Through eyes of faith we can see and believe

I began my Ash Wednesday homily talking about this wonderful season of grace and how we are being offered an invitation to enter into a very powerful period in the church year. I ended it with, “Today Jesus — the one who loves us more than we can imagine — is calling us to himself in an ever-deeper way, inviting us into his endless forgiveness and mercy and asking us to return whole-heartedly to his loving embrace. His outstretched arms are waiting for us.”

We are now much closer to the end of this season of grace preparing for Easter. Jesus’ outstretched arms are still waiting for us. They are always waiting for us. God’s deepest desire is to have a relationship with those to whom he has called his own. In the Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil we will be led on a journey through our salvation history, seeing through the eyes of faith the love with which God cared for his people, beginning with the story of creation, moving to the rescue of his people from the slavery of Pharaoh. Then God made an everlasting covenant with his people and claimed them once more as his own. We see ourselves in those stories when we recall the ways of our ancestors in faith. God is always calling us to himself.

The resurrection is woven in to the fabric of all these stories. Through eyes of faith, we can see and believe it. These stories reveal who we are as the people of God, what God has done for us, what God is doing for us, and what God will continue to do for us because of the suffering, death and resurrection of his Son.

Like the Israelite people wandered through the desert these last 40 days, and like the catechumens who have been on this forty day retreat during Lent, we too find ourselves discovering a God who has offered us a new way of living. In Lent we cast aside our covenant with death so that we can embrace the new covenant of life that Jesus offers us at Easter. Jesus has passed through death and brought us to the new and eternal covenant.

This covenant comes alive in the Easter Sacraments. This covenant will come alive when catechumens enter the waters of life. St. Paul says, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a newness of life.” Through baptism, God has made a claim on each one of us for all eternity. We renew this relationship in a special way allowing ourselves to be embraced once again by those outstretched arms of his beloved Son.

As the catechumens and candidates will experience the power of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, that same Spirit stirs within our own hearts so that we might be strengthened once again for Christ’s mission. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which … expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power (CCC #1127).

Our new Catholics will receive food for their journey as Jesus shares with them his body and blood, the bread of life and the cup of the new and everlasting covenant in this most intimate encounter. It too, is a gift for us each time we share in this covenant.

Through the sacramental life of the church we are all subjected to the Spirit’s transforming power. The Holy Spirit leads and guides all Christians into the mission of the church and into the outstretched arms of Jesus. We are led by the Spirit into the New Evangelization – sharing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus with others. It is the call of each of us. Our eternal life and the eternal lives of others are dependent upon it.

Pope John Paul II, in a speech to ecclesial movements and new communities, expressed it this way. “Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; He radically changes persons in history. He also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank, makes him fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up the church.”

May we always be astonished by the power and glory of the resurrection, allowing the Lord Jesus to radically change us, giving us courage to go into the world to proclaim this Good News!

Through the Easter mysteries, God has intervened and spoken from the darkness, shedding his light on the world for all ages. When we embrace fully these great mysteries, we will always find ourselves in those outstretched arms, whether they are on the cross or awaiting us into eternity.

May Jesus set your hearts afire with his love, and may your Easter season be a rebirth of peace, hope and joy. My blessings and love to you all.

Is the sacrament of penance an important part of your spiritual life?

The Cathedral was packed, I am told, for the inspiring conferences given by Matthew Kelly last month. In reading one of his books, “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living Life with Passion and Purpose,” people will easily discover that at the heart of Kelly’s message is encouragement for all of us to “become the-best-version-of-yourself.” Perhaps putting it another way, we are called to become the person whom God created us to be. As Catholics, we are all a work in progress, meaning that we are moving in a positive direction. It means that we are growing in our relationship with God and others.

In this season of Lent, this season of grace, we will experience great grace if we choose to enter into the discipline of the season leading to conversion, a metanoia, a change of heart through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. To become the person who God created us to be requires effort — constant, sometimes painful effort. But our effort will be useless unless it is rooted in God and in Christ’s redeeming mercy which comes to us through the sacrament of penance. Is the sacrament of penance an important part of your spiritual life?

We will never become the person whom God created us to be without regular use of this gift of the church. One of the great tragedies in the Catholic Church today is that this gift of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness is rarely received or experienced only seasonally. As a human race, we have lost the sense of sin. Our moral consciences have become desensitized, and we have become less aware of any rupture of communion with God. If the sacrament of penance is a personal, intimate encounter with Christ whereby he offers us his healing, merciful love, then why do so many Catholics not make this a regular discipline in their spiritual life or stay away altogether? If we truly believe that the sacraments are a personal encounter with Jesus and his love, what keeps us away? What are we afraid of?

All sin is a rejection of God’s love and therefore damages our relationship with him, whether we are aware of it or not. Sin also damages our relationship with the body of Christ, the church. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of penance and reconciliation” (CCC #1440).

In the Code of Canon Law we read, “Those who have committed serious sin are bound by church law to confess faithfully at least once a year (#989). It is strongly recommended that the Christian faithful also confess venial sins as well” (#988). Only when we truly accept our weaknesses as being harmful to ourselves and others, will we be able to begin the conversion process. Only when we are truly honest with ourselves about our lives and remove the masks we wear through confession will we encounter Christ’s deep love bursting forth in our lives.

Jesus never sinned, yet was crucified for us and our sins. If we fail to see ourselves as sinners in need of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, the cross of Jesus then has lost its meaning for our lives. Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance because he knows that we all need it. He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. (John 3:17) Jesus knows the benefits for those seeking this encounter with him. He loves us so much that he has given us this avenue for mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love so that we might grow into “the-best-version-of-your- self.” Because the graces of the sacrament of penance help serve the purpose of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the New Evangelization as beginning in the confessional.

“Now is the time for conversion! Lent is a sacred time to “free the longing that dwells in the heart of every human being so that it can reach its true height,” says the Holy Father. This season of Lent in the Year of Faith is the time to let go of the fears that keep you from receiving Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness in this sacrament, and allow him to love you into holiness. Is there any good reason to continue to reject this free grace that leads to conversion and ultimately a deeper life in Christ?

It is my hope and prayer that the focus of Lent for each parish and the whole diocese in this Year of Faith is Christ’s love and mercy as experienced through the sacrament of penance. See page 22 in this issue, watch your local bulletins and the diocesan website (www.rapidcitydiocese.org) for opportunities to celebrate this sacrament of the Lord’s love.

May Mary, mother of mercy, refuge for us sinners and star of the new evangelization, accompany us on our way to the extraordinary grace of her Son’s forgiveness!

‘We all desire a peaceful world’

Each New Year brings the expectation of a better world. In light of this, I ask God, the Father of humanity, to grant us concord and peace, so that the aspirations of all for a happy and prosperous life may be achieved. These were the opening words of Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2013.

We all desire a peaceful world. It is innate to every human person just as the love of God is written into every human heart.

The greatest challenge in opposition to a peaceful world is the lack of understanding of the true nature of the human person. Pope Benedict speaks to thiswhen he writes, “The denial of what makes up the true nature of human beings in its essential dimensions, its intrinsic capacity to know the true and the good and, ultimately, to know God himself, jeopardizes peacemaking. Without the truth about man inscribed by the Creator in the human heart, freedom and love become debased, and justice loses the ground of its exercise” [Pope Benedict XVI – Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2013, 3].

But looking at the world today, one may get the sense that the reality of a peaceful world is just a wonderful utopian idea. When worldwide tensions continue to divide nations and peoples, when the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, when life is not protected in the womb, when moral values continue on the decline and religious freedoms are taken away by government intrusion, the notion of peace seems far away.

To become authentic peacemakers, it is fundamental to keep in mind our transcendent dimension and to enter into constant dialogue with God, the Father of mercy, whereby we implore the redemption achieved for us by his only-begotten Son. In this way mankind can overcome that progressive dimming and rejection of peace which is sin in all its forms: selfishness and violence, greed and the will to power and dominion, intolerance, hatred and unjust structures [3].

Therefore, if we are to bring about a civilization where peace and justice flourish, it begins with each person looking within himself or herself seeking to discover our true nature as described by God and not defined by the secular culture or public opinion.

A society which does not respect human life in all its many aspects, beginning from conception, through its natural development and up to its natural end will never know peace. As Pope Benedict reflects, Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life [4]. Promoting any right to abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide poses a threat to the fundamental right to life and will never bring about peace.

A society which promotes a redefinition of marriage will never know peace because redefining what God has intended from the beginning destroys the true nature of a just society, not to mention the harm that it brings to the indispensable role of the family in society.

A society which has to continually fight for religious freedom or fight against government intrusion into the way religious organizations or people must practice their religious faith will never know peace. Peace exists when the faith of all people is accepted and valued as part of the natural structure of society, bringing forth all that is good and valuable for the common welfare.

Our Holy Father speaks of other challenges which impact the making of a peaceful society – the financial and economic challenges, the role of labor and the right to work and the injustices towards migrants and refugees. Please take the time to read Pope Benedict’s Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace found on the diocesan website. It is a wonderful message for prayer and reflection for all of us as we begin this new year.

We have a long way to go to attain the peaceful society which the Lord desires for us. It will come about when our hearts are converted to Christ, and his attitudes and ideals become our own. A peaceful society will only come about when its members are filled with the peace of Christ which comes to us only through intimacy with him through prayer. We pray for ourselves that God will make each of us true instruments of his peace in a world which so desperately needs it. We also ask God to enlighten all leaders so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may secure for them the precious gift of peace, break down the walls which divide them, strengthen the bonds of mutual love, grow in understanding, and pardon those who have done them wrong; in this way, by his power and inspiration all the peoples of the earth will experience fraternity, and the peace for which they long will ever flourish and reign among them [7].

As the New Year begins, grace and peace in abundance to all of you! May Christ’s love lead you to new heights in faith and may His peace reign in your hearts now and forever.