we are called to exercise the tenderness of Jesus in our relations with each other, while at the same time discovering the tender compassion of our God for ourselves. When Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to “Love others as I have loved you,” He is telling us that as His love knew no bounds, we are to love without measure, without counting the cost.
Today we must rediscover our mission as pastors (bishops and priests). We should not fear walking in the darkness as we seek out the People of God. We are to help them with their disillusionment by accompanying them, walking with them into the Light of Christ, the Light of the Gospel, the Light of the Church.
Brothers, often we experience a tension in fulfilling the various offices of priesthood; of sanctifying, preaching and governing. I believe we too narrowly associate the office of governance with modern day administration. Governing is a far greater role of the priest than mere administration. Sound administration is essential, and we cannot abandon that responsibility, nor can we focus solely upon administrative duties. But a true sense of governance means being a proper pastor of souls. Canon Law states it like this: “Clerics are to acknowledge and promote that mission which lay persons exercise in their own way in the Church and in the world.” (Canon 274, paragraph 2)
In other words, we as pastors have a role to form all of the People of God to be followers of Jesus. Part of our obligation in being ‘servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor 4:15) is to recognize the various gifts of the members of the Body of Christ. We are to help each member properly discern their own gifts which are meant for the building up of the Body of Christ. WE are to call forth these gifts and empower every member of the Church to fulfill their legitimate role in the life of the Church.
Listen to the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he teaches regarding the co-responsibility the laity share for the good of the Church:
“…it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people. This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as “collaborators” of the clergy but truly recognized as “co-responsible”, for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity. This common awareness of being Church of all the baptized in no way diminishes the responsibility of parish priests. It is precisely your task, dear parish priests, to nurture the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already committed to working hard in the parishes. They form the core of the community that will act as a leaven for the others.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 26 May 2009; Opening of Convention of Diocese of Rome, St. John Lateran Church)
The Fathers of the Church teach: “The work and ministry of the priest is exercised only in hierarchical communion with his Bishop, who by his office and ministry maintains communion with the universal Church. Through the imposition of hands and the words of consecration the Holy Spirit is given to each ordained minister.” (LG #21) It is precisely the power of the same Holy Spirit that leads us in our ministry and the fulfillment of the various offices of holy orders. Therefore, the work before us is not beyond our ability.
Just as the Spirit rushed upon David at the moment of his consecration as King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13); and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon Isaiah and sent him to bring glad tidings to God’s People (Isaiah 61:1-3) and the same Spirit empowered Jesus as He began His public ministry (Luke 4: 16-21), so the Holy Spirit is granted to the People of God through the power of Baptism, and to the clergy through Holy Orders.
Ours is the work of God, the work of communio, and it is faithfully accomplished by the power of the same God through our humble service of God’s People. This necessarily means that we have a lot of work to do!
So, dear People of God, let us go forth from this Cathedral tonight, one in the Lord, armed with the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of our Baptism, to walk together, giving witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.” (cf. Revelation 1:5-8)
This Thursday, we will celebrate the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral in Cheyenne. For generations, the Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Cheyenne has been held in Casper, due to the more central location. However, as the Chrism Mass is a celebration manifesting in a unique and beautiful way the unity of the Church, it seems fitting to bring this Mass once again to the Cathedral, which is the church of the Bishop, they symbol of unity in every diocese.
The Mass will begin at 5:15 in the Cathedral. All are welcome! All are invited! If you have never attended a Chrism Mass, do yourself a favor – Come and celebrate!
“This Mass, which the bishop concelebrates with his college of presbyters (priests) and at which he consecrates the holy chrism and blesses the other oils, manifests the communion of the presbyters with their bishop.
The holy chrism consecrated by the bishop is used to anoint the newly baptized, to seal the candidates for confirmation, and to anoint the hands of presbyters and the heads of bishops at their ordination, as well as in the rites of anointing pertaining to the dedication of the churches and altars. The oil of catechumens is used in the preparation of the catechumens for their baptism. The oil of the sick is used to bring comfort and support to the sick in their infirmity.
Presbyters are brought together and concelebrate this Mass as witnesses and cooperators with their bishop in the consecration of the chrism because they share in the sacred office of the bishop in building up, sanctifying, and ruling the people of God. This Mass is therefore a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, which continue to be present in the Church.
To show the unity of the college of presbyters, the presbyters who concelebrate with the bishop should come from different parts of the diocese.” (Ceremonial of Bishops #274)
Today has been another full day of meetings. I met today with the Deans of the Diocese to discuss a number of important topics, not the least of which are the clergy appointments for this summer. Decisions about clergy assignments perhaps have the largest impact on the People of God. Even though the majority of these appointments will not be made until a later date, we are prepared at this time to make an announcement that has been in the waiting for quite some time.
More will follow by the end of the month.