Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’
This morning many of the Wyoming State legislators and other state officials gathered at Little America for the annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. I was asked by Governor Mead to give this year’s address, which I share with you here.
The Power and Necessity of Prayer
Address at Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, February 11, 2014
The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne
First of all, please allow me to thank you, Governor Mead for your invitation to be with all of you this morning for this time of prayer. I wish to thank you and all our other distinguished guests present here today for your service to the people of Wyoming.
I’ve gone through a number of ideas and drafts of what I might say this morning, but finally settled on this question: “Why a Prayer breakfast?”
In his First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:17) St. Paul says: “Pray without ceasing.”
And again in the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones…” I would suggest that ‘all the holy ones’ are God’s people, and God’s people are those you and I have been called and or elected to serve. So, it is right to pray for them.
The encouragement to pray is in and of itself an instruction that the human person is created for relationship with God. Most of our life we wrongly think that prayer is about our action towards God, when in reality, it is what opens us to the reality of God’s unrelenting pursuit of each one of us. True human greatness is achieved when we are open to what God is longing to do for us and within us. Once a human person understands that their greatest dignity is found in their relationship with God, their own life is no longer self-referential, or self-serving. The realization that we are called to relationship with God then opens us and all of society to something that lies beyond us, but yet, with God’s assistance, is always within our reach.
So, again, why a prayer breakfast? Do we come to simply check-off this particular part of the day’s to-do list and then be on our way, as if our conversation with God has nothing to do with what we do the rest of the day? When we rise from prayer, do we put God in a box until we are ready to talk to Him again? This would be the safe thing to do. For, God is an awesome God. Indeed, when He summoned the People Israel to the base of the mountain before calling Moses up the mountain to receive the commandments, the people were so frightened with this epiphany of God’s presence and power they begged Moses to speak to God on their behalf, because they were too afraid to do so personally.
To approach prayer in this manner, and to approach God in this manner undermines the reality that we are all created by God, for relationship with God. To put the God who created us in a box as if we created Him and He not us leaves the human heart frustrated and closed off from its highest calling and human potential. All of creation finds its order and harmony in the Creator, and this is especially true of the human person, and if this is true for the human person, then it only makes sense that it holds true for society.
I would like to share with you three stories today which speak of the creative genius of God. They will go from humorous to serious; from creation, which is naturally ordered to God, to the human which must freely embrace God’s call to discover the fullness of one’s potential.
Three years ago, I was discovering the joy of fly fishing. As a native Hoosier, I did not have any experience with fly fishing when I came to Wyoming in 2009. I had asked one of my priests to go with me on a fly fishing trip which someone gave me as a welcome gift to Wyoming. So, we went to Saratoga, Hack’s Tackle, and made our way to the launch point on the North Platte for an all day float trip.
We had a very good guide who was being very attentive to the “bishop.” A few hours into the float, just about an hour before we stopped for lunch, I was noticing that my priest friend was having much more success from the back of the boat than I was from the front. I pointed this out to the guide. He told me to just keep fishing. So, after a little more of the same pattern, I told the guide: “If I don’t start getting some hits, I’m going to start cheating.” He got this strange look on his face and looked at me and said: “Bishop, how does one cheat when fishing?” I told him: “I’m going to start praying.” He just laughed…
So, after another 20 minutes or so, I said: “OK, I’m going to start cheating.” He just smiled. About a minute later I tied into a significant fish. I did not realize just how nice a fish I had on the hook, but the guide and my partner did. The guide about had a heart attack when I started one-handing the fly rod to reach into my pocket to dig out my camera to give him to take a picture. He started stammering: “Both hands, Bishop! Both hands!” Within an unusually short time, I landed a 26 inch Brown Trout. The guide had to anchor the boat to calm down. He told me: “Bishop, I’ve been guiding this stretch of river for ten years, and many people have hooked some big fish, but that is the biggest fish anyone has landed in my boat!” I learned this fall that record still holds for him.
Now, I’m not suggesting that praying will always conjure up the largest fish, or a win for your favorite team, but I believe it made a significant impression upon this young man.
The next story takes us to a hunting scenario. This past Fall, Justice Scalia was in- State for a few days to do some antelope and mule deer hunting. Justice Scalia being a strong Catholic, the family where he was staying asked if I would come out to celebrate Mass for them while he was there. I of course obliged, and made two visits during his stay.
The home is situated on a ranch, so I set up the altar on a small table in the living room with my back to the window. After Mass, one of those in attendance told me: “Bishop, we wish you could have seen the view we had during Mass. As you were celebrating the Eucharist, the cows gathered outside the window and were peering inside.” I told them: “That is no surprise, because all of nature has an innate sense of the Divine. All of nature is naturally ordered to the Divine.”
Later that evening, Justice Scalia shared a personal story of his days at Georgetown University. He recalled his final exam before graduation. He said in those days, you had to pass a comprehensive oral exam. So, I found myself in a room with six Jesuit professors asking me questions. My degree was in history, and I will never forget the final question of that exam.
The Jesuit professor looked at me and said: “Well, Mr. Scalia, you have answered quite well, showing a good mastery of the material. I have one final question for you: “What in your estimation was the greatest event in history?” I thought to myself: “Well, you’ve just been told that you have aced this exam, so this answer does not really matter all that much. I remember thinking of a couple possible responses and diving in. After I was done, the professor looked at me and said: ‘Mr. Scalia, you are wrong. The greatest event in history was the Incarnation. Never separate your faith from your work.’”
Great advice for each and every one of us.
Finally, on a more personal story: Recently I was unable to sleep at night. This is quite often the case, and seems to happen more regularly when the legislature is in session! But, this night, I was quite disturbed about something, and was not quite sure what the right approach was and was quite restless. I have a Blessed Sacrament Chapel in my residence, so I just went to the chapel, and sat there before the Blessed Sacrament and told the LORD: “How do you expect me to serve you tomorrow if you will not let me sleep tonight?” And just like that, I knew I had only one option: place my burden in his hands.
In closing, we pray because we are in relationship with God. We pray not so much to tell God what is going on in our life, but to open our hearts and minds and lives to God, that He may share with us the desires of His heart. This divine desire for the human person is the true source of hope that causes every human heart to soar. God is the true Good that when pursued and served brings satisfaction to the human heart and harmony to the human community.
After some final edits and formatting, my recent pastoral letter is now available on line (here) and will soon be mailed from the printers to every home in the Diocese of Cheyenne. I pray you will take the time to read this letter, and more importantly, join us in carrying out these new priorities for our Diocese.
As we are making our resolutions for the new year, I hope a few of those resolutions involve renewing your relationship with Jesus Christ, through prayer, sacrament, and greater involvement in the life of the parish. Another great resolution is to make more time for family.
This pastoral letter offers several suggestions for prayers, including a prayer for vocations, a prayer to be included with the recitation of the rosary, and the Angelus. I strongly encourage as well each person learn when your local parish is offering a Holy Hour for Eucharistic Adoration, and that you spend some time in intimate prayer with the Lord.
May 2015 hold many blessings for each of you. Together, let us hold each other in prayer, asking for the grace to grow in holiness as we strive to fulfill God’s will in each of our lives. Peace, +pde
As we remember St. Monica today, I find myself thinking of her model of parenting. As with every saint, there are unique paths to holiness. That path might be through a great intellect, such as St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Bonaventure, or many other Doctors of the Church. The path might be through a great self-discipline, such as some of the early hermits. Perhaps the path is through tremendous prayer life or charity. I would suggest that parenting was the path for St. Monica.
St. Monica clearly did all that she could to lead her children to Christ, and she never stopped praying for the conversion of her most famous son, whose feast day we celebrate tomorrow, St. Augustine. The Office of Readings today provides an excerpt from St. Augustine’s Confessions where the great saint recalls a conversation with his mother days before she died. Their conversation reflected their conscious awareness of God’s presence – a presence St. Augustine refers to as one of the great titles of Christ – Truth.
Here is the first point for today’s parents, to create an atmosphere of faith within the home. Parents have a unique role and responsibility to raise their children in the faith, to lead their children to Christ. How many conversations does a parent have with a child through the course of a lifetime? How often does faith enter into those conversations? How often does the parent help the child to ask questions about God’s will in their life, and encourage their child to grow in knowledge of God through their knowledge of Scripture, through prayer, through the Church by regularly receiving the Sacraments?
A little further on in this conversation between these mother and son saints, we hear that they were speculating on what the life of the saints is like as they share the joy of eternal life. This is a close point to the first, but slightly different. Parents have a unique role to play in the life of their children in creating what I would call a ‘Catholic environment’ in the home. This can be done by making sure that the various liturgical seasons are recognized by family traditions in the home.
My mother had a particular gift for creating this Catholic culture, through music, food, decorations, prayer, active participation in our parish, and yes, conversation. All of my siblings have many fond memories of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the many family traditions that were a part of each of these seasons, and the critical role they played of teaching and re-enforcing the faith in the home. Creating a Catholic culture in the home is a vital (and can by a lot of fun!) role of parenting.
St. Augustine goes on to share in this morning’s segment from the Confessions how such conversation and faith over time led both of these great saints to desire less and less worldly things, and further strengthened the desire and longing for the things of heaven. And this leads to the final point for consideration of parenting today.
One of St. Monica’s final requests to her sons was that after she died, she cared not where her body was laid to rest. Her only thought was that her sons remember her at the altar of the Lord. Parents today would do well to help their children grow in their belief and understanding that eternal life is the ultimate goal of every believer. Our life upon this earth is a ‘pilgrimage,’ a life of faith, a journey to the ultimate goal of heaven. Parents are responsible when they help their children understand that through sin we run the risk of losing this eternal life with God and the saints. Why else would this holy woman ask her sons to continue to pray for her after she has died? While in this life we certainly believe in and rely upon God’s mercy, but a faithfully mature Catholic never takes that mercy for granted, nor presumes the mercy of God while living in this world with little attention to God’s commandments.
As we all know, St. Monica and the power of her prayers are credited with the conversion of St. Augustine. Many parents today are concerned about children who no longer practice their faith. So, parents, never stop praying for your children. Know that Mary, the great ‘mother of the Church’ never ceases to pray for us. Also seek the intercession of St. Monica in your own prayer for your children. Never doubt the power of God to actively intervene for the good of those we love!
As the prayer of St. Monica led her son back to God and ultimately to discover his vocation as a priest and bishop, and even a great Doctor of the Church, so may the model of life and prayers of our parents today help their children discover God and His Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. As each of the children of the Church discover the presence and love of God in their lives, may they also come to know God’s will in their unique vocations, that God may continue to bless the Church with many more holy men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, priests and religious for the building up of God’s Kingdom and the renewal of His Church.
Monday evening, August 11, 2014, a very diverse group of religious leaders gathered in the Cathedral rectory in Denver. A special ‘Thanks’ to Archbishop Aquila for gathering these faith leaders. I was grateful to be a part of the evening.
What ensued was a brief discussion of our concern for all that is transpiring in the Middle East, especially with regards to the rise of ISIS (Islamic State In Syria).
ISIS is conducting some of the worst sins against humanity sins the holocaust of WWII. Persecution, eviction from homes, forcible conversions to Islam, mass murder, indiscriminate killing, is now methodically carried out against Christians, Muslims and ethnic groups. Along with this genocide is a destruction of culture, as ancient churches and mosques are destroyed, along with priceless ancient texts and works of art. In short, a way of life that predates Christ is being destroyed.
Recognizing that people of faith cannot sit silently while such atrocities are perpetuated, this group of religious leaders decided to speak out, calling for concrete action from world and religious leaders to address the deteriorating conditions in Iraq as well as throughout the Middle East.
The leaders included members of the three revealed religions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We all agreed that the most powerful ‘weapon’ we can bring to the urgent need of all of the people involved in this conflict is our prayer. Recognizing that we are all ‘Children of Abraham,’ and believers in the One, Same God, we came together to pray for peace. As children of One God, we are all brothers and sisters.
After an hour long visit with each other, we entered the Cathedral, where a standing room only crowd gathered, representing the same diversity of believers, to pray for peace. As the religious leaders processed in, we arrived at the sanctuary, where there stood three podiums. Upon each of these stands were placed a Quran, the Torah, and a Book of the Gospels.
One religious leader from each of the three major traditions read a passage from the Sacred Word, once again followed by an English translation. Archbishop Aquila read a Gospel passage and then offered some moving remarks about our powerful contribution in these days through our prayer, advocacy, and concrete offering of practical assistance to those who have had to leave home and all worldly possessions behind.
The prayer service was deeply moving, and a strong reminder that for people of faith, prayer is strong medicine. The evening was also for me a wonderful experience of God the Father. Jesus taught us to call God Father, ‘our Father.’ When praying with people who do not share our belief in Jesus Christ, but do share faith in the God of all creation, created a tremendous sense of unity, which must be the ‘unity’ Jesus prays for. (John 17: 11)
My dear friends, let us pray for peace! Let us work for peace! Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
An this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I celebrate my 22nd anniversary as a priest, the last four and a half years of which have been in the capacity of Bishop of Cheyenne. I have so very much to give thanks for this day. I was up very early this morning so that I could celebrate a Mass before departing (once again) for the airport. Certainly, for every priest, there is no better manner or place to give thanks for the gift of the priesthood than the altar of the Lord.
Since this anniversary falls on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, it is also a day of prayer for the sanctification of priests. I wish to invite the readership of this blog to pray for your priests, that we may be faithful to our promises, and be holy, credible witnesses to Christ, and effectively lead others to Christ. More and more, I realize that a fundamental responsibility of the priest is to work for the salvation of God’s People.
On this day, I pray not only that our priests will grow in holiness, but also, that many other young men will open their hearts to God’s call. The most important thing for any person is to discover God’s will in their life. For life to be lived to the full, it is to be discovered in God, given to God and lived for God. An0ther reason I make this prayer is because my own life as a priest has been so fulfilling and rewarding. And finally, we, the Church, God’s people, need priests.
So, dear friends, please join me in giving thanks to God for all of our priests. Please join in prayer for the sanctification of all priests. Please join me in prayer that God will bless our Church, particularly the Diocese of Cheyenne, with many more holy vocations to the priesthood!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pray for us!
This Sunday, June 8, Pope Francis will meet with President Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas to spend time in prayer for peace in the Holy Land. The meeting will take place at the Vatican. During Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Holy Land, he extended the invitation to President Peres and Mr. Abbas to come to the Vatican to pray for peace. Both leaders accepted his invitation.
As we know, peace between Israel and Palestine has been an illusive pursuit for quite some time. Such a history creates doubts in the minds of many about the realistic possibility of the two nations every finding a path to peaceful co-existence. But, who would ever have thought 70 or 80 years ago that Europe would ever again know peace? Who would have guessed 40 years ago that the US would have a constructive relationship with Vietnam?
Fortunately, our Holy Father sees beyond the present, and has the courage, faith and hope necessary to envision the peace proclaimed by the angels at the birth of Jesus (Matthew 18:19) could prevail in the Land of Jesus in our time. Now that these three leaders are coming together for some time of prayer for peace, Pope Francis is inviting all the bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful to join in prayer this Sunday for peace in the Holy Land.
Let us be generous in the time we dedicate to this special intention. Let us be rich in faith as we pray for this necessary peace between Israel and Palestine, and indeed, throughout the Holy Land.
With the Parish Mission at Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg now complete, I would like to share some of the insights I gained. First, I’m reminded once again of Jesus’ teaching that every time we take the opportunity to give of ourselves, whether in ministry or in relationships, we always receive in return more than we give. This is primarily the truth of Psalm 126 when it teaches: “They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing: they come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”
These past three nights we focused on God’s love and how we experience this love through the Holy Spirit in the person of Jesus Christ. We further examined how Christ came into the world to reveal the love of God through His teaching, ministry, passion, death and resurrection. After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to continue the same mission through the Church and by the power of their own witness of faith in Jesus Christ.
One person asked at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s mission: “What advice do you have for families to better live their faith?” Many asked other questions along similar lines regarding the parish as a whole or what to do in one’s individual life.
I am even more convinced today of the need for each individual, for every family to renew the trajectory of life to its true purpose. This (earthly) life is fundamentally a journey of faith, a pilgrimage. We are therefore to understand that a truly human life is oriented to God. Thus, a truly human journey is one that follow’s the way of truth, goodness, beauty, in short, holiness.
Just as all things which are bearers of truth, goodness, and beauty ‘transcend’ or ‘go beyond’ themselves and point to something else, so to the human person is ultimately to ‘go beyond’ him or herself and point to the Creator. So, the true trajectory of every human life is God.
Lent is therefore a time to renew one’s practice of prayer. Life with God also requires simplicity, (in the sense that we shed our worldliness) humility, (seeing that we are nothing and that God is everything) and community, particularly the community of faith, the Church.
To succeed in such ‘conversion,’ we need discernment, we need wisdom. Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14-23) recounts a moment when Jesus expels a demon, only to be accused by some that “it is by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Obviously, that was not the case, as Jesus goes on to instruct, that it is by the “finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus is our “strong man” who guards and arms the city of our soul. Thus, the need for us to renew the course of our life to Him. But, we also know that there are many distractions in our life, and many demons that wish to take over our inner life, values and practices. We need to be wise in the ways of the LORD, and have the perseverance to remain on the straight and narrow path.
I wish to close by sharing some simple rules for discernment which the LORD shared with St. Catherine of Siena. These passages came from a book written by her spiritual director and companion, Blessed Raymond of Capua:
“Daughter, if you wish to acquire the virtue of fortitude you must imitate me. Though I have divine power and could have annihilated all the powers of evil in quite a different way if I had willed to do so, nevertheless, wishing my actions to be taken as a model, I willed to act by way of the cross, so that I could teach you by words based on actions. If you want to have the strength to overcome all the enemy’s powers, take the cross as your refreshment as I did. For indeed I, as the Apostle says, ran to such a hard and shameful cross because I had been offered joy, so that you would patiently choose pains and afflictions and embrace them indeed as consolations. And indeed they are consolations, for the more you suffer such things for My sake the more you make yourself like Me. If you conform yourself to Me in suffering, truly, as My Apostle says, you will become like Me in grace and glory. Therefore, O daughter, for My sake regard sweet things as bitter and bitter things as sweet and then have no fear, for undoubtedly you will be stong in all things.” (Catherine of Siena, pp.89-90)
“When she talked to us about this, she always told us as a general rule never to descend to the level of argument with the Enemy in times of temptation. Getting people to discuss the matter was exactly what he wanted, … so a soul chastely united to Christ should refuse to discuss the Enemy’s temptations but turn to its Bridegroom in prayer, relying on Him with absolute trust and faithfulness. All temptations, she said, could be overcome by the virtue of faith.” (Catherine of Siena, p. 91)
So, my friends, let us continue to follow Christ this Lenten season. Let us be “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
After Mass at the Cathedral Sunday morning, I headed north to Casper to film this year’s Midnight Mass. The long-held tradition is that people from the Casper parishes gather with the bishop at St. Anthony’s on the Evening of the 4th Sunday of Advent to film the Midnight Mass. The Mass then airs at Midnight and again on Christmas morning.
Since the roads were mostly ice-covered from Glendo to Casper, I decided to spend the night in Casper. Another inch or two of snow fell through the night, so not much was gained, other than being able to drive in the daylight and see what the road conditions were as I drove.
I was glad to be returning to Cheyenne today, because I was hosting our seminarians for Mass, lunch and some social time. I realized today that this would be the last time I would ask the students to gather over their Christmas break. With the vast distances many of them need to travel, complicated by the almost certain reality of some winter weather, and sacrificing holiday time with family, it is too much to ask. But we sure had a good visit today.
We now have eleven seminarians, with a new candidate accepted just this month, who will begin studies this Spring semester. Four are in college, two are in pre-theology (studying philosophy) and five are in theology. We will (God willing!) ordain two men to the priesthood this summer, two more men to the priesthood the following summer, and one the year following. So, our future is bright!
But, we still need to keep praying for each of our seminarians and for the others God is calling to serve this diocese as priests. We give thanks to God for the willingness of each of these young men who so generously give themselves to their present studies and formation!
Today, Our Holy Father, Pope Francis is calling for a day of prayer in solidarity with the people suffering from hunger through the world. At the same time, he is inviting each of us to a greater awareness of our own use of food and food choices. We are challenged to a better understanding that the challenge of feeding the hungry is not a result of not enough food, but a just distribution of what is already available.
At Noon local time around the world, we are called to pray for those who suffer from hunger, and to pray for an end to the injustice of hunger in our world today. Below is the text of Pope Francis released earlier today.