Posts Tagged ‘Love’
I mentioned recently in a previous blog that Sherry Weddell gave a great series of presentations to our clergy for this year’s clergy institute. One of the astounding statistics she provided indicates that many Catholics do not believe it is possible to have a personal relationship with God. This statistic alone can give tremendous guidance to every pastor and parish regarding a key priority in our day-to-day mission. That priority is simple; lead people to Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday’s first reading came from the Prophet Jeremiah, and gives a great starting point for all of God’s people to believe that it IS possible to have a relationship with God. In fact, this is God’s deepest desire for us, to enter into relationship with us!
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. (Jeremiah 1: 5)
Similar teachings can be found throughout sacred scripture. The Prophet Isaiah says the same thing in Chapter 44 verse 2. Psalm 139 vs 13 repeats this wisdom. And Psalm 8 takes this knowledge and further develops it into the foundation and basis for the dignity that is due every human person.
We believe God brings every human life into being. We also believe that because God is love, (1 John 4:8) our human dignity is rooted in God’s love for us. St. John further defines love: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) This divine teaching tells us just how much God desires a relationship of love with each of us. And if this is God’s desire, then clearly, it is not only possible to have a relationship with God, but at the core of every human person is a deep desire to be in this relationship of love with God! For Catholics, and for all Christians, this relationship with God takes place in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Gospels speak of the many human relationships Jesus developed during his earthly life and ministry. He called many people into personal relationship and friendship. He taught of the Father’s love. He healed with the power of Life that was his as the Son of God, and in the same manner healed hearts and consciences with compassion and mercy through the forgiveness of sins. His ultimate gift of healing is the gift of salvation he offers every human person through his death and resurrection.
Through the resurrection, Jesus continues to be present to any and all who choose to believe in him, who welcome him as both the Son of God and as Friend. We need only make the slightest opening in the door of our hearts to Christ by simple acts of faith in him, and he will walk directly into our life. I know how much I need the gift of salvation he brings. I know how much I need his friendship. I am so very grateful for his presence, love and action in my life.
Sunday’s Psalm response reminds us of a basic result of experiencing this life changing relationship with Jesus. Psalm 71 says that “I will sing of your salvation.” Any of us who have fallen in love know that we cannot wait to tell others of this amazing relationship in our life. We must not remain silent in the reality of the amazing relationship that is ours with Christ. Our lives must take up this song of salvation.
There are many ways that we sing of the Lord’s salvation. Yes, we can actually sing, especially at Church. But at the heart of our ‘song’ is our relationship with Jesus. The joy of our heart at the knowledge that we are forgiven our sins and the gates of heaven are open to us will naturally exude joy in our very being, let alone in everything that we do.
In today’s Gospel, we hear Mark’s version of the Gospel we heard from Luke on Sunday. Jesus returns to his home town. Here is another ‘setting’ for us to employ. Can we picture Jesus in our home town? Can I picture Jesus coming to my home?
Because the people that watched Jesus grow up could not believe him to be anything more than ‘the son of Joseph and Mary,’ they lacked the faith required to allow Jesus to work any mighty deeds in their midst. When we keep Jesus at a distance, believing he is a fictitious figure of a man-made bible, or only a great prophet, we fail to open the door of possibility for a life-changing encounter with Christ.
In fact, Jesus has come into the world. Through his resurrection and through the Church, he continues to be present. And Jesus has promised to come again. He is calling. He is waiting. He longs to call each of us his friend, so that ‘his joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.’ (John 15:11)
On today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Christmas season reaches its conclusion. With the Baptism of Jesus, the so called ‘hidden years’ of Jesus come to an end as his public life and ministry commence. In many ways, the Baptism in the Jordan of Jesus by John the Baptist reveals the mystery of the Christmas season. As the Church moves forward from this season of worshiping the child Jesus, we now turn our eyes to find Jesus in the infants of our time – bringing them to Christ through the baptismal font of the Church.
IN the person of Jesus, God enters the world. Through baptism, Jesus enters each of our lives; God once more takes on the flesh of our humanity.
The one who created the heavens and the earth and all within them becomes one of us. Human nature in the person of Jesus reaches its fullness as humanity is perfectly united with divinity. In baptism, our human nature, our ‘person,’ is united once more to the divine. Each of our lives reaches its fullness when we receive Christ through the faith of the Church.
At the birth of Jesus, the Word of God – which is Light and Love – became flesh. He who created the world – who lay upon the earth in a bed of straw – now walks among us. The earth receives her maker, and humbly provides him a resting place. He who made the waters of the earth – who walked upon them – today is submerged in the waters – blessing and sanctifying the work of his hands – that we might become a new creation, washed clean of sin. He who died and rose again – who is Life – now reveals Himself as the origin and redeemer of all life.
God, who is perfect love, has loved us first. This love of God is the love with which Jesus loves us. It is the love of Jesus who as bridegroom takes us, the Church, as his bride, uniting us to Himself. The love of Jesus is a self-giving love, poured out to give his Life to the world. This love of Jesus, is mirrored in the love of husband and wife, given and freely expressed, which generates new life. These children are brought to the Church, to the baptismal font, where they are united to Christ, that they may become children of God.
In the Baptism ceremony, the couple is asked: “What do you ask of the Church?” And they respond: “Baptism!” meaning “the life of Christ and faith in him.” There is no greater gift a couple gives their children than the gift of faith. This gift is further complimented when the couple demonstrates throughout the life of their children the way to live the faith by their own witness to Christ.
The Christmas season reminds us of the powerful mysteries that are mingled and mixed as they play out in the day to day life of the believer: Worldly realities with Heavenly eternity; Human Nature and Divine Nature; Natural laws and Life of Grace.
We see these mysterious ways of Jesus in his earthly ministry. He took five loaves and two fish and fed over five thousand. He changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. He suspended once again the laws of nature as he walked upon the Sea of Galilee. He cured every kind of illness and brought Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain back to life from the dead. Surely, Jesus is Life.
It is easy to adore the Son of God as a child lying in a manger. It is far more challenging and rewarding to continue to worship, adore and obey him as a man (as Christ) during his earthly ministry, preaching the truth. Yet, as Christ matured from childhood to Messiah, so must our faith mature as we go through life.
There is a prayer from the Mass which captures the manner in which the life of Christ is lived out in mature fashion of faith. It is a prayer prayed silently by the priest, just before he holds the broken host before the congregation declaring: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Here is the prayer:
Lord Jesus, Son of the living God, who by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death and resurrection gave life to the world, free me from all my sins and from every evil, keep me always faithful to your commandments and never let me be departed from you.
In Baptism, we are united intimately with Jesus, the Son of the living God. Through the sacraments, he strengthens us to live humbly and faithfully the Father’s will in each of our lives, through the grace and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has shared his life with us, freeing us from sin and every evil. In Christ, we have all we need to remain faithful to his teachings, and please God, to never be departed from him.
As we enter once again the Ordinary Time of the Church, may we live our faith. May we live in the knowledge and practical humility of St. John the Baptist, that we are unworthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. May we concretely live our life in Christ, by the words of the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Today, the First Sunday of the Christmas Season, the Church celebrates the Holy Family. The many depictions of the birth of Christ, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, and all the other members of the Christmas story tell us that all families find their true center and identity in Christ.
Hopefully, you are enjoying some time with family during this Christmas season. I am blessed with the family that is entrusted to me as a bishop, the People of God of the Diocese of Cheyenne. I always enjoy the Midnight Mass celebration in the Cathedral. It is a great way to give thanks to God while at the same time praying with so many members of the faith family.
I am also blessed with my own family. This year, on Christmas day I flew home to spend time with my family in Southern Indiana. Even though I only slept about three hours, sharing Christmas dinner with my family was worth the effort.
One thing that family life teaches us is that love is inconvenient. Sure, there are great moments in every family, and these become the special memories recalled later in life. There are many family moments of enjoying the love that binds a family together. But, it is the love that surfaces and comes to the aid of one another in times of need and crisis that are truly the foundation of family life. These are the moments when love is not easy, when love is inconvenient.
Every family knows those experiences when harsh words are spoken, and feelings are hurt. There are times when someone is unintentionally overlooked. For family life to go on and ‘get back on track’ someone needs to say “I am sorry,” and someone else needs to say “I forgive you.” There are times when someone is sick or in trouble, and someone else needs to put their own plans on hold in order to serve the other. These are the moments when love is inconvenient, when love is tested, when true love is proven.
In our families, are we willing to take our turn in serving the others? Am I willing to surrender my own needs and plans in order to allow or help someone else do what they want to do or give them what they need? Am I willing to ask for forgiveness when I hurt a member of the family, or willing to forgive them when they disappoint or hurt me? Such is love. Such is family life.
The reality of family life teaches us that love is demanding and rewarding. This is why true family life keeps Christ at the center.
Christ teaches us that love is always willing to ‘go out’ of one’s self to encounter the other – to serve the other. True love allows one to be inconvenienced by the needs of others. True love is always willing to forgive, (over and over again) to heal, and to speak a comforting word. True love accepts others for who they are, while always helping them to become better. True love is willing to go where people are, and help them find their way home – to their true self – to their place at the family table, and ultimately, to our true home with our Father in heaven.
No family is perfect. Every family has its challenges. That’s why there is love. That is why we need Christ, and why we welcome him into every home. We give thanks that God chose to become a member of a human family. We continue to welcome Jesus into our homes and our families. This is where we learn to love. The family is where we learn the demands and the rewards of love.
Let’s hear it for the family!
Nothing like an anniversary to boil things back down to the basics. Life and ministry can get very complicated at times, and those are good moments to be reminded of what is most important. Here is the basic invitation and commission once again:
“Come, follow me.”
“Go, and preach the Gospel.”
“I love you.”
Yesterday was indeed an inspiring start to the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the United States. In his remarks to the US Bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral he made clear his desire for the people in the United States to know that he comes to embrace each and everyone of us.
The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace.
In his remarks at the White House, our Holy Father gave great support to the efforts of our US Bishops to protect religious freedom.
With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
And in his homily, the Holy Father once again calls all of us to discover the joy of knowing and following Jesus. This is the key to understanding Pope Francis. This is the key to interpreting everything he says to us. Jesus Christ is the ‘core’ who unifies everything!
If you want to understand this Pope, it is important to see how he views his role as the Chief Shepherd of the flock. I believe that is what he shared with the bishops yesterday in his address to us at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Here is the address in full. It is a bit long, but well worth the read.
Pope Francis’ Address to US Bishops September 23, 2015 St. Matthew’s Cathedral Washington, D.C. Dear Brother Bishops, I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay. As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land. The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!” Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage. My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey. I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated. I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”. I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country. It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission. We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25). The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31). Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor. It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27). Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock. Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45). Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11). We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear. I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition. And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response. Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16). The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing. We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise. We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”. The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over. Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations. May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14). This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges. The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church. These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society. To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise. Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32). Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37). My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church. May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!
For the third day running, our daily Mass readings bring us to the cross. Sunday, Jesus instructed that the cross was at the heart of his identity as Messiah. He also taught that each true and mature disciple must take up his or her cross each day should they choose to follow him.
Yesterday on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we celebrated the glory of our salvation, won by our Savior upon the wood of the cross. We asked for the grace to embrace the cross and all it entails with a joyful vision of the triumph it ultimately obtains.
Today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we see the first and greatest disciple of Jesus at the foot of his cross, Mary. Though we speak of the glory of the cross and the joy discovered in salvation, we would be less than human if we did not also acknowledge the great suffering that also accompanies discipleship. This suffering is a part of love. St. Bernard, in speaking of Mary at the foot of the cross, brings this out beautifully in a selection from today’s Office of Readings:
Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.
One lesson for the disciples is clear and consistent. The cross is central to our present life, and the only ladder to life eternal with God. As we mature in faith and discipleship, we learn this lesson. We learn not to run from the reality of the cross, but to find our surest shelter in its shade. We learn the joy of giving our life away, bit by bit, as the surest sign of our faith in the Lord Jesus, and the strongest evidence of our love for God.
Mary, as we seek the shelter of the cross this day, may we find ourselves in your company. Through your intercession, may we have the hearts of love to discover and serve your Son in those who suffer today. Through your love and compassion, may we find comfort and solace for the trials, tribulations and sufferings entailed in living our life in love for others.
In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus taught us that if we wish to be his disciples, we must take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34) If we receive this instruction in a worldly way, all we will see is the sacrifice and suffering which the cross entails.
Today, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Cross, or the Triumph of the Cross. The true ‘end’ of the cross is our salvation! Thus, in a very real way, there is not only sacrifice and suffering to be found in the cross, but also true joy.
Many of the antiphons for today’s Feast portray the spirit of hope and joy we celebrate as we remember the glory of the cross in God’s mysterious and loving plan of salvation:
“See the cross of the Lord; let all his enemies flee in terror; the lion of Judah, David’s seed, is victorious, alleluia.”
“We must glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; in him is our salvation, life and resurrection. Through him we are saved and set free.”
“O glorious cross, your arms upheld the priceless ransom of captive mankind. Through you the world has been saved by the blood of the Lord.”
“The Lord hung upon the cross to wash away our sins in his own blood. How splendid is that blessed cross.”
How radiant is that precious cross which brought us our salvation. In the cross we are victorious, through the cross we shall reign, by the cross all evil is destroyed, alleluia.”
On this feast, we pray for the grace of faith to trust in the Lord’s ways. The mystery of the cross is perhaps the greatest evidence of the truth of what the Prophet Isaiah spoke so many years ago:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
We also pray today for the grace to have the wisdom to turn to the cross to find our healing, just as the people of Israel who had sinned against the Lord found healing in gazing upon the serpent Moses wrapped around a pole at the Lord’s command. (Numbers 21:4-9) This is Jesus prayer for us today:
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3: 14) This is the evidence of God’s great love for us, and the true cause of our joy in Christ and in his Holy Cross. For as Jesus also says in today’s Gospel:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)\
Jesus’ address to his apostles the night before he was handed over is a beautiful discourse on the Trinity. He speaks in his own mysterious way of the love that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He does so in relationship to how this internal mystery of God is shared with all of us through him and through his gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus through the Incarnation comes into the world to accomplish the deep desire of God to draw every person into the ‘unity’ that exists between the three persons of God; to bestow upon everyone of us the gift of Divine Life itself!
Jesus’ relationship with each of the apostles is the beginning of the work to draw individuals into the Divine Life through relationship with him. This ‘drawing into’ the life of the Divine Relationship continues after his resurrection and ascension through his gift of the promised Holy Spirit. Listen to these words of Jesus:
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in my through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them. (John 17: 20-26)
As we experience our own unity with Christ, we are then to build this unity through our relationships with one another, and this unity is built through truth and love. As Jesus built a strong communion between himself and his apostles, so every bishop is to build up a strong communion within his own presbyterate. This thought is very much on my heart and mind today as I prepare to ordain two new men to the priesthood.
Communion is built in many ways, but most especially through the communion of the ‘table,’ the banquet of sacrifice which is the Eucharist. This table of communion is then to be identified with at every Christian table, in every Christian home, in every Christian gathering around any kind of food. The Lord who gives himself as food at every Eucharistic banquet takes up his dwelling in the life of believers. Each believer nourished in Christ is then to nurture this communion of love in every one of his or her relationships.
We experienced this communion that builds unity in the gathering held yesterday evening. It was a time of prayer, fellowship, and food. As the priests, deacons and seminarians gathered, we welcomed one another, and especially those who are being ordained today, along with their family and friends. Every human life needs quality relationships. Every presbyterate needs strong bonds of fraternity, communion, and support. We cannot take these relationships for granted. We must always be intentional in forging the bonds that advance God’s Kingdom. In such bonds, as St. John tells us in his Second Letter:
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son in truth and love.” (2 John 3)
Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The call of God in every life is to love. Those who truly love know that it comes not only with great reward, but with a cost as well. It takes great energy to enter into the life of another person; to accompany them, to know and understand their person and their needs.
Through the Incarnation, Jesus took on our human condition. He knows what it is like to enter into the life of another person. He experience hunger, thirst, and weariness, even pain. We can look at the Incarnation as a means by which Jesus took our yoke upon himself in order to show solidarity in the process of revealing the presence of God in our midst. Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ invitation to us to take his yoke and learn from him.
During my walk yesterday, I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. As I pray the rosary, I like to take just a few moments at the beginning of each decade to ponder the mystery for deeper understanding. The first Sorrowful Mystery recalls the agony of Jesus in the Garden as he enters into his passion.
What did Jesus see and hear from the Father during that period of prayer? Surely, Jesus experienced the Father ‘giving Himself’ in love. Truly, what the Father was asking of the Son, namely to give himself for the salvation of the world, Jesus received from the Father, namely, the Father giving himself in love to Jesus.
My reflection came to mind as I read the first reading today. This is what Jesus received from the Father:
Do you not know or have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:25-31)
The Father not only sustained Jesus during his passion, but gave him the strength to bring to completion the Paschal Mystery. In the same way, Jesus comes to be our strength, most especially when we are doing his work. Jesus is the one who sustains us that we may complete the Father’s will in each of our lives.
So, when we grow weary in the day-to-day demands of striving to grow in holiness, of being faithful to our life as a husband or wife or priest or consecrated man or woman, we have our strength in Christ. When you get frustrated as a single person longing to discover God’s plan for your life, find comfort in Christ.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people; blessed are those prepared to meet him. (Today’s Gospel antiphon)
On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate the mystery and magnificence of God. With great love, God created all things, the culmination being the creation of man and woman in his own image. Imagine our dignity, being created in the image and likeness of God, for relationship with God, for sharing in the Divine Life Itself! This is the beauty and the dignity of the human person, our communion with God.
But when sin entered into God’s plan for creation, it diminished the human person and dimmed the brilliance of life because sin ruptures the life between the soul and God. But for God, nothing is impossible, even healing the division brought about by sin. And so it is that God who created all things allowed himself to be born of a woman, maintaining his nature as God while at the same time taking on our human nature.
Today we celebrate the love of God that chose Mary to be the Mother of God. In his goodness, God provided for Mary to be conceived without sin by applying to her the grace of the Paschal Mystery which would be accomplished by the death and resurrection of her own son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because of this unique action of God and the deep faith of Mary that would cooperate fully with God’s providence, Mary is indeed ‘blessed among women.’
It is somewhat ironic, that on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, I will find myself sitting in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver listening to arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor as their legal representatives make the case that they should be exempt from providing the contraceptive services required under the HHS Mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The decision in this case will have a strong impact on the case of the Diocese of Cheyenne which is also before the 10th Circuit Court.
Today’s Solemnity is an invitation for all of us to recall the reality of sin at work in our world, and more specifically, in each of our lives. It is more importantly an invitation to reflect upon the incredible mercy of our God who humbly entered into our human condition in order to save us from our sin. Our Blessed Mother reveals the beauty of a life lived in complete obedience to God’s Word. This woman, fully human, by her cooperation with God’s grace, conceived the Savior in her womb, and lived her life as his first disciple.
Christ, as the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived his human life in this world uncorrupted by the ways of this world. Though never touched by any sin, during his passion his body was disfigured by the sin of the world, which he freely took upon himself in order to conquer sin and death.
This life and grace of Christ is now shared with us through baptism and the sacraments of the Church. The Divine life God intends to share with us is once again possible through the Immaculate Conception. The love and cooperation of Mary gave the world the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus through his life, ministry and preaching reveals God to the world once again. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, sin and death are conquered and the gates to eternal life are opened anew.
We are now called to cooperate with this grace and Divine life Jesus restored and renewed. Advent is a time of preparation and hope. As John the Baptist demonstrates, preparation precedes the coming of the Lord; repentance precedes salvation. On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, let us be mindful of our need for a Savior. Let a part of our giving thanks for the immeasurable love shown us by God be availing ourselves once again to the font of mercy that flows through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.