Posts Tagged ‘Love’
Pictures from today’s service may be seen here.
GOOD FRIDAY HOMILY
ST. MARY CATHEDRAL, CHEYENNE
BISHOP PAUL D. ETIENNE, DD, STL
Our Triduum continues today. Jesus spent the early part of the night in prayer with his disciples. During the night, Judas brought those who will arrest Jesus to a place Jesus treasured; a place where Jesus developed his relationship with his disciples, where they prayed together, and rested from their journeys; the garden of Gethsemane. In this garden where the disciples came to know Jesus as the Son of God, the moment has arrived for the Son of Man to be lifted up and revealed as the Savior of the world.
Last night’s Gospel from John began with these words: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) This is a key text for us to understand the events of Good Friday. We now understand that Jesus knew the Father intimately, the Father’s will precisely, and loves the Father completely and freely. United to Jesus’ love for the Father is his love for us, and his passion and cross reveal that he loved us to the end.
On Good Friday, we remember that Jesus suffered and died for us. We remember his cross, not just as an instrument of death, but as the tree of life. In a few moments, we will once again venerate the cross, and as Jesus embraced the cross with love beyond all telling, we approach the cross today, with all the love of our hearts mindful of and grateful for the love that ran down the cross as blood.
From an historic distance, the Prophet Isaiah foresaw the events of the suffering servant, and his words speak to the truth of Jesus’ tragic and cruel death: “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.” Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, St. Paul helps us understand the mystery of God that was at work in the crucifixion and death of Jesus: “passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, and achieved eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11-12) A bit further on in the same letter, St. Paul continues: “For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a mere copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself that he might appear before God now on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24)
An early Church Father, St. John Chrysostom wrote eloquently about the sanctuary, recognizing that Jesus not only entered the sanctuary of heaven to present his own blood to the Father for our salvation, but that his own body was a sanctuary as well. “The soldier pierced the Lord’s side; he breached the wall of the sacred temple.”
My friends, the significance of this moment is the foundation of our faith. At the same time, the fullness of the mystery before us can never be fully understood in this life. But let us press further none-the-less for deeper understanding.
We know that Jesus embraced his suffering and death freely. He did so out of loving obedience to the Father. Jesus’ suffering and death was also the act of loving mercy by which we are redeemed. Jesus not only loves the Father, but he loves you and me, and he loves us to the end. These are life lessons to be learned and lived in the life of every believer.
Jesus teaches us to love the things of this world, but to be free of them, to live in obedience to God and in loving service for others. Jesus, the sinless one, died for our sins, and we are always to strive to leave sin behind, yearning upward always for heaven, where even now, Jesus is before the Father, pleading our cause. It is important that we live each moment with the knowledge of our faith, with a strong act of faith in order to live fully our faith.
For instance, in our own suffering, we are to remember that God still loves us. He never abandons us. Jesus knew the Father’s love when he allowed himself to be arrested. Jesus, who knew the Father’s will as he embraced his passion, knows the Father’s will in our suffering. With knowledge of the Father’s love, and a heart filled with love for us, Jesus knew his passion and death would redeem the world. He also knows how we are to meet the challenges of our life. With Jesus at our side, convinced of God’s love for us, we can do all things, endure all things, hope all things.
Do not be afraid. Trust Jesus. Go forward in hope. Jesus is already in our future, preparing the way, waiting for us. Have faith. Know and believe, and always recall, that the blood poured forth from the cross this day came forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This blood is our salvation. This blood reveals the secret within the heart of God, that God loves us beyond measure. The cross is also the evidence, that Jesus loved us to the end. He loved us perfectly. He loved us freely. He loved us fully. And, he still does, and always will.
May this perfect love, which casts out all fear, be yours and mine, today and always.
To view pictures from this evening, click here.
MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER, 2016
CATHEDRAL OF ST. MARY; CHEYENNE
MOST REVEREND PAUL D. ETIENNE, DD, STL
With this Mass, we begin our celebration of the Easter Triduum, which recalls the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. At the heart of the Triduum is the cross, with its culmination being the resurrection on Easter Sunday, celebrated in all of its brilliance on Holy Saturday night. In essence, the celebrations over the next three days are all parts of one long Liturgy, just as Jesus’ Last Supper, betrayal, passion, death and resurrection all together make up what we call the Paschal Mystery.
This Holy night finds us in the Upper Room with Jesus and his disciples for the celebration of the Passover. The Passover was the annual celebration recalling God’s marvelous works by which he freed his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. That fearsome night when God sent his angel to kill the first born of every family in Egypt was the final act of God that convinced Pharaoh to let the people go free.
During that same night, the people of Israel slaughtered a year-old, male lamb, without blemish. The blood of the lamb was used to mark the homes of God’s people, and the roasted flesh was food in preparation for their flight from Egypt.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gives this Passover meal its final and fullest meaning, as he now associates this meal and God’s marvelous works to the shedding of his blood, the sacrifice of his own body, by which God will free all people’s from their sins, which is the ultimate bondage of all humanity.
As we find ourselves at table, celebrating this Holy Meal with Jesus and his disciples, I would like to call to mind some imagery from St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine says that the Father is the table, the Son is the food, and the Holy Spirit waits upon us. This is helpful teaching, because throughout salvation history, God the Father was preparing for this redemptive night; setting the table for our salvation. As God did wondrous things for Israel, so God has done wondrous things for us, through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who took on our human flesh, now prepares to freely lay down his life, in order to give us his flesh as food and his blood as drink. Jesus is our food, our source of life, our salvation. And we must never forget the mysterious yet faithful presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, pouring upon us various gifts, waiting upon us, serving us the finest food God has to offer; the gift of faith and holy works.
Tonight, the Passover meal takes on its eternal significance as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Jesus this Holy Night gives the Church the Eucharist as the new and eternal covenant between God and his people. Along with the Eucharist, Jesus also establishes the Priesthood. Through the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus establishes the priesthood as the ministry of humble, loving service.
Notice during the meal, the reference to the cross. St. Paul says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Notice also in the act of washing feet how the cross is foreseen. Jesus takes off his outer garment. Soon he will be stripped of his garments before being nailed to the cross. The act of washing feet was the service of slaves. It was demeaning, and this was not lost on Peter, who told Jesus: “You will never wash my feet.” To which, Jesus responds: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet points us to the cross. Upon the cross Jesus lowers himself to the lowest possible state of humanity. From the classroom of the cross, the Master teaches that true authority is service; humble, loving service of God and of neighbors.
Tonight, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Tomorrow, Jesus will wash away the sins of the world with the bath of his blood. Unless Peter allows Jesus to wash his feet, he cannot share in the inheritance of Jesus. Unless Peter bathes in the blood of Jesus, he cannot share the inheritance of eternal life. This is why I like evoking the Father as the table, the Son as food, and the Holy Spirit waiting upon us, because by the Paschal meal, the Paschal Mystery, Jesus shares with us Divine life. This is our inheritance.
Jesus drives home the significance of his actions to his disciples and to us. “Do you realize what I have done for you?” “You ought to wash one another’s feet.” “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus the Master has become the servant. Jesus took on our humanity, bearing it to its lowest and most undignified state, in humble and loving service for the salvation of the world. We ‘ought to do the same.’
Jesus and the Old Testament taught that we are to love God above all else, and our neighbor as our self? Tonight, this teaching is put into action. Each of us is called to such humble, loving service. The Psalm from tonight’s Mass (116) gives us the proper attitude and question for mission: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”
Tonight, the great commandment is on display. We are called to love God. The only way we can demonstrate the truth of our love for God is to love one another. Our love must be practical. Our love must be humble; seeking nothing in return, for true love desires only the good of the other.
I close tonight by expressing my love for Jesus, and my tremendous gratitude for the gift of the priesthood. Priesthood calls me to humility every day, and when I fail to answer that call, I am humbled in the end. Mostly, priesthood blesses me with the gift of all of you. I hope you know how much I love you, but most of all, I hope you know how much you are loved by God.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 6ff)
If our God and Savior can lower himself to our humanity, surely we can humble ourselves to the same loving service of our neighbors. If our God who created all things as good, and every human person as very good, saw fit to lay down his life, and pour out his blood in order to redeem us, how can we not willingly enter into the sufferings and needs of others?
In the Gospel used today to recall Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, we are reminded again of the true Kingship of Jesus.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. (Luke 19)
Holy Week is a graced opportunity for us to acknowledge Christ as our King. It is a poignant moment to understand the nature of Christ’s Kingship as one of humility, fidelity, love and service, and yes, even suffering. These are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God, and the qualities of every disciple.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, he knew what awaited him. He willingly and consciously enters the Holy City to embrace his passion and cross, knowing full well this was the Father’s will and the path which would redeem the world. As he foresaw his own passion and resurrection, he also anticipated the needs of his disciples.
Even today, Jesus knows what lies ahead for each of us. He knows the passions that await us on our pilgrimage and the path of our discipleship. As he trusted in the Father, so we place our ultimate trust in him. We go forth in faith and confidence, removing all fear. We walk with Jesus knowing that suffering will also be a part of our discipleship, but ultimately, we will rejoice in a newness of life with Christ.
This Holy Week, let us take time to walk with Jesus. Let us attend the celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Let us behold our King. Let us ask for the grace to accompany him in his passion, that we may hope to enter into the fullness of his Resurrection!
The Church of the Diocese of Cheyenne gathered at St. Patrick in Casper for our Chrism Mass this evening. Despite winter weather across the southern part of the state, I’m told that attendance tonight was the largest gathered for a Chrism Mass in the history of the Diocese. Praise God!
I am very grateful to all who traveled to make our celebration a joyful expression of faith, and a true experience of being anointed by Christ!
Here is the homily from tonight’s Mass:
Chrism Mass Homily: Missionary at heart
God the Father Anointed Christ, by the Holy Spirit. (Opening Prayer)
Jesus, taking the passage from Isaiah explains the mission of this anointing:
- Bring glad tidings to the poor
- Sent to proclaim liberty to the captives
- Recovery of sight to the blind
- Let the oppressed go free
- Proclaim a year acceptable to the LORD
This is the mission of Jesus. Recall the Gospel, and all that Jesus did, and you will see how he accomplished each of these goals. Jesus founded this Church, to continue this one and the same mission, through his eternal priesthood. The heart of the Church is missionary! Recognize your own calling, how Christ has claimed you as his own, has taken possession of you by the power of his love, and see how he has fulfilled his mission in you and for you.
Being made sharers in his consecration: (Opening Prayer)
WE call this a CHRISM MASS: The oils that we consecrate tonight are used to make others sharers in the Consecration of Jesus. Jesus’ heart was and continues to be the heart of the Father. As Jesus claimed the anointing of Isaiah to be fulfilled in him, we claim in the person of Jesus this anointing and consecration to be ours. Jesus shares his anointing with us, as he shared his life with us. As Jesus loved the Father and extends that love to us, as we are consecrated by Christ, our hearts are conformed to his, that we might love what God loves and hate what God hates.
- Recall our baptism/ our Confirmation / our Ordination
Each day, I try to spend time in prayer with our LORD before the Blessed Sacrament. This is the first duty of every priest; to be close to Christ. Yesterday, I spent some time kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, and immediately, the LORD desired that I recall his Providence and Goodness to me through the priesthood. I could in that moment, see Christ anointing me; Christ, laying hands upon me; Christ, extending to me the paten and chalice with which to feed his people; extending to me the Book of the Gospels, by which we feed upon his Word. I was mindful of the tremendous grace and blessing it is to be a priest, and now, to live the fullness of the priesthood as a successor to the apostles. I could see his love, the love he has for all his people, whom he has entrusted to my / our care.
My brother priests, draw close to Christ. Allow him always to renew his love for you and his love within you. This is the love with which through the oils we consecrate tonight, we consecrate and anoint his people. The love of Christ has been poured into our hearts, that we may invest this love through our ministry into the hearts of his people. This is the manner in which we follow Christ, extend the mission of the Church, and as Christ,
- Bring glad tidings to the poor;
- Are sent to proclaim liberty to the captives
- Restore sight to the blind
- Let the oppressed go free
- Proclaim a year acceptable to the LORD
When Archbishop Sambi called me to tell me I had been named a bishop, he spoke of Jesus calling his first disciples. He recalled the time they spent in Galilee, getting to know Jesus, spending time with him, listening to him teach, witnessing his many healings and his compassion for the crowds that followed him. The Archbishop reminded me: “When you were ordained, you promised to follow Jesus. Now, Jesus is calling you to follow him as Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
The life of every bishop, every priest, and everyone who follows Jesus is a call to leave behind one’s self. The anointing that we receive from Jesus is what allows us to do that. The anointing of Jesus even allows us to find our joy in such selfless service of others. This is why the heart of the Church is mission. This is why the heart of the disciple must always be free to go where Jesus sends each of us, because we are sent in his name, for the mission that is his, and is now ours.
This is precisely why the second duty of every priest, after drawing close to Christ, is to be close to his people. This year of mercy helps us understand the nature of this closeness. The very word mercy, Misericordia, speaks of the heart, the affairs of the heart. Because our nearness to Christ conforms us to Christ, it allows the heart and mind of Christ to be formed in us. Therefore, we desire to be with the people Christ has entrusted to our care, that we might enter into the fabric of their lives, discovering their joys and sorrows, that we might share their joy, and bring the heart of Jesus to alleviate if not burn away the sorrow that is theirs. Christ has anointed us, that we may anoint his people with his compassion and love.
We may bear witness to your Redemption in the world: (Opening Prayer)
At its heart, this mission of the disciple is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and the redemption he has won for us. As mentioned earlier, part of the discipleship of all who follow Christ is to leave self behind, and in the process, to discover an even more meaningful life. Bu, as we do this, we sometimes give too much attention to the self-dying process, rather than keeping the focus on Christ and those he has sent us to serve. This self-focus leads to resentment, or at least confusion, and causes us to pull back from this Flame of Love.
This Fire of Christ is the same as the Fire that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. It gave light and purpose to Moses, without consuming the bush. We must enter into this Flame of Love to first receive and experience the warmth and anointing of Christ. Then and only then are we capable of bringing the warmth and tenderness of God to a world searching for what they know not.
At its heart, the mission of the disciple is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and the redemption he has won for us. As we walk with Jesus, in our ministry, and in our earthly pilgrimage, we recognize one other who also accompanies us – Mary, the first disciple of Jesus. Let us continue our pilgrimage, walking with each other, with our Lord and our Lady, anointed, carrying on our mission, serving God’s people, giving witness to Jesus Christ.
Somewhere in Scripture, it says: “now will the prince of this world be cast out.” People often wonder why there is still evil in the world if Christ indeed conquered Satan. The Victory is won, but the pilgrimage continues for each of us, the challenge remains for each of us to choose Christ, to receive his anointing, to bring him by faith into our lives that he may have greater reign in the world.
Tonight, we renew again our faith in Christ, that he is:
“The firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. 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.
As I prayed last night and again this morning in preparation for this Lenten journey, the phrase came to mind: “Less consumption, more production.” I doubt that mantra would fly for long on the lips of present presidential candidates, but it is not an economic formula, but rather has become my spiritual goal for this Lent.
First and foremost, the Lenten journey draws our attention to the sin that is at work in our lives, and to be humbled and repentant. The Psalms speak well of the reality of sin, and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight that you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn. True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51: 5-7)
Such honest acknowledgment of personal sin is the starting point of the Lenten journey. But, this humble recognition of our sinfulness is what leads us back to God. This is the foundation of the repentant nature of the Lenten journey. Our starting point in the spiritual life is always God, not self. It is in the light of God’s loving mercy that we call to mind our sin and allow our hearts to be touched by contrition, knowing how our sin separates us from God and neighbor, and holds us back from bearing the good fruit God looks to receive from each of us.
Less consumption, more production. If all we do is consume and never bear any fruit, we should be alarmed!Less consumption, more production. If all we do is consume and never bear any fruit, we should be alarmed! Less consumption, more production. If all we do is consume and never bear any fruit, we should be alarmed!
Less consumption, more production. For example, I intend this Lent to spend less time ‘consuming’ in front of a screen and more time cultivating good fruit. How much time can be ‘freed up’ with less time in front of a TV, computer screen, IPad, or IPhone? How much of this is simply for mindless consumption of time, information and entertainment? Granted, there are many good uses of these devices, and what they allow us to access, but not all of that information and entertainment is good, nor is all of it necessary. It can become just one more way that our focus is limited to ‘self’ when our God-given dignity and vocation is always concerned about others. Inner fasting, inner renewal leads to outward fruits.
The first reading today encourages us to “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.” (Joel 2:13) This simple phrase reminds us that the inner relationship with God is our starting point and priority. If there is no solid relationship with God, no outward expression (rending garments) can take its place. “Less consumption” has to do with inner discipline, with virtue. Cultivation of the heart is what provides the fruitful soil which bears good and many fruits. Renewing attention to the inner life instructs us that no matter how we may feel physically, we must learn to take our cues from the heart. Whether we are tired, bored, in pain, frustrated or even despairing, our hearts always long for the LORD. Whether we are filled with the things of this earth, or not, our soul always hungers for God.
Production has to do with bearing fruit. Bearing fruit has to do with being attentive to the needs of our neighbors. Jesus tells us that “It is mercy I seek, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13) An isolated spirituality is not healthy. We cannot grow in holiness in isolation. Personal holiness always has another in mind. Growth in holiness includes acts of charity for the one or the many in need. Before the Gospel is proclaimed, we sign ourselves three times with the cross, asking that God’s Word be on our minds, and on our lips, and in our hearts. The heart and mind and words of Jesus are addressed to others; to us. Lent is a privileged time to be formed more fully into the person of Jesus, so that as we have received him by God’s grace and mercy, so we may discover and serve him in those around us. Love of neighbor is the ‘production’ of our life; the good fruit we bear.
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!