Homilies – Bishop Thomas

Ordinations 2017
Diocese of Helena
June 23rd, 2017

 

 

In southeast Brazil there is a massive shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida. The Basilica is the second largest church in the world, capable of seating 60,000 people, and second only in size to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Aparecida attracts over 10 million pilgrims and tourists each year.

Ten years ago, beginning on May 13, 2007, over 150 bishops from across Latin America gathered at Aparecida to discuss critical and urgent problems affecting the life of the Church in Central and South America. The challenges they addressed were many and varied, and not unlike our own.

  • They focused on the monumental losses the Church was experiencing as other religions aggressively proselytized a traditionally Roman Catholic population across Latin America;
  • They spoke of the growing gulf between the rich and poor;
  • They addressed the effects of secularism and the lure of materialism, especially in the lives of the young;
  • They examined threats to family life and marriage, and a soaring rate of divorce;
  • Some voiced concerns over the degradation of the environment;
  • In one voice they raised alarm over the ever-growing plight of migrants and refugees, not only in Latin and South America, but indeed across the whole globe.

The meeting at Aparecida was significant to the entire Church, not just Latin America, for two very particular reasons.  The first was the fact that Aparecida produced a powerful blueprint, a roadmap, to address challenges that dioceses across the globe share in common.  The Aparecida roadmap is remarkable for lack of defensiveness, its radical optimism, its unadorned candor, and its pastoral practicality.

The second and lesser known reason why Aparecida is so significant is that one of the major players at that meeting was the Cardinal of Buenos Aries, Jorge Mario Bergolio, who is said to have played a major role in the formation of the master plan.

Six years after the meeting, the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Bergolio as Successor of Peter, the 266th Pope, and first from the southern hemisphere.

By examining the Aparecida Document, I propose that you will also be given a window into the mind and method, and understrand the genesis of so many of his papal themes and strategies.

Joe and Kirby, many of the challenges you will face as priests and ministers of the Gospel in contemporary society are mirrored in Apariceda.

Aparecida admonishes you as newly ordained priests and all of us to launch into the future without fear, living and ministering confidently, joyfully, with Jesus Christ as our constant companion and North Star.

Aparecida begins and ends with the same forceful conviction, that “Jesus Christ is the way that allows us to discover the truth and to achieve fulfillment in our lives!” Joe and Kirby, this is precisely what I want for you—to take His yoke upon your shoulders and to learn from Him, but also to make it your passion to invite others to encounter him, to embrace and to love him as the one who “fills our lives with meaning, truth and love, joy and hope.”(165)

I cannot say this strongly enough. The very heartbeat of effective priestly ministry is founded upon intimate friendship with Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict was present at the opening session of Aparecida.  His admonition to priests was perennial and uncompromising: ”The essential foundation of priestly ministry,” he wrote, “is a deep personal bond to Jesus Christ.  Everything hinges on this bond… The priest must be a man who knows Jesus intimately, has encountered him, and has learned to love. Without a strong spiritual substance, the priest cannot long endure his ministry.”  On this, your day of Ordination, I want you to take Benedict’s words and Pope Francis’ example into your hearts and lives.

The spiritual life of the priest is nourished by the daily celebration of the Eucharist, fed through works of compassion, and strengthened at the Table of the Word.

As you become immersed in the busy life of the priest, I ask you to ensure that your prayer life always receives first billing, and is never crowded out by the myriad demands that every effective priest experiences in his daily responsibilities.

Next, Aparecida consistently raises up the role of the laity, who, in days gone by, were portrayed as passive players and compliant beneficiaries of the ministry of the clergy and religious.

Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council introduced new language and concepts of collaboration, consultation, and collegiality.  The Council envisioned a new paradigm—with clergy and laity working together.

Aparecida picks up on that theme, and Pope Francis runs with it.

Aparecida proposes that all of us, without exception, are called to become missionary disciples by virtue of our Baptism.

Aparecida says forcefully that the Church is “to be on permanent mission” together, and “Jesus invites all to participate.  No one may stay back with crossed arms!”  No slackers, no benchwarmers, no passive players.  No exceptions.  We are a Church on permanent mission! That is our mandate and common call.

Joe and Kirby, in the years ahead, I ask you to be part of a vision that will be articulated in our pastoral plan–the empowerment of the whole diocese to become missionary disciples, working hand in hand as a people co-responsible for the propagation of the Gospel throughout our beloved Diocese.

I ask you to draw from the wisdom and expertise of the lay faithful. Know what you don’t know, and surround yourself with wise and experienced people.

Wherever your ministry takes you, help your people to encounter Jesus personally and intimately first by the example of your daily life, and through beautiful and well­ prepared liturgy and sound preaching and teaching.

Never lose sight of the strong admonition contained in Aparcdida—“Catholic faith reduced…to a collection of rules and prohibitions… to the repetition of doctrinal principles, and bland or nervous moralizing, does not convert the life of the baptized or withstand the trials of our time.” That is merely placing new wine in old wineskins.

If we truly desire to stay attrition, and attract new members, if we truly want to be a Church that is vibrant and life-giving, we need to move from maintenance to mission, from status quo to transformation.

That transformation depends on vibrant, faith-filled, life-giving, sound formation, and a common purpose.  We need Christ-centered leaders working together, undaunted by present challenges, and willing to call forth whole communities of missionary disciples who are co-responsible for the life and mission of the Church. That is my hope and my expectation for our Diocese and for your ministry as newly ordained.

Next, I ask you always to provide a special place in your heart and life for the young Catholic. The Diocese of Helena already has a rich and wonderful ministry to youth, and inordinately high numbers of young Catholics involved in parish youth groups, the CYC, and Legendary Lodge. But others, particularly the millennial generation, feel spiritually adrift and long for direction and meaning in their lives.

Apariceda says it well, writing, ”Accompany the youth in their formation and search for identity, vocation, and mission.”   To accompany means investing time–face time, quality time with and among the youth and young adults of our community as a welcoming, listening, and invitational Church. This is an investment that has the power over time to produce strong Catholic families, and to bless the Church with new vocations to priesthood and religious life.  And the benefits are out of this world!

Time and again, Pope Frances has also drawn attention to the plight of the poor, and has underscored the import of Catholic Social Doctrine as the key that unbinds the shackles that keep people bound in poverty and misery for generations upon end.

Catholic Social Teaching is founded upon the conviction that every person is made in the image of God. There are no throwaway persons, no disposable souls, and no second-class citizens.

In his homilies and impromptu addresses, Pope Francis admonishes his priests to leave the comfort of the sacristy and the security of the sanctuary, and to minister to those on society’s margins, voiceless and invisible persons languishing in prisons and jails, patients in hospitals and nursing homes, people in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

“Have the smell of the sheep” is Pope Francis’ way of telling you and me to know our people by name, and to assiduously avoid ministering only to those with whom we have comfortable relationships and easy rapport.  In a word, bring the Church to the margins. Be willing to speak up and to speak out when injustice rears its head, being a constant advocate and friend of the poor.

Regarding pastoral style, the Holy Father has been clear, consistent, and not infrequently critical of priests and seminarians.  Avoid the dangers of clericalism, the pitfall of narcissism, and the trap of entitlement.  Eschew excessive rubricism and unbending legalism. Avoid harsh and strident attitudes, self-righteous anger, and the toxicity of gossip. Elect to stay on the high road when you encounter difficult or irritating people. Develop the skills of dialogue and attentive listening.  Prefer persuasion over polemics and reconciliation over rancor…all seasoned with a healthy sense of humor and a heavy dose of gospel joy.

Listen attentively to Pope Francis’ admonition to seminarians and young clergy when he admonishes you to avoid the trap of thinking in black and white when our people live in a world that is bathed in shades of gray.

In Ignatian parlance, master the art of spiritual discernment by knowing the mind of the Church and learning to exercise sound and caring pastoral judgment in the parlor and in the confessional, “so as not to break the bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.”  (Is. 42-3)

Strive to become ministers of mercy and agents of reconciliation. Build up the unity of the Church by applying copiously the healing balm of Jesus in the hearts of the wounded and the aggrieved.

Finally, I ask you to live a balanced life, investing deeply in strong and supportive friendships with brother priests and by developing blessed friendships among the lay faithful. Don’t neglect your families, whose love and encouragement has led you here to the foot of the altar.

This is such a blessed day for all of us across the Diocese of Helena.

Joe Paddock brings to us a keen mind, a generous heart, the gifts of humility and fidelity, and a joy that radiates from his warm style and caring smile. Joe lost his dear Mom Janie on February 18, just a few short months ago. How proud your Mother was of you, dear Joe. As you are surrounded by family and friends, don’t lose sight of the fact that your Mom is so present to us in spirit, and has the best seat in the house for your Ordination Liturgy.

Kirby is the avid outdoorsman, a man loved by family, cherished by friends, and deeply feared by fish. He has zeal for the Gospel, the capacity to minister among a wide swath of people, and special gift for ministering among youth and young adults. He is self­ disciplined, self-motivated, and admirable selfless in his ministry among the People of God.

In just a few moments, both men will lay down your lives before the altar, as a profound symbol of their readiness to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders as priests of Jesus Christ, and servant leaders in the Catholic Church.

Kirby and Joe, throughout your priesthood, keep the eyes of your hearts fixed on Christ so that your life as a priest and missionary disciple will radiate that special joy that comes to those who love and serve Him well.

In the words of Paul to Timothy, “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have received through the laying on of my hands.” (2Tim. 1:6).

From this day forward resolve to live a life worthy of so great a call, always patterning your life after Jesus Christ, who is ever in our midst as “one who serves.”

Christ the King Golden Anniversary
Missoula, MT
June 25th, 2016

 

In 1965, Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen returned from the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council. He was among the youngest of the 2500 bishops of the Council, frequently mistaken as a driver. And now, at age 95, he holds the distinction of being the last living American Bishop to have participated in all four sessions of Vatican II.

Last week I visited Archbishop Hunthausen at the assisted living facility in Helena, where he lives with his brother, Father Jack Hunthausen. While the Archbishop’s body has become frail and uncooperative, his mind is lucid, and his memory crystal-clear.

During our visit, I told him that the parish community of Christ the King would be celebrating its Golden Anniversary. He asked me to convey warm greetings and congratulations to Father Jeff Fleming, the staff, students, and parishioners of the parish community.

Archbishop Hunthausen reminisced about those days following the Council, and recalled the time when he, in 1966, established Christ the King Parish with two particular purposes in mind.

The first was his desire to convey a strong public message that university students and staff are deeply valued in the Diocese of Helena. He therefore created plans to open a brand-new facility on these grounds, with a sister building project at Montana State University.

Second, he created this community as a kind of laboratory where the vision and values of the Second Vatican Council could be embraced and embodied, most especially among the student body – – future leaders within the wider community and diocese.

In those heady years following the Council, Christ the King Parish, its priests, staff, and parishioners took seriously this mission and mandate.

Pope John XXIII used the Italian word aggiornamento as a catch phrase to capture the spirit of the Council. Taken literally, the word means renewal or reform. In visual image, aggiornamento symbolizes opening the windows of the Church to let fresh air come in. But it also means allowing the light of the Holy Spirit to pour forth from the windows of the Church, so that God’s radiant love can shine forth.

During the ensuing years, the vision of the Council became a constant leitmotif, a North Star, that guided the mission and ministries carried out in this community.

From 1961 until 1965, the Council Fathers produced four constitutions, nine decrees, and three declarations, all differing not only in rank but also in importance. Among the documents, the late Avery Cardinal Dulles considered the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium as the Council’s most momentous achievement. Literally translated, Lumen Gentium means “light of the nations” referring, of course, to Jesus Christ as the light of the world.

The image of light also references Christ’s mandate to you and me, that we must individually and collectively “place our light on lampstand, and let it shine before others, so they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:15-16)

Today, as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Christ the King community, I would like to describe for you seven beams of light that emanate from the writings of the Second Vatican Council. You may wish to add your own.

I would suggest that these beams of light hold the potential to renew, recharge, replenish, and reinvigorate the life of every parish community, if we embody and embrace them anew as works inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.

1.      The Universal Call to Holiness

In pre-conciliar times, the call to holiness was largely considered the domain of clergy and religious. This paradigm unintentionally relegated the laity to the sidelines of the spiritual life. The Council Fathers underscored the dignity of all the baptized, as they wrote “all Christians, in any state or walk of life, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity.” The Council’s vision is clear and compelling, and the universal call to holiness is one of the reasons why Cardinal Dulles considered the dogmatic constitution as the Council’s most important achievement. Holiness is our shared destiny, our common spiritual DNA. All are invited by the Lord himself to walk in His company as adopted sons and daughters. This is why the early Church Fathers called the sacrament of baptism the sacrament of enlightenment.

2.      Liturgical Renewal

In the days following the Council, the most obvious and apparent change experienced by ordinary Catholics was the introduction of the vernacular into the celebration of liturgy. But this was not the most important liturgical value introduced by the Council Fathers. They gave pastors and people the admonition that Christians should not be present at liturgy simply a strangers or silent spectators. Rather, they insisted on the “full, active, conscious participation” (SC14) of the laity in the celebration of liturgy. Beautifully prepared liturgy, prayerful music, strong homiletic preaching, sacred silence, and the full panoply of liturgical ministries are the expectation and the gold standard to be present at every liturgy and in every community across the globe. All activities of the Church, her mission, her ministry, and apostolic life should not only flow from the Eucharistic liturgy, but constantly return to it as the “source and summit” of the life of the Church.

3.      Theology of the Ampersand

A third beam of light that emanated from the Council is the connection between liturgy and justice, worship and compassion, prayer and service, praise and mercy, contemplation and action; or, in scriptural parlance, “love of God and love of neighbor.” The Council Fathers gave impetus to the emerging body of Catholic Social Teaching, which reached its full flower in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. The Council Fathers articulated the conviction that every person, without exception, is fashioned in the image and likeness of God, and has inherent value and in innate dignity. In the years that followed the Council, new concepts like solidarity, subsidiarity, the common good, and a preferential option for the poor became the theological foundation undergirding the charitable works of the Church. But it did not stop there. The Church recognized its responsibility to engage actively with civil leaders and the private sector to help address the underlying causes of poverty and injustice that keep generations of people enslaved in need. This teaching is so central to the life of the Church that Dorothy Day insisted, “God made heaven hinge on the way we act toward Him in his disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary human beings.”

4.      Shared Responsibility

Bishop Hunthausen returned from the Council with a new vocabulary and a new way of carrying out the saving mission of the Church. He introduced concepts like cooperation, collaboration, consultation, collegiality, or in his words, “shared responsibility.” In pre-Council times, much of the heavy lifting in the Church was done by priests and sisters. The Council introduced a more expansive role for the laity, encouraging them to “exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, both in the spiritual and in the temporal order.” New structures followed this vision – – in particular the creation of pastoral and finance councils and a wide array of consultative bodies and boards of directors. “Their activity is so necessary,” wrote the Church Fathers, “that without it, the apostolate of the pastor is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness.” Shared responsibility became another sign of aggiornamento.

5.      Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue

In a moment of agreement, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and theologian Hans Küng both agreed that there could be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the great religions. During the past 30 years, for a variety of reasons, ecumenical dialogue has taken a backseat across much of the globe. This sad reality is beginning to change. Pope Francis is modeling for us the import and impact of respectful dialogue, shared prayer, and common works of mercy. He and the Council Fathers are of one mind when they envisioned a world that prefers dialogue over diatribe, invitation over invective, and humility over hubris.  Ours must be a Church that intentionally cultivates respective dialogue and relationships among all peoples, even those who hold positions and perspectives which are radically different from our own. We now live in a global village, and ecumenical and interfaith dialogue are now more important than ever.

6.      Reconciliation and Healing

The Church must be a place of mercy and the home of forgiveness. In every community and institution, in every parish and human family, there are people who are wounded, angry, abused and aggrieved. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus. Pope John XXIII insisted that the Church should dispense the medicine of mercy generously and copiously, showing herself to be the “loving mother of all, benign, patient, forgiving, and full of mercy.” This has been the constant theme in Pope Francis’ writing and preaching, and a mandate that flows from the heart of the Lord himself. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, “The quality of mercy falls like gentle rain from heaven. It is twice blessed, blessing the one who gives and the one who receives.” Reconciliation has the power to shed light in darkness, and effect healing in wounded souls.

7.      The New Evangelization

The years following the Council produced no small number of casualties, persons who, for a wide array of reasons, parted company with the Catholic family. The New Evangelization envisioned by the Council invites all the baptized to become as missionary disciples and to invite disenfranchised Catholics to come home. The New Evangelization asks all of us to introduce those who do not know the name of Jesus to encounter Him personally. In recent years, there has been a dangerous ecclesiology at play a model that espouses a “fewer but purer” mentality. I reject this premise outright. Pope Francis has written “the Church is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting mediocrity.” We must never grow weary of inviting others to know Christ, and to announce that the doors of the Church are open in welcome and in warm embrace. Awakening the sleeping giant of the laity, and commissioning each person to embrace his or her role as evangelizer unlocks great doors of opportunity. The sainted Pope John Paul stated powerfully, “No believer in  Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid the supreme duty to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” The gospel says it well – – “You must let your light shine forth for all to see.”

Just over 50 years ago, this parish was founded one year after the Second Vatican Council ended. After final session of the Council, the Archbishop of Baltimore, Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan, wisely observed, “The Council has ended; the Council has just begun.”

In the life of the Church, fifty years is a very short time.

Your Golden Jubilee is a good time to examine meaningfully and deeply the quality of your own commitment to the vision and values of the Second Vatican Council and the call for aggiornamento proclaimed by John XXIII. This vision has the power to strengthen our relationship with Christ, and to renew the spiritual lives of our families, parishes, and diocese.

On this jubilee day, I extend congratulations to you, Father Jeff Fleming, and to your predecessors, students, staff, and parishioners.

The real work of the Council has just begun.

Ordination 2016
June 24, 2016
Cathedral of St. Helena

 

This is truly a joyous day for all of us in the Diocese of Helena as three of our seminarians are presenting themselves for Holy Orders – – Cody Williams for the Office of priesthood, Kirby Longo and Joseph Paddock to the Office of Deacon.

These three men bring to our Diocese a wide array of gifts and talents. At the same time, Cody, Kirby and Joe are as different as night and day. Yet they also share many things in common. Each has a deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ.  Each is prepared to lay down his life in loving service to you, the people they are being ordained to serve. Each desires to deepen their bonds with the fraternity of priests of the Diocese, and learn from you as their teachers, mentors, and new brothers in the Lord.

Kirby Longo hails from Billings, Montana, a graduate of Billings Central High School. He was raised in a Methodist tradition, and converted to Catholicism as a high school student. Members of his family followed suit.

Kirby is considered by his peers a renaissance man, disciplined, dynamic, fun-loving, risk taking. He was a state champion football player, is a true outdoorsman, with a passion for skiing, mountain biking, and fly fishing.  Did you know that he also plays the violin?

During Kirby’s time at Carroll College, he was selected to serve in Campus Ministry for three years in a row, and has a special gift for relating to the young.

The late Msgr. Donald Shea had an enormous impact on Kirby’s vocation. Msgr. was a spiritual father to him throughout his years of formation.  Msgr. Shea would have been aglow today as Kirby presents himself for the office of Deacon.

Joe Paddock hails from Anaconda, Montana, a small town that has produced an inordinately large number of vocations. Some say it’s the water. While Kirby plays the violin, you may not know the Joe Paddock was a drummer in a rock band in high school.

Joe is self-effacing and humble, accessible and easy going, possessing a keen mind and heart of gold.

Joe did his undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at MSU, graduating number three in his class. He went on to a little- known Midwestern school for graduate work—a school called Notre Dame, where he received his MBA.  There he co-founded the biotechnology and healthcare club at Notre Dame. If you want to see the other side of the ever-tranquil Joe Paddock, just get him started talking about Notre Dame football during football season, and he will go from 0 to 60 right before your eyes.

Joe had a highly successful career at Amazon, where he served as comptroller for their Nevada operations.  He gave up a lucrative career to walk in the pathways of the Lord. A person who recognized the early signs of Joe’s vocation to the priesthood was the late Father Stu Long, who was never shy about inviting young men to love and serve the Lord as priest. You may be certain, Joe, that Father Stu would also be ebullient today as you lay your life down in the service of God’s holy people.

Deacon Cody Williams was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, and raised in Beaverton Oregon.  Cody graduated from Sunset Public High School in 2005.  He is an admixture of right brain-left brain, gifted in music, and trained in biology and the sciences.

Cody is kind and thoughtful, gentle and reliable, with a wry sense of humor.  He is ever-sensitive to the underserved and downtrodden.

As Kirby plays violin, Joe the drums, Cody is an accomplished trombonist and pianist, who can also name and classify every plant and noxious weed growing in your back yard.

Cody affiliated with the Diocese of Helena and entered Mount Angel seminary in the Autumn of 2010.

During the short life-spans of Kirby, Joe, and Cody, these three men have witnessed the strikingly diverse leadership of three popes, the now Sainted Pope John Paul II, Pope-emeritus Benedict, and, of course, the inimitable Pope Francis.

Each Pope has demonstrated deep affection and passion for priesthood, each with a spiritual father’s heart.  Each has written extensively on the subject, offering poignant insights and practical advice to those aspiring to the priesthood. Their counsel is sage and sometimes surprising.

Today, on your day of Ordination, I have extracted major themes from their writings, two from each Pope to be exact.  When these teachings are placed side by side, they create a colorful and detailed mosaic which reflects the beauty and goodness of the priesthood in the modern world.

We begin with the late Pope John Paul II.

He was asked during a World Youth Day why he became a priest.  His response resonates in the hearts of most every priest, and is the first word of advice I transmit to you. This is what John Paul said: “I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely (why I became a priest). For it remains a mystery even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God?  Yet, I know that at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said the thousands before me: ‘Come, follow me!’ There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice . . . Christ was calling me to serve Him as a priest.  And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood.  Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate mass each day and serve God’s people in the church. This has been true since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope.”

Cody, Joe and Kirby, the first stones in the mosaic reflect the words of Jesus in Gospel proclaimed today— “It was not you who chose me, rather I chose you.”  What I say to you is this: “Live the mystery, embrace the mystery, and give thanks that He has chosen men like you and me—unworthy as we are, for so great a privilege.”

The second theme I raise before you is drawn from Pope John Paul’s own apostolic motto—two Latin words–Totus Tuus, meaning “completely yours.” This motto speaks volumes about Pope John Paul’s vision of ministry, and his love of our Lady, and his desire to serve the Lord with an undivided heart.

I ask you to make these words your own.  As you lay prostrate before the altar, speak these words to Jesus in the quiet of your heart—“Totus tuus, completely yours.”  Let this prayer become the theme of your priesthood—make the prayer of St. Louis de Monfort your own—“I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours.  I take you for my all.  O Mary, give me your heart.”

We now turn to the writings of Pope-emeritus Benedict.  In his celebrated work, Called to Communion, he offers a strong admonition to priests which comprises the third part of the mosaic–“The essential foundation of priestly ministry is a deep personal bond to Jesus Christ. Everything hinges on this bond . . . . The priest must be a man who knows Jesus intimately, who has encountered Him and has learned to love Him.” For this reason, Joe, Cody, Kirby, the priest must be above all else a man of prayer. “Without a strong spiritual substance,” writes Pope Benedict, “(the priest) cannot long endure his ministry.”

This is my third word of advice to you. Open and close each day in prayer. Cherish the celebration of Holy Mass as the center of your day. Give thanks to the Lord in all things, and trust in his providential care. In times of trouble and duress, recall the words of St. Francis de Sales, who wrote “Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or he will give you the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”
The fourth word of advice from Pope Benedict is taken from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.  “Pastors know how much the laity contributes to the welfare of the entire church. Pastors know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the church toward the world.”  Pope Benedict picks up this theme and runs with it.  “Pastors must not pursue uniformity in their pastoral planning, but must leave room for the doubtless often troublesome multiplicity of God’s gifts, always under the criterion of the unity of faith.”

In a word, discover the power of collaborative ministry, collegiality, and wise consultation with and among the laity serving in your parish.  Remember that Pope Benedict describes the role of laity as indispensable, and raised the ante even higher, when he advised, the laity are not only collaborators with the clergy, but they are co-responsible for carrying out the saving mission of the Church.

We now turn to the writings of Pope Francis, and the words he spoke as he inaugurated The Year of Mercy.  This is the fifth part of the mosaic, and it is my hope and prayer that you make his words your own. “How much I desire that this year will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God.  May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst.”

In recent years, and most especially in this election year, we see people across the nation thriving on anger, indignation, incivility, retribution, ad hominum attacks, and public temper tantrums. This attitude is being aided and abetted by the anonymity of the blogosphere.  To these we say, “The Church must always be the home and model of forgiveness, the place where the medicine of mercy and forgiveness are dispensed prodigiously each and every day.”

As newly-ordained, I ask you to be ministers of reconciliation, preaching and teaching and living in the conviction that God’s mercy is entirely unearned, unmerited, and inexhaustible. Let your ministry flow from the wellspring of mercy and from the river of reconciliation.

To paraphrase the powerful words of William Shakespeare, who says poetically what we hold in our hearts – – “The quality of mercy falls like gentle rain from heaven. It is twice blessed, blessing the one who gives and the one who receives.”

The last theme that is so pervasive in the writings of Pope Francis brings you to the margins in your ministry as Priest and Deacon. Pope Francis has asked us to be willing to leave the security of the sacristy and the familiarity of the sanctuary, and to sally out of the margins of church and culture to minister among the poor, the weak, the forgotten, and the disenfranchised. This might be called the Theology of the Ampersand—a theology that connects worship and service, liturgy and compassion, prayer and justice, or in Scriptural parlance, “Love of God and love of neighbor.”

So necessary is our ministry among the poor that Dorothy Day wrote, God made heaven hinge on the way we act toward him in his disguise of poor, ordinary, frail humanity.”

Each Pope has written extensively and expansively on the gift of ordained life, and, taken together, have created a detailed portrait of ordained ministry.  Make their decades of lived experience and their wise counsel your own.

Kirby, Joe, and Cody, your brother priests and deacons, along with the whole people of God, are here to help you, to support you, to love you and pray for you, giving thanks to the One who has led you to this precious moment of diaconal and priestly ordination.

For your part, you must keep the eyes of your hearts “ever fixed on Christ” so that your life will radiate that special joy that comes to those who know Him and love Him and serve Him.

In the words of Timothy, “Rekindle daily the gift of God you have received through the laying on of hands (Timothy 1:6). From this day forward, resolve to live a life worthy of so great a calling, and, of course, always pattern your lives after Him, who is ever in our midst ‘as one who serves.’”

Confirmation 2016
Diocese of Helena

 

It was May 19, 1963.

I and my classmates were seated in St. Helena Cathedral.  We were preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation.  It was a sweltering hot day.  The girls were dressed in white confirmation gowns, and the boys in red.  We sat in groups, the girls on the right side, and the boys on the left.

There was an air of anxiety among the students as we anticipated that the Bishop would ask us questions before his homily, in the presence of our nervous parents and families.  In the north transept of the Cathedral sat two rows of nuns, dressed in black habits.  They had “the look” —, that is, don’t even think about blowing an answer to the 150 questions they had drilled into our heads.  There was a collective sigh of relief as the newly-ordained Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen announced that he would dispense of the questions and go right into the homily.  The nuns were not pleased.

It was an age of innocence and simplicity, a black and white world, a mixture of Pleasantville and Mayberry.  We were protected by ever-watchful parents, education by vigilant nuns, and regulated by dozens of surrogate parents — grandparents, aunts and uncles, and scores of tattle-tale neighbors.

In those days, gasoline was a whopping $.30 a gallon; bread $.21 a loaf; a brand-new car, $1,000; and a new house $19,500 . . . with an average income of $6,900.

In Helena, in particular, and in Montana in general, we lived a fairly isolated existence, in a state surrounded by high mountains, a limited economy, and severe weather.  Ours was a monochrome world with black and white television featuring Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons, Ed Sullivan, and the Saturday night fights.  We crooned to the tunes of “Hey Paula,” “Dominique” (with the singing nun), Sugar Shack, and Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny, etc.  We had a 9 o’clock curfew on the weekdays and a 12 o’clock curfew on the weekends.

We also had confident answers to the most complex religious questions, but in the words of Bob Dylan, “the times, they were a ‘changing.”

Little did we know as we gathered in the Cathedral on that May afternoon that dramatic changes were taking place in the Catholic Church.  The Baltimore Catechism was giving way to experiential religious education.  The Latin Mass was being replaced by the vernacular celebration.  Addition and subtraction were morphing into “new math.”  The sisters’ religious habits were being exchanged for secular clothing.  The bebop and jitterbug music in the early ‘60s would give way to long-haired English upstarts like the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, and the Rolling Stones.

1963 saw the rise and fall of the age of idealism and the notion of Camelot.  In June, a young, confident JFK proudly declared to 1 million West Berliners, “Eich bin ein Berliner” and in August, Martin Luther King proclaimed “I have a dream!”

In November of that same year, the same confident John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet. Four years later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King met the same tragic fate.

To be sure, as we gathered in the Cathedral in 1963, we were unprepared for all that awaited us on the horizons of our life.  It was the “dawning of the age of Aquarius.”  Just around the corner was the tumult of the war in Vietnam, the hippies in Haight-Ashbury, sit-ins, protests, happenings, and “I’m OK, You’re OK” psychology.

Almost overnight, our monochrome world of Ward and June Cleaver was replaced, or more accurately, swept away by psychedelic colors and tie-dyed T-shirts.

On May 19, 1963, Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen conferred upon us the Sacrament of Confirmation, through the laying on of hands and the anointing with sacred Chrism.  He also gave us a light tap on the cheek, symbolizing that we were being sent out into a world that could be hostile or indifferent toward the teachings of the Church.

This age of change, both within the Church and in society at large, saw many casualties.  There were people unable to cope with the vision of the Second Vatican Council, or the values of a rapidly changing society.  In either case, the black-and-white answers found in the Baltimore catechism no longer seemed to fit the whirling and swirling questions of the 1960s.

It was in this era that my generation came of age, and for a period of time, felt unanchored and adrift.  Theologian Richard Gaillardetz accurately articulated what we experienced firsthand in the ‘60s and ‘70s that “God is found in questions that lead you to answers and in situations that test the limits of our faith.”

You, the dear young people gathered here for confirmation, have grown up in a brave new world that would have been unimaginable in my youth.  You have grown up in a world of microwaves and microchips, text messaging, twittering, email and Facebook.  You have grown accustomed to iPods, iPads, Internet and computers.

You have witnessed in your short lives tragedies that unfold before you in living color – daily reports of roadside bombings, terrorist activities, Metro station explosions, and waves of desperate migrants and political refugees.

You have encountered in your young lives previously unheard-of threats foreign to older generations — the Zika virus, the AIDs epidemic, and ecoterrorism, computer hacking and identity theft.

Today, more than ever before, the Church boldly proclaims to you a message that is perennial and true, that “Jesus Christ is the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life.”

She echoes the words so boldly proclaimed to a new generation, “Come to Him, and do not be afraid.”  Allow Jesus Christ to enter through the locked doors of your hearts as did the first disciples.

An encounter with Jesus Christ changes hearts and lives, and gives meaning and direction to you when life becomes overwhelming, confusing, or beset with difficulty and sadness.

Like the young adults of my generation, the future is also veiled from your eyes.  My generation was quite unprepared for the dramatic changes that awaited us just around the corner.  The same is true for you and your peers.

But what you and I hold in common is the deep and abiding conviction that God knows each of us by name, and loves us with an everlasting love.  In the words of St. Augustine, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”

You and I are his adopted children, taken into His heart at baptism, and given to us as a light to follow in good times and in bad, a light no darkness can extinguish.

The word Confirmation comes from a Latin word – confirmare, which means to strengthen and seal the power of Baptism in your life, and to make that sacrament your own.

Confirmation acknowledges that our baptismal faith is imperfect and immature, not unlike the faith of the first disciples; our faith is weak and inconsistent.

This sacrament is a gift entrusted with the Church which prolongs the power of Pentecost into our day and age, and into our hearts and homes.  Through the imposition of hands, and the anointing with sacred Chrism, we receive the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This is the sacrament that binds us more completely to the Church, and helps us to live out our Catholic faith with courage and conviction.

For your part, you must unlock the doors of your heart, say yes to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to rest in your soul.

Down through the years, I have closed each Confirmation homily with seven words of advice to help you live your faith more faithfully and vigorously.  These words of advice come from your own peers, are born in the hearts of our youth, and have stood the test of time.

  1. Don’t go out alone. Walk in the company of other Catholic friends.  Encourage one another.  Challenge one another, and if you grow lazy or complacent in the faith, pray for one another, and nag each other as necessary in order to stay true to your promise of baptism.
  2. Grow daily in your friendship with Jesus Christ. Open and close each day with a prayer.  Stay close to the Eucharist, always making Sunday mass the first priority of your weekend.
  3. Grow daily in your knowledge of the Church. There is so much to know.  Your faith will be challenged mightily in college and in the work place.  The more you know, the better you can stand up against the powerful currents of unbelief.
  4. Serve others in greater need than yourself. “Life will have meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others.”
  5. Reconcile broken relationships. Ask for forgiveness from those you have harmed. Grant forgiveness to those who have hurt you.  Richard Fitzgibbons, a noted psychiatrist, has written “those with whom you choose to remain angry will control you.  They will limit you physically, spiritually, and emotionally.”
  6. Avoid everything that diseases the soul. Toxic friendships, pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, lying, gossip, cheating, and dishonesty with parents.
  7. Tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ, not so much by your words but by the way you live your lives.

In just a few moments, the young adults will stand up to publicly proclaim their faith in Christ and the desire to walk in the ways of their Catholic faith.  Pray for them, support them, encourage them, and thank them for their witness.  Help them to overcome all that keeps them from knowing, loving, and serving their Lord and master.  They belong to you, Oh Lord, and they are here, ready and willing to help you renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

Red Mass
Cathedral of St. Helena

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

 

Mr. Don Shula was the winningest coach in NFL history. Shula told a story on himself that helps shed light on the power of today’s Gospel.

Shula was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins for 26 years. During the peak of his career, his name was a household word, the name recognized and acclaimed by sports fans across the country.

In the Southeast, and especially in his home state of Florida, Shula was considered a hero and a walking legend. He was hounded by the media, haunted by overly-zealous fans, and hunted down by autograph seekers wherever he went. His fame and fortune came at a great price, not just for himself, but for his wife and family.

One year, Coach Shula and his wife Marianne had fame up to their eyebrows. And so, they decided to pack up the car, load up their five small children, and drive 1500 miles for a vacation far away from the madding crowd. There, in northern Maine, they felt they could have the peace and quiet they longed for out of the limelight and away from the pressure of public life.

But when they arrived at their vacation destination, Murphy’s Law was in full force. The weather in Maine was cold and rainy, and the children were restless and rambunctious. At some point in time, Marianne suggested they take in a movie rather than sit in a hotel room with five high-octane children.

As soon as this family of seven walked into the theater, it happened once again. All six customers in the small town movie house leapt to their feet, and applauded wildly as Shula and his family filed into their seats.

All through the movie, Don Shula fought off the temptation of feeling that warm glow which comes with fame and adulation. During the movie, he thought, “here we are, 1500 miles from home, and they give me a standing ovation!” After the movie, he made the mistake of asking one senior citizen moviegoer a simple question – “How is it that you recognized me so far from my home?”

Shula’s inquiry drew a blank stare, and caused the coach to blush a bit with awkward embarrassment. So he reworded the question, somewhat defensively: “Well then, why did you give me a standing ovation when I entered the theater?” “That’s easy!” the old man said. “Just before you arrived, the manager announced, ‘I can’t afford to show the movie unless we get at least four more customers. Your family saved the day!’”

It was a lesson in humility for Shula, and a lesson on when silence is sometimes your best friend.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asked his disciples not one, but two questions.

The first was generic and nonthreatening. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples’ response to the first question was equally innocuous.

But the second question is the all-important one, and sets the stage for believers in every age.

The question was directed to the disciples, but also intended for you and for me. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus’ question is personal, precise, and penetrating. The answer we give to Jesus’ question has the power to change the very direction and meaning of our lives.

“Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter presumed to answer the question for disciples in every age. His words have become the cornerstone and confession of faith for Christians of all ages.

His answer set the foundation stones and forged the identity for the Church that is “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.” Ten all-important words, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” are placed upon the lips of Peter by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Your presence here today indicates that you have answered the question posed by Jesus and, like Peter and the disciples, recognize him as the Lord and Savior of your life.

Today, in this Cathedral, we are blessed to have among us members of the legal profession —- judges, legislators, lawyers, administrators, elected officials, and government staff members, all carrying the heavy responsibilities that accompany public office.

We celebrate what has been called the Red Mass – both because of the color of the liturgical vestments we wear, and the color of traditional judicial robes.

Historian James Brundage writes that “The emergence of a distinctive legal profession in the West dates back roughly to the 13th century, precisely when the first recorded celebrations of the Red Mass occurred in Parish in 1245, and in Westminster, in 1301.”

The celebration of the Red Mass indicates the Church’s profound esteem for those who serve in the legal and judicial institutions of our nation, and we see the Red Mass as an opportunity to invoke the name of the Holy Spirit, and ask God to bless you abundantly with wisdom, vision, and a deep desire to serve the least, the last, and the lowliest in our communities.

You are serving in public office at a critical time in our state’s and nation’s history. Complex and vexing problems abound across the globe: a narrowing of the definition of marriage; deadly attacks on Christians and religious minorities throughout the world; attacks on religious freedom; economic policies that sometimes fail to prioritize the poor; an inadequate legal immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis; the reality of terrorism and violence; the destruction of natural resources; the wholesale destruction of unborn life; physician-assisted suicide; and the death penalty. These are but a few of the issues and challenges that lay before us as citizens, and you, as elected officials and members of the legal profession.

In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness by all we say and do.

In reflecting upon the challenges of the day, the Church calls for a different kind of political engagement, one shaped by the moral conviction of a well-formed conscience and a focus upon the dignity and worth of every human being. She upholds the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. She seeks a culture that prefers dialogue over diatribe, invitation over invectives, persuasion over polemics, and charity and civility in public discourse.

In her wisdom, the Church has articulated a body of social teaching that helps to form, inform, reform, and transform culture and society so that we may progress in building a society where people live in greater peace, justice, and solidarity.

In the late 19th Century and throughout the 20th Century, a body of social doctrine called Catholic Social Teaching has evolved and coalesced around basic moral principles. Taken together, these principles provide a framework for advancing a vision of the just society.

The pillars include the dignity of the human person, the principle of subsidiarity, advancement of the common good, promotion of respect and solidarity among all people, and a preferential option for the poor.

The beginning point of Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s deepest conviction that all human life is sacred, and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.

St. Augustine said it well — all persons are fashioned in the image of God. “If you look deeply enough into the eyes of any person, there you will see something that is   divine.”

In advancing the cause of a just society, the Church is clear that it cannot become involved in championing particular candidates or political parties. Our cause is the defense of human life and dignity, and the protection of the weak, the unborn, the vulnerable, and the formation of consciences based upon hallowed gospel values and tradition. We want to work with you in creating a culture where individuals and families thrive through economic opportunity, just wages, adequate health care, affordable housing, a clean environment, and freedom to assemble and to worship without fear.

The fact that much of our political rhetoric has become negative and polarizing cannot dissuade us from the high calling to create a better world, where individuals and families thrive in freedom, and live in a world of peace and solidarity.

The celebration of the Red Mass joins us to the generations of judges, lawyers and public servants who have pursued their respective vocations, conscious of their need for prayers and divine guidance, renewed vision, healing, and hope.

This is our prayer for you: Veni Sancti Spiritu —- Come Holy Spirit, come Father of the poor, come with treasures which endure . . . light immortal, light Divine, Visit thou these hearts of thine, and in our inmost being, fill. Amen.

2015_10_15 Installation Fr. Kevin Christofferson

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

 

On October 28, 1958, the Electoral College in Rome chose the aging cardinal of Venice, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, as the new Pope. Pope John XXIII was considered by many to be a compromise candidate. Church observers and pundits alike predicted that he would be a caretaker Pope, an innocuous leader, a segue to a more stable and effective papacy. The same prognosticators were unprepared for the seismic waves that followed his election, especially when he announced his intention to convene the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, newly appointed as the fifth Bishop of Helena, was among the youngest bishops in attendance at the Council. He attended all four sessions of the Council, and now, at age 94, is the last living American Father of the Second Vatican Council. From 1962 to 1965, Bishop Huthausen and the bishops of the Church responded to Pope John XXIII’s directive to “open the windows of the Church” and let the winds of renewal the blow through.

The Second Vatican Council influenced every aspect of life in the Catholic Church.

The teachings of the Second Vatican Council continue to serve as a roadmap for effective parish life in our diocese, and across the globe.

I have identified ten qualities or themes that Council Fathers emphasized. These hallmarks have potential to enhance and strengthen the quality of parish life, when carefully cultivated by the pastor and parish leadership.

  1. The Universal call to Holiness

In pre-conciliar times, the call to holiness of life was largely associated with the clergy and religious, monks and sisters, relegating the laity to the sidelines of the spiritual life. The Council Fathers punctuated the dignity of the Baptized, and invited every person to personally and profoundly encounter Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their lives. “All Christians in any state or walk of life, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and perfection of charity.” The Council’s vision is clear and compelling. All of us are adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, fashioned in the very image and likeness of God. This is our shared destiny, and our common spiritual DNA. The role of the pastor is to model Christian holiness, and ensure that all the faithful share in this vision.

 

  1. Liturgical renewal

The second area that received fulsome attention by the fathers of the Council fell under the heading of liturgical renewal. “Christians,” the Fathers wrote, “should not be present at liturgy as strangers or silent spectators.” They insisted on the “full, active, conscious participation” of the laity in the celebration of the liturgy. Beautifully prepared liturgy, prayerful music and song, strong homiletic preaching, sacred silence, and the full spectrum of liturgical ministries-greeters, ushers, lectors, servers, Eucharistic Ministers, are the expectation and gold standard presented to every parish by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

All activities in the Diocese and parish should flow from the Eucharist, and point back to it as the “source and summit of the life of the Church.”

  1. Shared Responsibility

A third quality that emerged from the Council is the notion of collaboration, consultation, or shared responsibility. In pre-conciliar times, much of the heavy administrative lifting was done by priests and sisters. The Council introduced a more expansive role for the laity in the Church—encouraging them to “exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, both in the spiritual and in the temporal order.” In the present day, Pope Francis has activated the Synod, a body of Bishops which the Holy Father consults on pastoral issues affecting the life of the Church. Following the Council, new structures followed, like Pastoral and Finance Councils, and a wide array of consultative bodies involving the laity. “Their activity is so necessary with in church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastor is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness,” writes Pope Francis.

  1. Outreach to the poor and disenfranchised.

The spirit of the council prompted pastors, and indeed the whole parish, to ask, “Who is not at the table?” In a word, we are to be present to our people on the margins of the community, in nursing homes, prison, hospitals, the homebound, and the immigrant. In our times, “a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of absolutely every person, of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he is an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord: “as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did for me.” It is good for parish leadership to review regularly the quality and scope of the church’s outreach to the poor, the needy, the marginalized, the broken, many of whom live invisible lives right here in the community.

 

  1. Communion with the Wider Church

The Council asked that the Parish not become self- enclosed, pre-occupied with its own agenda, and forget its necessary communion with the diocesan bishop, and with the Universal Church. “The laity should constantly foster a feeling for their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, and be ever ready at their bishop’s invitation to participate in diocesan projects.” Nor are we to forsake our brothers and sisters in mission lands and territories, in our case Guatemala. Communio theology, as this is called, is a major quality of the Catholic or universal Church. We are a community that is “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.”

  1. God’s Word

The council raised up the import of Sacred Scripture, recalling the challenging words of Saint Jerome, that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The parish should regularly offer opportunities to study and to pray the scriptures. The pastor is to ensure that the homily is given a place of primacy. In his apostolic letter entitled “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Holy Father wrote, “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” In the same vein, it is good to take a close look at the effectiveness of parish catechetics, adult formation, and religious education of the young. Now, more than ever, it is important to teach the young the mind and mission of the church, especially as they go out in a world that is sometimes hostile and adversarial toward Christians, and very frequently Catholics.

  1. The Joy of the Gospel

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke compellingly about the joy of the gospel, a theme that has been taken up by Pope Francis again and again. St. Teresa of Avila once opined, “O Lord, spare us from sour-faced saints.” Pope Francis once wrote, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. Who would be attracted to a church that looks like it is perpetually celebrating an endless funeral? “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus Christ. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” Let this community be marked by true gospel joy, which attracts new believers, and renews the hearts of longtime Christians.

  1. Ecumenism

In recent years, ecumenism has taken a back seat across the whole Church. And yet we know that in a world that is shrinking due to the internet and mass media, ecumenical and interfaith relationships are more important than ever. Ours must become a church that prefers dialogue over diatribe, relationships among all peoples, and respect and understanding among communities, Christian and non-Christian alike. We recall the prophetic words of Pope Benedict, “There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the great religions.” The installation of the pastor is a good time for the local parishes to examine the strength of their relationships with other communities, and find ways to share faith, prayers, and common works of mercy among the interfaith and ecumenical communities.

  1. The New Evangelism

The post conciliar years produced considerable numbers of casualties, persons who for a wide array of reasons departed company with the Catholic family. The new evangelization is another initiative born in the heart of the second Vatican Council. It engages all the baptized, beginning with our own families and circle of friends, to invite people home, to tell them they are loved and cherished, and their parish family is incomplete without them. In recent years, there has been a dangerous theology at play, the theology that espouses a “fewer but better” mentality. Pope Francis has challenged that premise had on. This church… “is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest of protecting our mediocrity.” We must never grow weary of inviting others to know Christ, and know that the doors of the church are open in welcome. The new evangelization proposes new, fresh ways to present the gospel and the spiritual treasures of the church. Awakening the sleeping giant of the laity is one of the keys we need to open this golden door of opportunity.

  • Mercy

The church must be a place of mercy and reconciliation, a place of healing, and the home of forgiveness. In every community, in every parish, there are wounded hurt and angry people. Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. All of us carry wounds and scars from things that were said or done. We have caused her to others, and also have the responsibility to ask one another’s forgiveness. as parishioners, you need to rediscover and to reclaim the import of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a healing encounter with the Divine Physician. Pope John insisted the church should “dispense the medicine of mercy generously and copiously, and show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and forgiveness.” Let this community set the example! In 1955, Sy Miller wrote, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

As I install your new pastor, it is good to examine meaningfully and deeply the quality of parish life. It is good to recall the vision of the second Vatican Council and the power of the gospel, and the work of the Holy Spirit ever in our midst. It is good to allow the little mustard seed of the gospel to take root in blossom in our hearts and homes, and in our parish and diocese. This accords us the opportunity to recognize anew the Lord Jesus, ever present when two or three gather in his name, ever present in Word, Sacrament, and ever in our midst, “as one who serves.”

Bishop George Leo Thomas

Bishop of Helena

 

2015 09/10 Vespers, A Healing Journey

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

 

On May 31, 2012, I was invited by a group called Concerned Catholics of Missoula to engage in a listening session regarding important issues affecting the life of the Church. The topics of the evening were many and varied, the content substantial, salient, and sensitive. Fifteen people made brief and moving presentations, and the tone of their testimony was respectful, prayerful, and sincere.

 

During that evening, over three years ago, a diminutive and courageous woman rose to the microphone. With a tremulous voice, she spoke directly from the heart on the topic of clerical sexual abuse. Her words were difficult and carefully thought out. This is, in part, what she said:

 

“It is with trepidation and respect for your office along with my personal respect for you as a human being that I share my thoughts and experiences.”

 

She then proceeded to describe the life of a particular person she knew who had been abused at the hands of a priest. She described in detail this woman’s downward spiral of shame and blame, of continued betrayal, with subsequent hospitalization and financial ruin. “This victim,” she said, “left the church, her faith in God skewed, her trust in humankind shredded, and left with an inability to share or respond to any type of human intimacy. She finally returned to the church some 35 years later because of an overwhelming desire to receive the Eucharist. From the time of the abuse by the priest she remained silent for nearly 45 years.”

 

Then this woman then spoke the four unforgettable words that remain deeply etched in my memory: “I am that survivor.”

 

During the remaining portion of her presentation, she described the damage inflicted upon the Church and community by the years of denial and obfuscation by bishops and Church officials. She decried the culture of clericalism that inflicted enormous harm on the survivors of abuse through its secrecy, cover-ups, locked files, and destroyed documents. She concluded her remarks with these words:

 

“Bishop, I ask that you hear my words in your heart and conscience and meditate on them. Choose where and how you can most honestly address my pleas with your fellow bishops. As a survivor of clerical abuse, I sincerely hope that you will listen and that I will not conclude, once again, that I am simply beating my head against the stone wall of clericalism. I am joined by many more worldwide, including clergy. Therein I find hope in solidarity as I hear pebbles falling from this stone wall.”

It was that night, May 31, 2012, that helped place the Diocese of Helena upon “the road less traveled.” It was a courageous woman’s words that helped to galvanize a profoundly important reality-—that human suffering has a face and a heart.

 

When talking about sexual abuse, we are not talking about statistics, or cases, or claims. We are talking about real people, real lives, broken trust, wounded hearts, and wounded individuals longing for healing and hope.

 

That night I publically pledged that in the Diocese of Helena, victim survivors will be respected, beloved, and believed. In the Diocese of Helena, we will reject years of acrimonious litigation, and seek a path of mediation, conciliation, and pastoral care of our people.

 

Tonight we embark on a healing journey together, a journey marked by solidarity with one another, and especially with victim survivors. We are walking in the company of the Lord Jesus, who mends shattered lives, and sets hearts free through his own amazing grace.

 

I must tell you, in the weeks leading up to these healing liturgies, I have experienced a deep sense of inadequacy as I searched to find words to express the sadness and sorrow I feel toward those who have suffered, so often in silence, for years if not decades.

 

In the name of the Church, I say, “I’m sorry, we are sorry, for all you have experienced because of the criminal behavior of those you trusted. It was not your fault.”

In a word, sexual abuse must be recognized for what it is—not only a soul-searing betrayal of the innocent, but also a crime, where perpetrators must and will face consequences imposed by civil society and the rule of law.

 

In recent months, I have heard time and again survivors express righteous anger and frustration toward bishops and church officials for decisions that were sometimes ill-advised and self-serving, decisions which favored church image over pastoral care, and protection of resources over the safety of children.

 

For that, I too, am profoundly sorry, and am encouraged by the recent pledge of Pope Francis to hold officials accountable when their failed leadership re-victimized victims anew, and placed others in harm’s way.

 

I am aware that all of you have carried a burden of shame and embarrassment as revelations of child abuse came to light. I am further pained by the reality that faithful clergy have lived and labored under a cloud of suspicion and harsh judgment due to the criminal actions of our brothers. However, your integrity, your good works and tender care of our people are the best ways to give witness to the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst, and this is the truth that sets us free.

In preparing for tonight’s liturgy, I was prompted in prayer to turn to victim survivors themselves, to seek their counsel, and draw from their experience, wisdom and prayerful support.

 

I want this time of prayer to be a way to raise up their voices, draw from their experience, validate their stories, and share their faith with the whole faith community as a precious gift from God.

 

Four victim survivors have stepped forward and opened a window to their souls. Their words are marked by candor and courage, compassion and conviction. This is what they have written:

 

The first victim survivor has written this:

“To those who are still struggling with hopelessness brought on by sexual abuse, I say this to you: Healing is a process and a journey. It cannot be ignored or coerced. I had to choose to step out of hopelessness, anger, and deep sorrow. I’ve not ever been abandoned or orphaned by God, who loves me deeply and walks each step of this journey with me. It’s only been in facing who I had allowed myself to become that I have been able to regain hope. Bad things happen to good people every second of the day. I could allow the abuse to consuming and poison me, or I could choose to rebuke the darkness in my life with the light of Christ. To start to heal from the past I had to first accept that the past was over. No matter how many times I revisited it, analyzed, hated it, or agonized over it, it was over. The past could not hurt me any longer. Without my faith, without the sacraments, and without my loving family and friends, I’d truly be lost and hopeless. I’m taking the antidote to the poison I’ve lived with for so long, and I am healing.”

 

A second victim survivor has offered these words to all of us.

“There is no storm that God will not carry you through. No bridge that God will not help to cross. No battle that God will not help you win. No heartache that God will not help you to let go of. He is so much bigger than anything you are facing today or will ever face in life. By faith, leave everything in his hands and embrace this day confidently knowing he will take care of you. Remember our Father is listening and loves us just the way we are….”

 

A third victim survivor has offered these prayerful reflections drawn from the heart:

“The egregious act of sexual abuse by a priest is so powerful that it can separate the body and spirit, and thus torment the soul. I have lived for so many years in my head. Meditation has been a God-given gift for my spirit. My body and spirit are still separated, but through meditation with Scripture, meditation and creation, and a Eucharistic celebration, I have glimpses of wholeness again”.

 

A fourth survivor has written powerful and prophetic words:

“This is a scandal divided into two parts: one, the criminal act of the predator, and the second, the criminal and immoral strategy of mishandling these situations by many members of the hierarchy. This group created more problems than they solved, not only for the survivors, but for priest, bishops, and laity who wanted to support victims and families. The secrecy involved led to an explosion of civil suits and some false allegations against the innocent.”

 

All members of the Church, lay and ordained, need to educate themselves, weed out the alibis and denials, and embrace the truth of this twofold scandal to help heal the abused child now living as a wounded adult. Our wounds are still open. We need to believe we are valued human beings and know that our lives are no longer defined by the egregious acts perpetrated so long ago. With our now watery eyes and wrinkled skin, we say in one voice, “Let justice come, but the truth be heard.”

 

Please leave this house of prayer and carry deep within yourselves these petitions for healing and do God’s work to bring them to fruition. May each and every person, reborn in the waters of baptism, search within their hearts where the responsibility lies for bringing justice, peace, and healing to the wounded in our own wounded church. May survivors find this journey filled with light from that support. May we survivors reclaim the wonder, enthusiasm, courage, and the light promised at our birth. And most of all, may we recapture the love that brought us into this world.

 

As we embark on a healing journey together, we do so in deep solidarity with those who have suffered.

 

In the name of the Diocese of Helena, we thank victim survivors for the courage they have shown in stepping forward and assisting the Church to remove this deadly cancer. You have helped to shed light and truth on one of the darkest chapters in the Church’s history.

 

Because we have chosen to walk in the company of the Lord, in the words of Paul, “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

 

Our victim survivors are living testimony to the power of God’s amazing grace. We ask God to bless them and their families, and to help us all keep the eyes of our hearts fixed upon the Divine Physician, who heals souls and imparts inner peace.

 

Jesus, accompany us on each and every step of this Healing Journey, the Journey which we have begun today. To You be glory and praise, forever and ever! Amen.

 

2015_08_28 Sister Rita McGinnis Jubilee Celebration

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

 

On June 8, 1842, an historic meeting between the legendary Father Pierre De Smet, missionary to the Rocky Mountain territory, and the French-Canadian missionaries laboring to the people of the Pacific Northwest took place.

 

The purpose of the meeting between De Smet and Frs. F.N. Blanchet and Modeste Demers was to examine both the short-term and the long-term pastoral needs of the Native American People and the trappers and their families living in this expansive Western territory.

 

The ever visionary Blanchet expressed his desire to “build a college, a convent, and schools” and to one day secure the presence of a Bishop to provide for the spiritual necessities of this vast region,” a plan he would one day promote in person to a dying Pope Greg XVI.

 

At the close of the meeting, the more practical Father De Smet agreed to travel across the United States and to Europe, and to present the needs of the Catholic Church in the Oregon territories to the appropriate officials – in particular, to the U.S. bishops and Jesuit confreres.

 

Within two years, the meeting of 1842 began to produce the anticipated results. Pierre De Smet returned to Fort Vancouver on August 6, 1844, accompanied by four priests, some lay brothers, and six Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur.

 

The archival records of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth connect the SCL community directly to the ministry and vision of Pierre De Smet.

 

In 1868, Father De Smet implored the Leavenworth community to send a community of Sisters to sojourn to the distant Rocky Mountains to meet the needs of a growing community.

 

Leavenworth Bishop John B. Miege, himself a Jesuit, somewhat reluctantly agreed that the time had come to petition Leavenworth leadership to found a school in the Eastern Rocky Mountains. De Smet wrote, “His Lordship, Bishop Miege, was doubtful whether a sufficient number of sisters could be spared.” De Smet replied that “6 sisters for Helena would do to make a good beginning.”

 

And so it was. On the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29 of 1869, a small band of women – five sisters and a young music teacher named Rosa V. Kelly – “…took their seats on the Missouri Pacific Railway and headed for the far-off Rocky Mountains.”

 

A stressful and difficult eight day rail and coach ride carried them to a settlement in Helena, where, according to historic records, “no home was ready to receive them.”

 

After gaining their bearings, the small community of Sisters became the catalyst for mission activity and outreach to settlers across the wide Helena valley.

 

Within the year, the Sisters opened up St. Vincent Academy for girls, a boys’ day school, St. John’s Hospital, all signaling the beginning of a strong, permanent Catholic community in the Diocese of Helena.

 

From 1869 to the present, the people of our Diocese have been the beneficiaries of a nearly century-and-a-half of health, education, and charitable ministries, which has proved to be foundational, and more accurately, indispensable, for the growth and development of the Church in Western Montana.

 

The SCL Community has served in Helena, Butte, Anaconda, Virginia City, Walkerville, Hamilton, Browning, Shelby, Harlowton, White Sulphur Springs, and Deer Lodge. The sisters established grade schools and high schools, hospitals and orphanages, and ministries of outreach and administration, flowing from their deeply-held values rooted in the hearts of St. Vincent de Paul and Mother Xavier Ross.

 

Our own Sister Rita McGinnis is the embodiment of the SCL spirit – a woman of uncommon courage, creative fidelity, keen intellect, gospel compassion, generosity, and tenacity, eternal optimism and a deep spirit of justice. Sister Rita is a beloved gift from the SCL community to our Diocese, a faith-filled woman who has served in the noonday sun for a full half century.

 

Sr. Rita McGinnis is Kansas-born and SCL-educated in Topeka, Kansas. She is the first of six, born to Tom and Mary McGinnis, and describes her parents and siblings as her “first formation directors, and the first to provide her with a window to the world.”

 

Sister Rita’s religious sojourn began as a high school teacher of English, Speech and Theater, both in Missouri in the mid-West and in Butte, America. This opportunity gave her, in her own words, “the satisfaction of watching students grow and conquer their fears of public speaking, of encountering great literature, and of being vulnerable enough to appear on stage.”

 

After years of seasoning in the classroom, the role of principal offered Rita a venue where challenges and joys were never lacking. As principal, she worked with dedicated teachers, encountered students at their highest and lowest moments, giving them a hunger for learning, and an opportunity to face the world with a panoply of tools and a vision of faith to assist them in negotiating the twists and turns of the real world.

 

In 1993, Sister Rita became the Director of the Pastoral Life Division of the Helena Diocese under the ever-watchful eye of Bishop Alexander Brunett.

 

Upon my transfer from Seattle to the Diocese of Helena, I received paternal advice from Archbishop Burnette, who said to me, “There is a name you need to pay attention to — Sister Rita McGinnis, SCL, who knows and loves the Diocese, and could serve your administration well.” I am ever indebted to Archbishop Brunett for his unsolicited, but wise and providential, counsel.

 

Since 2005, Sister Rita has served as the Director for Diocesan Pastoral Planning, Director of Chancery Services, and Delegate for Religious. Her ministry, like her very life, is marked by quality, compassion, collaboration, prayerfulness, wisdom, and steadiness in good times and in bad, all moderated by an ever-present sense of humor.

 

Sister Rita, I am personally indebted to you for the loving support, friendship, competence and care you share with me personally, as well as with the people of this beloved Diocese.

 

You are a trusted collaborator and invaluable treasure to the people of Montana. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, you are a woman who continues to “read the signs of the times,” providing generous pastoral presence to our clergy, religious and laity, without ever counting the cost.

 

On this Jubilee day, we gather in the spirit of gratitude, thanking God for all you are and all you do with such generosity and care.

 

You are a faith-filled steward of the Gospel and disciple of the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

 

Ad multos annos, deep gratitude, and much love from all of us to you on this, your Jubilee day!

2015_06_26 Ordinations Cathedral of St. Helena

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

Less than three months ago, Pope Francis stood before the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, and in typical Pope Francis fashion, surprised much of the Church with an unexpected announcement. He proclaimed the upcoming year as a Year of Mercy, an extraordinary Jubilee Year, to begin this December 8, and to conclude on November 20th–the feast of Christ the King.

It is highly significant, even providential, that the ministries of our newly ordained priests and deacons will begin in the context of the Year of Mercy.

The words of Holy Father spoken that day, while addressed to the entire Church, were written as if they were being addressed to them personally on their Ordination day.

Pope Francis said, “How much I desire that this year will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst.” (MV5)

Today, on the occasion of your priestly and diaconal ordinations, I ask that God give you a deep and prayerful reception the meaning of mercy, so that you will not only experience God’s mercy in your own lives, but more importantly, become “missionaries of mercy” to the people you are being ordained to serve.

The Hebrew words for mercy, most commonly “hesed” and “rachamin” have very particular meaning in the eyes of Scripture. Their English counterparts; words like compassion, forgiveness, clemency, pity, goodness, grace, all fall short of capturing the depth and meaning of mercy as reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The great French Jesuit Scripture scholar, Xavier Leon Dufour, suggests that the Hebrew words for mercy are best portrayed in visual images.

“Hesed” is that feeling a mother experiences as she gazes lovingly into the eyes of her child at rest on her bosom. “Rachamin” is found on the face of a father as he walks hand and hand with his young son, overcome by indescribable feelings of tenderness, love, selflessness, protection, endearment.

Chris, Craig, Andy, Bryce, and Cody, God has called you his own, and led you through the years to this very moment in time. He has surrounded you with his mantle of mercy, Gospel and received you as his own sons. God’s mercy is entirely unearned, unmerited, and inexhaustible.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” wrote the Prophet Jeremiah, “I have called you and you are mine.” Your priestly ministry must be centered on this wellspring of mercy. Your ministry will have meaning and purpose to the degree that you experience and embrace this gift, and then share it with others, as a gift that flows from very heart of our Father.

In his classic book entitled Called to Communion, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote words that are both prophetic and profound: “The priest must be a man who knows Jesus intimately, who has encountered him and learned to love him…the priest must be above all a man of prayer, a truly spiritual man. Without a strong spiritual substance, he cannot long endure his ministry.” (CtC128)

In vintage Pope Benedict fashion, he follows his reflection with a strong paternal admonition, one that rings true in the hearts of priests both then and now: “Christ must also teach him that the main purpose of his life is not self-realization and success. He must learn that he is not in the business of building himself an interesting or comfortable life, or of setting up for himself a community of admirers and devotees, but is working for another and that is he who truly matters…Only such joy in Christ can also give joy for ministry and make it bear fruit.” (CtC)

The gift of priesthood invites you to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord, (Ps. 34:8) and to proclaim with joyful hearts to your people that “his mercy endures forever.” (Ps. 118)

In the course of your ministry, you will have the privilege of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, described by the Council Fathers as the primary duty of bishop, priest, and deacon. You will quickly discover that preaching is one of the most arduous, challenging, and rewarding facets of ordained ministry. But again, a strong word of caution is in order.

Pope Paul VI said it well when he wrote, “Before becoming one who hands on the word, every Christian must first be a hearer of the Word.”

As preachers of the Word, we are first be guests at the table of the Lord, meeting Christ personally, and seeking sustenance for ourselves before attempting to feed your people.

Pope Francis admonishes the ordained “to devote quality time to this precious ministry,”(EG145) a ministry that must first born in prayer, birthed in assiduous study, and grounded in your ministry among the people.

Your ministry of preaching must never be dulled by the desire to please of appease popular opinion, to win admiration, or seek adulation through clever word craft that is empty of meaning or devoid of spiritual nourishment.

Pope Francis has stated convincingly that “the homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” (EG135)

Just over 50 years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council also proclaimed those oft quoted words that “the Eucharist is the “source and apex” of the life of the Church.” The celebration of Eucharist is also the center and heartbeat of priestly spirituality, and the source of our personal sanctification for clergy and laity alike. The Church is Eucharist.

“It is there,” wrote Pope Benedict, “that the Lord meets us and we become companions on the journey of life.” In the parlance of St. Augustine, “we become what we receive.”

What we receive at Eucharist is the medicine of mercy, food for our journey, and the redeeming gift of Jesus’ own body and blood. We remember with gratitude the recent words of Pope Francis, who writes that Eucharist must be seen, not “as a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (EG47)

Our Eucharistic spirituality must naturally lead our people to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, with an eye toward the least, the last, and the lowliest, both at home and far away.

The deacon is entrusted with one of the most important lines in the Mass, when he says to the people, “The Mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” This is the mandatum, the nexus that describes the connection between liturgy and service, prayer and justice, mission and mercy, or in scriptural parlance, love of God and love of neighbor.

Deacons also have the particular duty to ask the perennial question, “Who is not at the table?” and then help ensure that the Church’s ministry extends meaningfully beyond sacristy and sanctuary to embrace the poor, forgotten, unloved, and underserved, who so often live invisibly in our very midst.

Finally, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council admonished all leaders, lay and ordained, to incessantly pursue the path of penance and renewal. Put it bluntly, the Church is not a museum for saints, but in the parlance of Francis, “a field hospital for sinners” ever in need of mercy and forgiveness. No one is exempt from Pope Francis’ poignant description.

Your spiritual life must begin with the awareness that we all stand ever in need of God’s tender mercy, each and every day. Therefore take to heart the off sage words of St. Gregory Nazianzen– to “first be purified yourself, before purifying others.…”

I ask you as newly ordained to allow both the Sacrament of Reconciliation and spiritual direction hold places of primacy in your spiritual life. The awareness of your own human frailty need for redemption has to power to transform you into a ministers of mercy, whose own hearts are patterned after Christ, the Divine Physician.

In his encyclical “Rich in Mercy,” Pope John voiced lament that there are people in the who appear opposed to a God of mercy, and others who wish to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. (11)

In the course of your public ministry, you will occasionally be confronted by people who appear to thrive on anger, indignation, incivility, retribution, and public temper tantrums. These attitudes are aided and abetted by the blogospheres and so called “reality programming.”

To these we say that the Church must always be the home and model of mercy, the place where the medicines of mercy and forgiveness are dispensed each and every day.

I ask you to be ministers of reconciliation, and to prefer dialogue over diatribe, invitation over invective, persuasion over polemics, conciliation above censure, all preceded by the example of a holy wholesome life.

To paraphrase Williams Shakespeare, “the quality of mercy falls like gentle rain from heaven. It is twice blessed, blessing the one who gives as well as the one who receives.”

It is my hope and prayer that mercy will be the defining quality of your ministry as priests and deacons serving in the Diocese of Helena.

As you prepare to come forward for the invocation of the Spirit and the laying on of hands, we prayerfully commend you to Jesus Christ, who is the very face of mercy, the font of forgiveness, and who is ever in our midst “as one who serves.”

2015_05_17 Confirmations

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

 

A few years ago in the springtime of the year, a wealthy business man purchased a multimillion-dollar luxury yacht. This boat was described as a “James-Bond-movie-come-to-life”. It brimmed with computer screens, flashing keyboards, light-emitting diodes, digital numbers and beeping gauges, and computer-commanded navigational equipment – a boat entirely capable of sailing itself.

 

On the day the ship was christened, media with TV cameras were there in full force. The weather conditions were favorable, with moderate seas and light winds. With the touch of a finger, the navigator gave commands for speed and direction. He could calculate the depth of the sea below, and chart the water temperature as well as the direction of the tide. After entering the coordinates, he could set the boat on automatic pilot, while state-of-the-art computers navigated with hair-trigger precision.

 

And so, as the ship captain and crew set out into the open sea, they did so with a deep sense of confidence and pride – some would say arrogance. But this would soon become a maiden voyage they would not soon forget. You see, just as they thought they were at the top of their game, the unexpected happened.

 

In the dead of night, under dense cloud cover, all the computer screens went dark. The indicators fell silent, and all the navigational high-tech equipment rolled up their eyes and died.

 

There they were, on the open sea, with a moonless, starless night, winds shifting in multiple directions, causing the captain to be unsure if they were headed out into deeper waters, or heading for the rocky shore.

 

To add to the peril and pandemonium, no one had thought to bring the single most important navigational instrument of all, a simple magnetic compass.

 

During the ensuring hours, there was mayhem on board as the ship sailed blind. In a moment’s notice, a high-tech vessel became like a storm-tossed rowboat, pitching side to side in the blackness of night without any directional guides. Were they heading out to sea or where they sailing onto the shoals?

 

We can scarcely imagine the sigh of relief experienced by the crew when, in the wee hours of the pitch-black morning, the skies parted and the North Star appeared in the heavens. It was the Pole Star that guided them out of harm’s way until the sun finally appeared in the easterly sky. This humbled crew returned the multimillion-dollar yacht to safe harbor, after a night of pandemonium, relief and embarrassment.

 

Over 30 years ago, the Cardinal of Vietnam wrote these words to the young people of his diocese: “As you travel down the road of hope, you will need a light to show you the way. That light was given to you by the Church on the day you were baptized. His name is Jesus!”

 

Jesus comes to you and to me as the Morning Star that never sets. He comes to us as a light when life grows dark, a lamp when we lose our way. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, a light no darkness can extinguish!

 

You already know in your young lives the meaning of those words. You know what it means to lose direction in your life, to lose balance, and to wonder what life has in store for you.

 

Yours is a complicated world, with challenges that my generation did not know. It is easy to lose your moral compass, and to let your life become overwrought by immorality or sin.

 

Your parents and family have done their best to hand on the Catholic faith. They have introduced you to Jesus Christ and the Church he founded on the shoulders of the Apostles to lead us safely to our Father in Heaven.

 

From the earliest days of the Church, baptism was called the sacrament of enlightenment. It helps us to see, not just with human eyes, but in the words of St. Paul, also with “the eyes of the heart.”

 

But the Church’s inner wisdom also understands that our baptismal faith is sometimes immature, imperfect and even fragile. She knows that the storms and shadows of life can overwhelm us, causing the flame of faith to flicker, and sometimes even to die.

 

The sacrament you are about to receive, the Sacrament of Confirmation, is rooted in your baptism. The word “confirmation” is a Latin word meaning “to strengthen”, to seal the gift of baptism and your baptismal faith.

 

But you, for your part, must be ready and willing to say yes to Christ, yes to the Church, and to pledge personally your desire to walk as a child of the light.

 

In times of darkness, the same Holy Spirit given to the Apostles will come to you as you receive the laying on of hands and the anointing with Sacred Chrism. Jesus will be a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. He has been called from the earliest days of the Church, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God”

 

The Light of the Holy Spirit will guide you through the darkest hours of your life, if and only if, you open the doors of your hearts and lives to Him.

 

Dear young people, it is now your time to personally and publicly profess your faith in Jesus, and to proclaim Him as the Lord and Master of your lives. You are ready to stand before parents and pastors to open your hearts anew to the spirit of God.

 

As you do so, we surround you with our love and with our prayers. We surround you with a pledge that you will never walk alone. Come Holy Spirit, Come, and enkindle in their lives the fire of your love. Bless them! Embrace them as your loving sons and daughters, and they will become your servants and faithful disciples, ready to renew the face of the earth. Amen.

2015_04_05 Easter Cathedral of St. Helena

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy was the Archbishop of Seattle from 1991 – 1997. He was Chicago-born and bred, and served for a time as Bishop of the Great Falls-Billings Diocese before being transferred to the West Coast by Pope John Paul II. Archbishop Murphy was a highly gifted man. He was intelligent and well read, a man of creative genius and boundless energy, with relational skills in abundance. Those skills earned him the nickname “The White Tornado” while serving in Great Falls. I knew him well, loved him dearly, and still miss his high-decibel laugh, his high-octane energy, and his love for Christ and the Church.

In 1996, just barely five years into his tenure as Archbishop, he received devastating news. For over a month, he had struggled with flu-like symptoms, symptoms that were unresponsive to treatment and unabated by time. On December 8, 1996, the Archbishop was admitted to Seattle’s Providence Hospital for further testing. Within hours, the doctors informed him that he had less than six months to live. He was exactly my present age when the diagnosis came. That night, he asked me to inform his brother, call the Papal Ambassador, and preach at his funeral.

Those last few precious, bittersweet months with him are forever etched in my memory. Archbishop Murphy died a very public death. During his early hospitalization, he frequently interacted with the public and media as he shared his inner-most thoughts on radio and TV. He was photographed in hospital-issue robe and gown, ministering to fellow patients, commiserating with them in their suffering, anointing the dying, and consoling the mourners.

As his own illness advanced and his body grew weak, everything changed. Just two weeks before he died, he said something that stunned the public and left me feeling sad and shaken. He told the people of Seattle, “I am now overcome with fear, and sometimes too frightened to pray. And so I ask you, no, I beg you, for your prayers.” The words were hard to hear, especially coming from the lips of the Archbishop. If he as Archbishop was experiencing such darkness and fear in the face of death, I thought, “How will I that day endure?”

The people of the Archdiocese, clergy and laity alike, stepped up to the plate. The surrounded the Archbishop with waves of care and prayers, just when he needed it the most. Their prayer carried him through the dark night of his soul, right up to the moment of his death. I was there when he took his last breath. I saw him embrace his loving Savior, who took away his fear, and gave him serenity and peace in its place.

The Bangladeshi poet Tagore said it well, “Death is not the extinguishing of the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” I have learned, down through the years, that it is precisely here, in the face of darkness and despair that the mystery of the Resurrection takes on its fullest meaning. Exactly 50 years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote this powerful passage which is drawn from the spirit of the Easter Gospels:

“Through Christ, and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they (sorrow and death) overwhelm us.”

In his Easter address, Pope Francis proclaimed, “The Risen One, Jesus Christ, does not belong to the past, but to the present, here, today, and now. He is alive . . . He is present as a force of hope for every person in the church. He is here for you and for me.”

At Easter, dear friends, the Church does not propose some complicated theology, or lofty theory, or arcane and unreachable dogma. She presents the person of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, the Word made flesh, and splendor of our Father.

She presents Jesus as the first Word, the last Word, the living Word, the only Word; the very incarnation of our Father’s love.

St. Paul proposes that “If Christ had not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain, and so too, our faith is in vain.” He comes to us in doubt and darkness. He speaks to us in the very hour of our need. He is here for you and me as we walk in the shadow of death, confronted by our own fragility and mortality. He comes to us as Life itself. His death at Calvary is our ransom from death, and through our baptism, he hands us a passport that gives us the hope that will bring us through the gates of everlasting life.

For those who feel their life is adrift, marked by uncertainty and doubt, Easter is for you as well. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said it powerfully: “Jesus is the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life.” The Easter liturgy proclaims, “He is the Morning Star that never sets. He is the light of the sun, God’s only Son, given to us as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.”

To those who labor under the weight of guilt and sin, whose lives are burdened down by sad and toxic memories, Easter is your feast day as well. Jesus is our Divine Physician, the consoler of souls, the very embodiment of forgiveness and compassion. Jesus is the face of mercy, calling you by name, and offering you peace and rest that the world cannot give.

For those whose lives have been marked by fear or anxiety, Jesus speaks to your souls. “Do not fear what will happen tomorrow,” wrote St. Francis Xavier, “for the same Father who cares for you today will take care of you today and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or give you the unfailing strength you need to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thought and imaginings.”

For those who have been avoiding Jesus, evading Him, holding Him at a distance and keeping Him at arm’s length, for those whose spiritual lives have been marked by mediocrity or complacency, Easter is speaking to you. It beckons you, awaiting you with a life-altering embrace. Come to Him, and open your hearts to the wellspring of Easter grace. Receive Him anew, or for the first time, on this Holy day.

The Easter liturgy says poetically what we know in our hearts – “The power of this holy feast night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, and brings mourners joy. It casts out hatred and brings us peace; it humbles earthly pride. This is the day when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”

Easter is the time for a personal, life-changing encounter with our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. It is your time, and it is my time. It is time to proclaim the Risen Lord’s sovereignty over your lives and to become a disciple and fellow traveler with the Lord.

It is a time for living in full communion with the Church he founded on the shoulders of the Apostles, a community given to us to nourish us and guide us with Word and sacrament until we are safe in our Father’s arms.

Christ – the same – yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To Him be glory and power, through every age, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

2015_03_31 Trinity Sunday St. Matthew’s Parish, Kalispell

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

While serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Seattle, I met an individual who left a deep and lasting impression on my life. By the time we met, he was well into his eighties, yet the clarity of his mind and the liveliness of his step long to a man 30 years his junior.

He was a highly published scholar, a retired professor, an expert on the Jewish Talmud and specialist in ancient Hebrew literature. He spoke 10 languages, and had a lively knowledge of literature and Western art and music. He was charming, cultural, and witty.

But these were not the reasons why he left such an indelible mark on my life. As we parted company, this old man left with an overwhelming sense of melancholy and sadness that has never left my heart.

This learned friend was an avowed atheist. He believed with every fiber of his being that nothing but everlasting darkness awaited him beyond the grave. He was like a living lamentation, a casualty of Nazi Germany, whose tragic story came to light as he revealed the circumstances of his life.

He hailed from a deeply religious household, and was hand fed on the ancient scriptures and traditions of his people. He was the grandson of a distinguished rabbi, who doted on his grandson as “the apple of his eye.”

In the words of the old man, “I too aspired to become a rabbi. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of my grandfather. But as a young man, the Holocaust visited our homeland like a plague, and extinguished my faith in God forever.”

The poignant words of author Ellie Weisel captured the essence of this old man’s life far better than I. Weisel wrote, “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams and dust. Never shall I forget. Never!”

I grew quiet and pensive under the weight of this old man’s story. He looked at me and said, “I guess I have offended you. I believe I have insulted you.” “No,” I replied, “I am not insulted and I’m not offended,” I assured the old man. “But I am very sad, and you helped me to understand.”

As we parted company on that springtime afternoon, my heart ached for him and for all that he and his family and people endured. As I drove away, I prayed fervently that somehow he would recover the faith of his childhood, and rediscover the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, “who hears the cry of the poor, and who heals the brokenhearted with words of hope and consolation.”

We know from reading and from experience that in America, many people shy away from, or actively shun organized religion. Only a small percentage, 2.4 %, would describe themselves as actual atheists like my friend.

50 years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican council prayed fervently for the Church be protected from the diseases which assail the Church from without and from within.

The Holy Father, Pope John Paul, was clear in identifying those forces that infect and compromise Christianity’s effectiveness-most especially, the lack of fervor, the deChristianization of Countries, the decrease of vocations, the counter-witness of believers, and the most serious of all, the erroneous belief that one religion is as good as the other.

In our day, a growing percentage self-describe as spiritual but not religious, and theologian Robert Barron has identified two powerful “Isms” that are responsible that explain this phenomena.

In 1990, singer Bette Midler popularized a song that will be familiar to many of you, called “From a distance.” The words of the refrain say, “God is watching us… from a distance.”

The first “ism” is deism, where God is distant, impersonal, and disinterested in the lives of his people. Deism has deep roots in ancient and modern philosophy, where God is described like a great clockmaker, who wound the clock, established the laws of nature, and set it aside, indifferent and distant.

This is the religion of Newton and Jefferson and John Locke and Benjamin Franklin.

Deism envisions and prefers a radically secular and godless culture, where religion is sequestered and systematically kept out of politics, culture, and civil society.

Religion is privatized, and nobody else’s business. Deism has infected the Church, and translates into what I have called camouflage Catholicism, where Catholics are reticent to speak up, to speak out, and to publicly identify with the tenets of the faith. It is a spiritual dry rot within the Church.

The second philosophy described by Barron is endemic throughout the Northwest. It is called pantheism, the belief that nature and God are one and the same. Everything is God and God is everything. This is not new. In ancient Greece and in Western Europe, there were many proponents- Heraclitus, the Gnostics, the Stoics, Schleiermacher and Spinoza are its adherents and apologists.

In our day, screenwriter and filmmaker George Lucas of Star Wars fame has translated pantheism into a cultural icon. The mantra of pantheism is “the force is with you.” The force is described by Joseph Campbell as that “zoom of energy that runs all through the universe.”

Pantheism continues to morph into spirituality without religion, a New Age philosophy, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, where God is impersonal energy, universal order, a zoom of energy within and without. The Beatles song “Imagine” is emblematic of this pantheistic world vision. “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky; imagine all the people living for today … ”

Against the backdrop of atheism, deism, and pantheism, and the plethora of other “isms” that affect and infect the Church, we proclaim on Trinity Sunday a breathtaking and biblical message:

On Trinity Sunday, the Church is discontent to simply proclaim a lofty dogma, or arcane doctrine, or unreachable theology.

No, she proclaims a person, the person of Jesus Christ, who has revealed to us the mystery of unknowable God, Our Father in Heaven, “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.”

She proclaims the person of Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us through the blood of the Cross, and has shown us the way to the Father.

She proclaims the person of the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, sent by the Father to embolden our faith, enlighten our minds, and to keep the eyes of our hearts fixed upon the Son of God.

We are a Trinitarian people, and the Trinity is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of Christian truths. On Trinity Sunday, we recall and rejoice that we have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We recall that we are adopted sons and daughters of the living God, destined for the fullness of life in the life to come. We begin and end our every prayer in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit so that we may never forget our truest Identity.

Yes, the Trinity is our response to the “isms” of the world, the greatest of all mysteries revealed by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church which is “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.”

 

God the blessed Three in One, Dwell within my heart alone,

 

Thou dost give Yourself to me, May I give myself to Thee. Amen

2105_03_26 Chrism Mass, Cathedral of St. Helena

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

On November 13, 2012, Cardinal Timothy Dolan stood up before the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops and made a strong, even impassioned appeal. He rose to advance the canonization of Dorothy day, that fiery 20th century activist, who had protested war, supported labor strikes, lived in voluntary poverty, and goaded the Church to excel not only in charity but also in justice for the poor.

“I am convinced that she is a saint for our time,” he told the bishops. “She exemplifies what’s best in Catholic life, that ability we have to be ‘both- and’ not ‘either-or.”‘

Cardinal Dolan was not the first to initiate the cause for a most unconventional saint. In 1997, New York Cardinal John O’Conner, the former the Navy Chief of Chaplains, had already presented her case in Rome. In 2000, the Pope John Paul declared Dorothy “Servant of God.” Cardinal Dolan just picked up where Cardinal O’Connor left off, and, in the words of the New York Times, “breathed new life into his effort to declare the Brooklyn native catholic saint.”

To be sure, their proposal was not without detractors or vocal critics. On the national level there were those on the left who criticized Day for her strong alignment with the hierarchical church, her unapologetic orthodoxy, her love for priesthood and her defense of human life and marriage.

On the right, there were those who upbraided Dorothy Day as a communist sympathizer, a bohemian and socialist, and radical organizer, and anti-government agitator. In his address to the bishops, Dolan described Day as a rare combination of Paul and Augustine – a woman whose early life, like Augustine’s, was beset by turpitude and toxic relationships. She was one like Paul, who had encountered the Lord Jesus deeply and personally, and that encounter resulted in radical and life altering conversion.

Writing in the periodical First Things, author William Doino, summarized her life with pinpoint accuracy. “If we want to discover the true Dorothy day, the spiritually disciplined and devout one … we should acquire her letters and diaries, pour over her countless articles in the Catholic Worker… And if we do, we will be inspired by the voice of a woman, who, on all things essential, stood up for sacred Scripture and tradition, and served our Lord and Savior exceptionally well.” (FT 12-4-12).

Is this not the stuff of sainthood?

On that November morning, 2012, a lineup of East Coast bishops commandeered the microphone. None was more persuasive than Cardinal Theodore Me Carrick, who spoke in full-throated support of Dorothy’s cause. What an opportunity we have to say … “You cannot only be brought back into society, you cannot only be brought back into the church, but you can be a saint.”

Dorothy day is a contemporary example of the Church’s deepest held conviction that no person is ever beyond the reach of redemption, and that every person, great and small, shares in the churches universal call to holiness.

It is a little known fact that in 1955, Dorothy Day visited the people at St. Mathias Parish in Ryegate Montana, and a Hutterite Community near Lewistown. In October of 2014, Bishop Michael Warfel dedicated a shrine to memorialize both visits and her cause for sainthood.

To use St. Anselm’s own words, “The task of the Church is to uncover the diamond that has fallen in the muck, to spy the divine spark that is never wholly extinguished by waves of sin.”

As a community, we must never grow weary of “bringing glad tidings to the poor, or proclaiming liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free.” This is our co-mission, our shared responsibility, our common mandatum, our co-responsibility, the task of clergy, religious, and laity alike.

Exactly 50 years ago, the Council Fathers introduced both stunning language and stirring images that were foreign, even jarring to the ears of our people. We were a Church that long believed that the mission of the church and call to holiness were the exclusive domain of clergy and religious.

Because of the one dignity flowing from Baptism, each member of the lay faithful, together with ordained ministers and men and women religious, share a responsibility for the Church’s mission. “All Christians, in any state or walk of life, are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” (LG 40.2) Through Baptism, all the faithful share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We are a priestly people, a kingly people, a chosen people, a people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

From ancient times, the blessing of oil symbolized divine favor and unmerited love. It was oil that strengthened tottering limbs, healed wounded souls, and soothed the weary body. Perfumed oil, the oil mixed with aromatic nard, symbolized an intimate form of love and favor, blessing the people the Lord has called to be his own.

On this Chrism Day, it is important for all the baptized to recall and to reclaim our basic and fundamental identity as a priestly people, a kingly people, a people the Lord has chosen to be his own. Chrism Day has special meaning and import for the presbyters of the community.

Archbishop John R. Quinn, Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco, writes, “Unexplainable, it is also undeniable ... the priest is a man who has been specially chosen, by name, by God, not because he is smarter than anyone else, but simply because God loves him with a special love and chooses him with all his present and future limitations and failings.”

The ministerial priesthood is the means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his church. And, in the words of the Council Fathers, is always at the service of the priesthood of the people.

The Mass of Chrism is a time for you and me to remember the unmerited gift we have been given, the privilege to serve the Lord and to build up the community of Christ’s disciples.

Recall the words that were spoken to us at the time of our Ordination: ”May you be worthy co-workers with the order of Bishop, so that by your preaching and through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the words of the gospel may bear fruit in every human heart.

May you be faithful stewards of God’s mysteries, so that your people may be renewed in the waters of rebirth, and nourished from the altar; so that sinners may be reconciled and the sick raised up.

As we placed our hands in the hands of the Bishop, these words were spoken. “The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, guard and preserve you, that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God. “

Yes, the priesthood we have been given is entirely gratuitous and unmerited. It is a ministry entirely dependent on Christ and on his unique priesthood, and instituted for the good of the community and fundamentally of service to the people. (1551)

The Chrism Mass powerfully re-presents the dynamic interaction between the priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood, a life giving and harmonious relationship, an interplay that draws both clergy into deeper and more intimate communion with the Lord Himself.

Today, the oil we are about to bless is the outward sign of divine election, intimate friendship and our shared responsibility “to bring glad tidings to the poor.”

The Mass of Oils is a time to remember, reclaim, and rejoice in our common call to holiness, our common destiny, and our unique vocations within in the community of believers to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Happy the people the Lord has chosen us to be his own!

2015_03_01 Priestly Installations

The Living Legacy of Vatican II

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

When he was elected in 1958, Pope John XXIII was considered by many to be a compromise candidate.

Church observers and pundits alike predicted that this aging Cardinal of Venice would be a caretaker pope, an innocuous leader and segue to a more stable and effective papacy.

These pessimistic prognosticators were unprepared for the seismic waves that followed his election, especially when he announced his intention to convene the Second Vatican Council.

From 1962 to 1965, the bishops from across the globe responded to Pope John XXIII’s directive to “open the windows of the Church” and let the winds of renewal blow through.

The teachings of Second Vatican Council have the power to deepen every aspect of our life as Christians, and the potential to strengthen the quality of our mission and ministry in both parish and diocese.

Among the many treasures found in conciliar writings, I have identified ten distinguishing hallmarks that come to us from the Council Fathers. When they are intentionally embraced and carefully cultivated by the pastor and parish leadership, good things follow:

  1. The Universal call to Holiness

In pre-conciliar times, the call to holiness was largely associated with the clergy and religious, relegating the laity to the sidelines of the spiritual life. The Council Fathers underscored the dignity of the Baptized, and invited every person to personally enter into the fullness of the Christian life in Jesus Christ. “All Christians, in any state or walk of life, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and perfection of charity.” The Council’s vision is clear and compelling. All of us are adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, fashioned in the very image and likeness of God. This is our shared destiny, and our common spiritual DNA. The role of the pastor is to model Christian holiness for others, and to invite each person to walk with Christ on a journey of faith.

  1. Liturgical Renewal

The second area that received fulsome attention by the Fathers of the Council fell under the heading of liturgical renewal. “Christians,” the bishops wrote, “should not be present at liturgy as strangers or silent spectators.” “They insisted on the “full active conscious participation” of the laity in the celebration of the liturgy. Beautifully prepared liturgy, prayerful music and song, strong homiletic preaching, sacred silence, and the full spectrum of liturgical ministries are the expectation and gold standard presented to every parish by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

All activities in the diocese and parish should flow from the Eucharist, and point back to it as the “source and summit of the life of the Church.”

  1. Shared Responsibility

A third quality that emerged from the Council is the notion of collaboration, consultation, and shared responsibility. In pre-conciliar times, much of the heavy administrative lifting was done by priests and sisters. The Council introduced a more expansive role for the laity in the Church—encouraging the baptized to “exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, both in the spiritual and in the temporal order.” New structures followed the Council, in particular, the creation of pastoral and finance councils, and a wide array of consultative bodies involving the laity. “Their activity is so necessary within church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastor is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness.” (500) Pastors do well to know what they don’t know, and to welcome and effectively utilize the amazing talents and gifts of the laity.

  1. Outreach to the Poor

The spirit of the Council prompted pastors, and indeed the whole parish, to ask, “Who is not at the table?” In a word, we are to be present to our people on the margins of the community; in nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, the homebound, and the immigrant. “In our times, a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of absolutely every person, that of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he is an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord: “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did for me.” (226) It is good for parish leadership to review regularly the quality and extent of the church’s outreach to the poor, the needy, the marginalized, and the broken, many of whom live invisible lives right here in our midst.

The Council Fathers help us make meaningful connections between liturgy and justice, sacrament and service, prayer and compassion, or, in the parlance of Scripture, love of God and love of neighbor.

 

  1. Communion with the Wider Church

It is vitally important that the parish not become self- enclosed, pre-occupied with its own agenda, and forget its necessary communion with the diocese and the Universal Church. “The laity should constantly foster a feeling for their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, and be ever ready at their bishop’s invitation to participate in diocesan projects.” (501) Nor are we to forsake our brothers and sisters in mission lands and territories, in our case Guatemala. Communio theology, as this is called, is a major characteristic of a Church which identifies itself as “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.” In a diocese as geographically vast as ours, it is important that we guard against a self-enclosed congregationalist mentality.

  1. The Word of God

The council raised up the import of Sacred Scripture, recalling the challenging words of Saint Jerome, that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The parish should offer regular opportunities to study and to pray the scriptures. In the mind of the Council Fathers, the liturgy of the word gained new prominence, and the liturgical homily was given a special place of primacy. In his apostolic letter entitled “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis wrote, “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” In the same vein, it is good for each parish to examine the effectiveness of parish catechetics, adult formation, paying particular attention to the spiritual and sacramental formation of the young.

  1. The Joy of the Gospel

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke compellingly about the joy of the gospel, a theme that has been taken up by Pope Francis again and again. St. Teresa of Avila once opined, “O Lord, spare us from sour-faced Saints.” Pope Francis once wrote, “There are Christians whose lives seem like a Lent without Easter.” Who would be attracted to a church that looks like it is perpetually celebrating an endless funeral? “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus Christ. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” Let each of our parishes be marked by true gospel joy, a joy which attracts new believers, and renews the hearts of longtime Christians.

  1. Ecumenism

In recent years, ecumenism has taken a back seat across the whole Church. In a world that is shrinking due to the Internet and mass media, ecumenism and interfaith relationships are more important than ever. Ours must become a church that intentionally cultivates respectful relationships among all peoples, Christians and non-Christians alike. We recall the prophetic words of Pope Benedict, “There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the great religions.” The golden anniversary of the Council is a good time for the local parishes to examine the strength of their relationships with other communities, and find ways to share faith, prayers, and common works of mercy among the interfaith and ecumenical communities. Pope Francis envisions a church that prefers dialogue over diatribe, invitation over invective, and a renewal of our commitment to strive for unity among all Christians.

  1. The New Evangelization

The post conciliar years produced considerable numbers of casualties, persons who for a wide array of reasons departed company with the Catholic family. The New Evangelization is another initiative born in the heart of the Second Vatican Council. It engages all the baptized, beginning with our own families and circle of friends, to invite people home, to tell them that their parish family is incomplete without them. In recent years, there has been a dangerous theology at play, the theology that espouses a “fewer but purer” mentality. Pope Francis has challenged that premise directly. “This church… is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest of protecting our mediocrity.” We must never grow weary of inviting others to know Christ, and know that the doors of the church are open in welcome and warm embrace. The New Evangelization proposes new, fresh ways to present the gospel and the spiritual treasures of the church. Awakening the sleeping giant of the laity, and helping each person to embrace their role as evangelizer, helps unlock this door of opportunity. Pope John Paul II stated clearly and convincingly, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” (RM3)

  • Mercy and Forgiveness

The Church must be a place of mercy and reconciliation, a place of healing, and the home of forgiveness. In every community, in every parish, in every family, there are wounded, hurt, and angry people. Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. All of us carry wounds and scars from things that were said or done to us. We have also been the cause of others’ hurt, and have the responsibility to ask one another’s forgiveness. Pope John XXIII insisted the church should dispense the medicine of mercy generously and copiously, and show herself to be the loving mother of all; benign, patient, forgiving and full of mercy. It is important to help our people rediscover the grace and healing available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We must be particularly attentive to those who have suffered from the scourge of clergy sexual abuse, and never fail to be present personally and pastorally in their time of need. In 1955, songwriter Sy Miller wrote, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, it is good to examine meaningfully and deeply the quality of our diocese’s and parishes’ commitment to the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council Fathers have articulated a rich and exciting vision, with power to strengthen our personal relationship with Christ, and to renew the spiritual life of both parish and diocese.

In the life of the Church, fifty years is a very short time. The real work has just begun.

2013_09_13 Sacred Heart Mission 100th Anniversary

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

In 1976, I was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Seattle. Following ordination, I was assigned to serve at St. James Cathedral in downtown Seattle. There, I joined a cadre of six well-seasoned priests living in residence in the rectory. I was the youngest, 26 by three days, and humbly took my place at the bottom of the clerical food chain.

For the next five years, guess who carried the night bell? Guess who inherited the hospital beeper? Guess who was assigned to celebrate the 6:25 a.m. Mass year after year?

It was there, at that early morning that I first encountered a man who was so exceptional, so extraordinary, that he touched my heart and life profoundly from the moment we were introduced.

He was a cryptic figure, who arrived late for the 6:25 Mass, and more often than not, left early. He appeared drowsy, disheveled, a pit preoccupied, but ever-absorbed in prayer. As weeks turned into months, I noticed his well-established pattern of comings and goings, and it piqued my curiosity.

One morning, I asked the sacristan, “Who is this individual? What was his story? What’s with this pattern of late arrival and early departure? Where was he coming from or going to?” The sacristan’s answer satisfied my curiosity.

This mysterious figure was a world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon. He was the research physician who pioneered the first coronary bypass surgery using the patient’s own veins. He was a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington, husband and father of eight, a man whose research has also touched every person in this assembly.

Dr. Lester Sauvage operated on over 10,000 patients during his career as physician and surgeon. He is a famed physician, father and husband, a scientist, professor and most especially, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and an exemplar of the Catholic faith we love so deeply.

At the close of his medical career, I received a call from Dr. Sauvage. He made this simple request: “I’ve just completed the first draft of a new book, and I wonder if you would do me the kindness of reading it critically. Get out your red pen, and give me some feedback.”

I made the startling discovery that the forward to his book was already written and reviewed by none other than Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I put the red pen down fast. If she likes it, who am I to change a word?

His book, entitled The Open Heart. It is a retrospective view of 33 years of practice, the distilled wisdom that came from a doctor and his patients fighting for survival and striving for quality of life. There is scarce mention of diet, exercise, and the usual panoply of prescriptions and surgical procedures.

In a word, he has written a prescription for a happy heart. He tells his patients, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof to: (1) pray often, for God knows you by name and love you deeply; (2) serve others in greater need than yourself, regardless of your condition of health; (3) reconcile broken relationships; and (4) never let another day go by without thanking God and counting your blessings.

Dr. Sauvage gives us a rare opportunity to prayerfully reflect on today’s readings, and ask ourselves probing questions of the heart.

In sacred Scripture, the heart represents that “hidden center beyond the grasp of reason” characterized variously in the Catechism as that “place of encounter, place of truth, and place of decision.” (CCC 2563)

In the powerful readings of the day, the Psalmist writes, “If today you hear his vice, harden not your hearts.” His words give us a unique opportunity to delve deeply into our own hearts, and to entrust them more completely to the loving heart of Christ. And so, at the midpoint of the Lenten season, I ask you the following questions:

  • How are you spiritually this day, this moment?
  • Is your relationship with Christ strong and steady, or tentative and tepid?
  • Are you cultivating a healthy interior life, or just getting by day by day?
  • Are you praying regularly, or are you, in reality, God’s fair weather disciple?
  • Have you discovered that “surge of the heart”, described by St. Theresa Lisieux, that holy place where God embraces you amidst the trials and joys of life?

The prophet Joel speaks to the hearts of believers with tender and plaintive words – “Come back to me with all your heart, for I am gracious and merciful, says the Lord.”

  • Are you living a life of repentance and conversion, or stubbornly remaining in destructive habits of the heart?
  • Have you encountered Christ, the Divine Physician, personally, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and received grace and strength from His loving hands?
  • Can you say, with Pope Benedict, “Take away, O Lord, all that separates me from the love of Christ, and from the mission I have received from him?”

The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan cautioned against “allowing our hearts to grow cold with the passage of time.”

  • Are you sharing with the poor and the needy, not just from my surplus, but from the substance of your life?
  • Are you humbly serving others in greater need than yourselves?
  • Are you making connections between prayer and compassion, liturgy and service, worship and justice, love of God and love of neighbor?

Dr. Albert Schweitzer once wrote, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It’s the only thing.”

  • Are you leading others to Christ and the Church through the example of a virtuous life?
  • Is your life marked by courage and conviction, or are you developing into just one more camouflage, anonymous Catholic?
  • Are you wholeheartedly committed to a life of chaste living and serving Christ and the Church with a pure and fulsome and undivided heart?
  • Are you a living witness to the power of the Gospel, or a silent counter-witness at the very time when the Church needs strong, public, holy men and women in it court?

The Blessed Mother gives us a prayerful example as she “prays for us now and at the hour of our death.”

  • Have you entrusted your heart to the maternal heart of Mary, whose love for the priesthood is a source of grace and blessing?
  • Are you following the examples of the Saints, and of the holy men and women in your life?
  • Are you praising God daily for the gift of family, faith, food, friendship, and the myriad things that we take for granted?
  • Have you abandoned your heart and your life into the hands of Providence, and can you say with a sincere heart the prayer of St. Ignatius – “Take Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will . . . only your love and your grace, these are enough for me!”

The readings of the Mass today are simple and compelling. They are given as a blessing to our hearts, this day, and will lead us closer and closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.”

2014_08_01 Funeral Homily – Fr. Gregory Burke

St. Ann Parish, Butte

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

On the southern coast of Ireland, a short distance from Cork City, is a seaport town called Cobh. Formerly known as Queens town, Cobh became the point of departure for 2.5 million Irish immigrants who left the Emerald Isle for North America between 1848 and 1950.

Overlooking the Cobh harbor, and dominating the cityscape, is the elaborate neogothic Cathedral of St. Coleman. Both the city of Cobh and the Cathedral of St. Coleman acquired special meaning for tens of thousands of departing immigrants. It is the cathedral that is ever etched in their individual and collective memories, and this is the reason why.

St. Coleman’s Cathedral contains the largest carillons bells in the entire Republic of Ireland. The bells, 49 in all, strike on the quarter hour, and the largest bell, named St. Coleman weighs 3.6 tons.

The sound of that bell was the last sound departing immigrants heard as they boarded the tenders and ships that carried them away from the old sod, some never to return again.

The bells of St. Coleman became their final memory, their enduring connection between the old and the new as hardworking and hopeful Irish citizens faced into a new and uncharted adventure.

The bells of St. Coleman, to this very day, also represent the missionary spirit of hundreds of young seminarians and priests bound for American, heeding the call of the Gospel, and responding to the pleas of American bishops across our land.

Fr. Burke is no exception. He came to us as a young man, completing his seminary education at St. Edward’s in Seattle, and becoming one of the finest priests our diocese has ever known.

We, as a Diocese, hold a debt of gratitude to the extended Burke family, gratitude for their personal sacrifices that accompanied Fr. Burke to America. This is a family who shared the life and love of their son, brother, uncle and friend, and we are the beneficiaries of their largesse and care.

Despite the great distances between the Diocese of Helena and the village Bandon, Fr. Burke maintained an extensive network of family ties and deep bonds of friendship. He had the capacity for remembering names and tracing family lines with cross-hair accuracy. My own mother’s side of the family, Cronin by name, hailed from Castle Town bear. This was my passport into Fr. Gregory Burke’s heart. But many of you know from personal experience that his unparalleled knowledge of family ties was often accompanied by revelations that the family tree housed horse thieves, card sharks, and bootleggers. Fr. Burke was always ready and eager to share those revelations!

Our brother will ever be remembered by his lilting brogue and consummate sense of humor. He had the capacity to weave a good story, turn a phrase, and to punch a punchline with the accuracy of a stage actor, always with a twinkle in his eye and that mischievous smile on his face. He understood that laughter is good medicine and many hearts were lightened by his good humor, and gentle way.

From the day of his ordination, Fr. Burke had a shepherd’s heart, coupled with indefatigable energy and a ubiquitous presence to the people in his care. He ministered to all with generous and careless abandon, the sick, the discouraged, the lonely, the young and old alike, without regard to their state in life, their economic status, their degrees or pedigrees. He was a good priest 24/7; a priest for whom the word “retirement” was anathema, for he was a man driven by the conviction that the good priest dies in his boots.

Fr. Burke was a prayerful priest, who knew and loved the heart of Jesus Christ, and lived as a faithful and dependable disciple. He celebrated Mass with reverence, always carrying the petitions of his people to the heart of the Lord. When the going got rough, he, like so many other Irish priests, always appealed to the maternal heart of the Blessed Mother, for whom he had deep and filial affection until his dying breath.

Fr. Burke loved the priesthood with all of his heart. He was considered by his brothers a “priest’s priest.” We could always count on his friendship, support, and ministrations, especially to those who may have broken wings. Fr. Burke was particularly close to Deacon John Uggetti, for whom Fr. was mentor, father figure, and friend. He was particularly proud that he lived long enough to know that Deacon Craig Hanley was nearing the finish line, ordained to the diaconate on June 27.

The sheer number of people present here today is testimony to Fr. Burke’s expansive ministry, both to the people of Butte and to the many parishes and missions where he lived and labored. All of you have Fr. Burke stories, all of you held a special place in his heart. All of us have been the beneficiaries of his extraordinary ministry, most recently his ministry to the sick through his chaplaincy apostolate at St. James.

And so we give him back to you, O Lord, who first gave him to us. May you, Father Gregory, hear those words reserved for God’s dear and faithful servants: “Well done, O good and faithful servant, come and enter my Father’s glory.” Amen.

Indian Days 7_13_14

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

When I was a priest serving in the archdiocese of Seattle, I had a second job was both difficult and challenging. Besides serving as a parish priest at St. James Cathedral, I was also night chaplain to the King County jail, a jail that houses 1500 inmates at any given time.

This was my first introduction to the world of crime and punishment, alcohol and drug addiction, family violence and serious mental illness.

It was a ministry that presented new challenges every day, with little evidence of apparent or immediate results.

However, just as I would began to wonder if I was doing any good at all, the Lord would give me a strong word of encouragement—sometimes months or years later.

At three o’clock in the morning, the rectory doorbell rang and rang. From the second story window, I looked down on the porch to sell a young man with short hair, crying out loud, and asking to see a priest. When I left him in the rectory, what happened next took me by surprise.

He removed from his head a short length wig, and there was a young navy man, absent without leave, AWOL. He had been charged with the criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, a crime that could have netted him 15 years in the Brig, and a dishonorable discharged.

He was begging for help. I let him stay in the rectory guest room, and in the morning, I called a Navy lawyer friend to ask for advice. I will never forget his words to me. Father, he said, don’t tell me any more. I am the new naval Magistrate, and the man in your rectory will be appearing before my court.

Months later, I appeared in court, and testified on behalf of my fugitive friend. The judge dismissed 2/3rds of his jail time, and kept him in the Navy.

10 years ago, when I got transferred to Helena, my telephone rang as I crossed the desert near Moses Lake Washington. It was this young man.

Father, he said, you helped me out 10 years ago. I read that you had been moved to Montana, and I couldn’t let you go without saying thanks. I’ve made it. I got my GED, have a good job, a beautiful wife, a couple of kids, and I’m drug free. Thanks Father, for being there for me.

O.K. Lord, I get it. Sometimes we plant the seeds, but never see the results. That is the bottom line for the Gospel of Matthew.

The Sower scatters the seed with careless abandon. Father Robert Barron says that the seed is the symbol for Gods gracious mercy and love ever at work in our lives.

He scatters seeds of love on the good and the bad. He scatters on good ground, where the seed takes root. He scatters on rocky ground, on shallow ground. Only a portion of the seed germinates. But the Sower never gives up. He never grows discouraged.

The farmer plants the seed, but he knows not how it grows.

The take away message is clear and compelling.

We minister in the name of the Lord. For your pastor, for the deacons, and for all who serve in the Church, never grow discouraged. Never think that your work is in vain. We may never live long enough to see the fruits of our Labor, but the work is never in vain.

For parents, continue to be the first and the best of teachers in the ways of faith. Love your children well. Introduce them to the Lord. Introduce them to the sacraments. Teach them to pray, and to love Christ and the Church. Yes, they may go on sabbatical for a time, but Catholicism stays in the blood. Commend them to the Lord, and one day, they will surprise them. Your efforts, planted long ago, will germinate and take root.

For teachers and youth ministers, your job is daunting, and your charges are often young. And yet, you are forming souls in the ways of Christ.  Just when you think your work is in vain, the Lord will surprise you. We are servants, and the Lord himself is the Lord of the Harvest.

For our young people, never underestimate your power to influence your peers for the good. Invite them to walk in the ways of the Gospel, to love the Lord, to take part in the life of the Church. Every not and then, God will surprise you.

Ours is the Lord of the Harvest!

2014_06_27 Ordination Homily
Fr. Brian Bergeron and Fr. John Crutchfield; Deacon Craig Hanley

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

Msgr. Stephen Rosetti is a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse. He is a prominent psychologist, researcher, national speaker, and a highly published expert on the subject of Catholic priesthood.

In 2011, Msgr. Rosetti released the findings of an exhaustive study on the subject of priesthood in America. His work was drawn from a massive sample of priests — 2,482 priests to be exact, living and serving in 23 dioceses across the United States.

The Rosetti study is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted.

Researchers have described the study’s conclusions as being countercultural, counterintuitive, but not surprising. To be sure, the results fly in the face of wide-spread public opinion and negative perceptions which have permeated and preoccupied the press and media in recent years.

The thesis of Rosetti’s study can be summed up in four words, which also serve as the title his book, a book entitled Why Priests Are Happy.

Rosetti systematically compared the priesthood to the general American male population on a number of common scales, including physical health, psychological well-being, spiritual commitment, and habits of self-care.

More importantly, he has identified those underlying factors that have contributed to the individual and collective happiness of priests.

In Rosetti’s words, “Priesthood consistently measures as perhaps the most fulfilling and satisfying vocation of any. Priests reported levels of happiness that are remarkably high and consistent across many studies . . . .”

On this day of ordination to diaconate and priesthood, it is good to be reminded that our candidates are entering a vocation that offers the potential for deep and meaningful satisfaction and joy.

Let’s be frank. Priesthood, like Christian marriage, requires commitment, renewal, and plain old hard work. Your brothers will surely tell you, it is not “Going My Way” or “The Bells of St. Mary.” Those already ordained for years or decades will say that the vocation of priesthood is a path less chosen, and a road beset with obstacles, challenges, and hardships. It is also the pathway to immense joy, if certain elements are in place.

Why, then, do priests report such a consistently high level of happiness and satisfaction?

I will offer you a few insights drawn from the writings of Stephen Rossetti, along with the wisdom of the sage people, including Pope Francis, and others, who know the souls of priests well.

PRAYER

Each of these persons begins with the same point of reference. Happiness in the priesthood is predicated upon a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

The cultivation of a strong interior life is the sine qua non for priestly happiness. This is the wellspring of priestly joy and hope. There is no other way.

A short epigraph written by Pope Paul VI describes the “the unfathomable joy which dwells in Jesus.”

Those who intentionally live in His companionship can share in that unfathomable joy.

Your brother priests will describe to you the special joy that accompanies priestly ministry– from celebrating the Eucharist; to hearing the Confessions of our people; to preaching the gospel well; ministering to the sick and dying; teaching the faith, and celebrating marriages and baptisms. You will also be surprised by the unexpected blessings that come to the priest who allows the Spirit to work through inevitable interruptions and unexpected events in the life of his people, even when they inconvenience you or throw your pastoral planner into chaos.

In the end, your relationship with Christ must be founded upon and sustained through a life of prayer. Prayerful and daily companionship with Jesus is the single most important predictor of priestly happiness. Everything else falls short of the mark.

SERVICE

The second predictor of priestly happiness is one spoken about frequently by Pope Francis. “If a priest wants to overcome those inevitable moments of sadness, exhaustion and boredom, as well as discover his true identity, he must head for the exit sign, going outside himself to be with God and his people.

Happy priests have discovered the connection between sacristy and service, liturgy and life, worship and compassion, or in gospel parlance, the inexorable bond between “love of God and love of neighbor.”

Let your ministry be generous and expansive. I ask you, the newly ordained, to avoid the temptation of ministering to only those who agree with your particular theological orientation, or are pleasant and easy to be around– the attractive or stealthy, the affluent and articulate. Pay close and particular attention to those not yet gathering with the assembly, those who are sick or afflicted, those weighed down by troubles or mental illness, those in nursing homes, jails and prisons, the undocumented, and those who live in the shadows of culture and on the fringes of society.

Happy priests are willing to move beyond their personal comfort zones into the unchartered and sometimes turbulent waters of modern culture and society.

COMMUNITY

Thirdly, priesthood must be lived out in community.

  1. The priest cannot survive long as a Lone Ranger. Isolation, unlike solitude, is a hazard to the priesthood, and a breeding ground for trouble. Stephen Rosetti’s advice is clear and compelling–invest in friendships with your brother priests, and do not neglect the diocesan presbyterate. These are your brothers. They are here for you. They are talented and generous, opinionated and, occasionally, irascible.

There is immense talent and experience in this body of priests. In your relationship with your brothers, I ask you to value their years in the noon day sun, and respect their experience. Listen to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who echoed the ever-sage St. Augustine–“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.” The priests are prepared to receive you as a brother, to support you, care for you, mentor you, and occasionally knock you off of your pedestal.

Rossetti advises that priestly happiness is highest among those who consciously cultivate deep and meaningful friendships with their brother priests. His advice is well researched. But there is more.

  1. Rosetti further admonishes priests to cultivate healthy relationships with lay men and women. Our people love and support the priests and the priesthood. They enjoy our company, welcome us into their homes and lives, and we are the beneficiaries of their loving friendship and care. Pope Francis offers a powerful and unique perspective and another dimension of lay friendship: When the shepherd is in the midst of his flock, it is a ‘guarded joy’, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us . . . even in those moments, God’s people are able to guard that joy, they are able to protect you, to embrace you, and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.” In a word, priesthood and laity are there for each other. The charism of priestly celibacy, well lived, allows you to live in freedom and to have a cherished place in your heart for all.
  2. On the topic of community, I have this strong admonishment for you. In the years ahead, as you receive greater leadership responsibilities, do not allow your community to become self-enclosed or self-referential. Through your preaching and teaching, establish strong and meaningful ties with the Universal Church, with neighboring parishes, deanery, and Diocese; and with the ecumenical, interfaith, and civic community. Cultivate meaningful relationships with your Bishop, deep reverence for our Holy Father, and strong ties with the mission territories of the Church, especially our own mission in Guatemala. This helps to establish a more expansive vision of the Church, which is always missionary in orientation, and evangelical by the Lord’s own

CO-RESPONSIBILITY

Since the close of the Vatican Council, some 50 years ago, the role of the laity has been raised up and celebrated as a work of the Holy Spirit. Words like “collaboration,” “consultation,” and “collegiality” have entered the Church’s vocabulary, and have given new shape and contour to the ecclesial landscape.

These are not just fancy words or ethereal concepts. In recent years, both Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis have raised the ante on the role and mission of the laity, stating that they are not just collaborators with the clergy, but co-responsible for the very being and activity of the Church.

My advice to you is, “Know what you don’t know.” Surround yourself with wise people, experts in the field, consulters, volunteers and staff members.

Every parish in this Diocese should have fully functioning pastoral and financial councils, and a full cadre of well-formed liturgical ministers.

In the years ahead, let lay ministry flourish and blossom in your community. Let it be marked by a spirit of mutuality and trust, and the net result will be ministerial, pastoral care, and administrative excellence.

BALANCE

Priesthood is demanding, and requires an intentional commitment to live a balanced life. Get over your Messiah complex early on.

Rossetti has underscored the need for spiritual direction and a regular confessor in the life of the priest. The late Bishop Bernard Topel of Spokane once said, “The priest who serves as his own spiritual director is the disciple of a fool.

Keep your mind well informed through a systematic and sustained program of spiritual and theological reading.

Get reasonable rest and relaxation, exercise and good nourishment. Don’t eat everything that is put on your plate. Discover the medicinal value of laughter and camaraderie. If you find yourself foundering, stumbling, overwhelmed, or simply over your head, seek help. It is there for the asking. We are here for you.

The well- disciplined life is an investment in our people, and an investment in longevity. Prepare for the marathon and not just the 100-yard dash.

I know that I speak on behalf of a full Cathedral when I say, “We warmly welcome you into the presbyterate and transitional diaconate, and wish you a lifetime of happiness and joy.” The ordination gospel is clear and compelling. Jesus has come to you and to me that we might have joy, and have it to the fullest.

We pray that your hearts overflow with that special happiness which comes from knowing, loving, and serving our Lord Jesus, who, in just a few moments, will call you to Holy Orders through the power of His Spirit, and through the laying on of hands.

Give your heart to Him, fully and unreservedly, for He is here, in our midst, “as one who serves.”

Catholic Health Association, Chicago, Illinois 2014_03_01

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

Shortly after I was ordained to the priesthood, I was assigned to serve at Saint James Cathedral Parish near downtown Seattle. In those days, there were seven priests in residence at that urban parish, and I was at the bottom of the clerical food chain.

In addition to their regular duties, each parish priest was given “an assignment within an assignment” in order to serve the multiple institutions located within the Cathedra boundaries.

I opted to serve as night chaplain to a 1,500 bed jail, a ministry I held for the next 13 years. This was my first exposure to the world of crime and punishment. It was a crash course in the world of alcohol and drug addiction, illiteracy, violence, and the complexities of serious mental illness. As time went by, the jail chaplaincy became one of the most blessed assignments of my life.

Among the many memories associated with the King County Jail, one stands out above all the rest. It involves perhaps most notorious criminals ever housed in the King County Jail–a notorious defendant named Gary Ridgway, better known by his moniker, “the Green River Killer.”

Ridgway was convicted of the serial murder of 49 women, and was presumed to have been responsible for the deaths of many more during his spree of crime. On December 18, 2003, Gary Ridgway was sentenced in the King County Courtroom for his heinous crimes. On that day of reckoning, the courtroom was filled beyond capacity, replete with TV anchors, national media, and an overflow crowd of victims’ family members. The atmosphere was volatile as armed guards escorted Ridgway into the courtroom.

Judge Richard Jones opened that sentencing phase by labelling Mr. Ridgway “a demented and calculating emissary of death.” He then ordered the defendant to turn and face the people, whose lives he had destroyed. Judge Jones invited the families of victims to step up to the microphone and speak to the defendant directly. One by one they unleashed a torrent of righteous anger.

Ridgway was called “an animal,” “a demon,” “a coward,” “a parasite,” and the very “personification of evil,” coupled with streams of expletives too graphic for television or pulpit. The words were searing and painful beyond description, and the litany of rage remained unabated until the unexpected happened.

A certain man named Robert Rule stepped up to the microphone. His teenaged daughter Linda Jane was a victim of the Green River killer. He spoke calmly and eloquently, looking his daughter’s killer in the eye. This is what he said:

“Mr. Ridgway, there are people here who hate you, but I am not one of them. I forgive you for what you have done. You have made it difficult to live up to what I believe in, and what God says to do, and that is, to forgive. He didn’t say to forgive just certain people. He said to forgive all. And so, Mr. Ridgway, you are forgiven.”

The courtroom fell into a stunned silence. The tone of the hearing shifted, and the decibel level fell. A grieving father rose as an eloquent witness to the power of mercy and forgiveness. He courageously and single-handedly countered a powerful current of rage and righteous anger. He did what few of us could ever do.

To paraphrase the words of Williams Shakespeare, that day “the quality of mercy felt like gentle rain from heaven. It was twice blessed. It blessed both the one who gave and those who received.” The Gospel today contains a small but poignant lesson on the meaning and necessity of mercy in the lives of Christians. The lesson is not readily evident upon the first reading.

The Gospel begins with a strong caveat to refrain from judging one another, to remove the plank from our own eye before extricating the splinter from our neighbor’s. Then Jesus directs strong words toward have become the self-appointed watchdogs of other peoples’ righteousness. Specifically, he is targeting the Pharisees. But in fact, he is also addressing you and me.

The Pharisees had selectively overlooked fundamental principle of Jewish law—that justice must always be tempered with mercy. In the doing, they had substituted formalism for compassion, haughtiness for humility, legalism above empathy, orthodoxy over engagement. Their smug attitude earned them the dubious title of hypocrite, an occupational hazard not just for Pharisees, but a perennial danger for disciples of every age.

This gospel occasions an opportunity to prayerfully apply the spirit of this gospel to the particular circumstances of our lives. The words of Jesus prompt us to call to mind the names and faces of those who have wounded our hearts, those who have earned our righteousness anger, or caused us harm or humiliation. It urges us to turn the tables and to remember the times and reasons we need to seek the forgiveness of others, for what we have done or failed to do.

Saint John Paul admonished us to become “practitioners of mercy” in our daily lives.

A noted Catholic psychiatrist once opined, “Those with whom you chose to remain angry will control you. They will limit you spiritually, physically, and emotionally.” The ancient Chinese proverb says it well—“Those who seek revenge should dig not one grave but two.” Three little words, spoken with a sincere heart, can bring dramatic change into our lives: “I forgive you.” Author Joanna North wrote, “In offering the gift of forgiveness, we receive a gift as well.”

You and I are also public ministers of the Gospel, providers of healthcare, and ministers of Jesus’ own ministry. This gospel also has direct implications for those responsibilities as well.

Chicago Theologian Robert Barron says it best—“Christianity is above all, a way of seeing.” But first our own “minds, eyes, ears, senses, perceptions all have to be opened up, turned around, and revitalized.” That is the business of the gospel. And what we are about.

St. Augustine, in his early writings, summed up this vision when he wrote, “If you look deeply enough into the eyes of any person, there you will see something that is divine.” This vision helps us to see no longer with human eyes, but in the words of Paul, “with the eyes of the heart.”

This vision helps explain our commitment and desire to minister to the sick, to walk with immigrants and refugees, to be present among prisoners and inmates on death row, to speak out on behalf of the poor and marginalized of our cities and nation nations, and never to vilify victims of abuse. The gospel vision proclaims that every person has inherent worth. There are no throw-away people, no disposable souls. This is gospel of mercy in action, and you and I are its agents. This is applied theology of mercy at its best.

Finally, for the whole Church, we must work assiduously to incarnate Jesus’ vision, and resolve to become the Church of mercy, the house of forgiveness, the home of reconciliation. Through word and example, Pope Frances has described a Church that prefers dialogue over diatribe, humility above hubris, compassion over confrontation, justice tempered with mercy.

As a church, we must be willing to apply the medicine of mercy with generous and careless abandon, a medicine urgently, desperately needed in our wounded world. The psalmist says it well. “You, O Lord, are a God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.”

We are to follow his lead, walk in His footsteps, conform our lives to Him, who is here, in our midst “as one who serves.”

Christianity is indeed a new way of seeing, seeing with eyes transformed by God’s amazing grace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see!

2014_06_12 Funeral Homily for Fr. Stu Long

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

Father Stu Long was ordained to the priesthood here in this Cathedral on December 14, 2007, along with his friend and colleague, Fr. Bart Tolleson. They were ordained on the Feast of St. John of the Cross.

Stuart’s call to Holy Orders did not come without pushback or controversy.

During the final years of his seminary formation, Stu began to experience unexplained weakness coursing through his body, a condition eventually diagnosed as Inclusion Body Myositis. This was grave news, for the disease is a serious and progressive life-threatening disorder, and a not-so-distant cousin to Lou Gehrig’s disease. That pre-ordination diagnosis caused significant duress among those responsible for his formation, myself included.

Various individuals, both at home and at the seminary, cautioned me to slow down the ordination process, and to evaluate the implications and escalating costs associated with this progressively debilitating condition.

I gave prayerful consideration to all of these concerns, and in the end, decided to call Stuart Long to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

To be sure, the advancement of a seminarian to priesthood is one of the most important decisions resting on the shoulders of any bishop, and can never be taken lightly. At the end of the day, it is the Bishop’s responsibility to discern the Lord’s wishes and not his own. In that matter, I never wavered. From the moment I met him, I observed that Stuart had a priestly heart, zeal for the Gospel, tender passion for the Church, and a deep love for God’s people. That translated into a priestly vocation. For the record, I have never once regretted my decision, or wished to turn back the hands of time.

During the ordination liturgy in 2007, I described Stuart Ignatius Long as “one of a kind”, a young man whose unconventional life story could easily transcribed into a best-selling novel. His was a life replete with twists and turns, situations that read like fiction more than fact.

Stuart’s introduction to the Catholic Church began here, at this Cathedral, during his elementary school years, but the entrée was not of a spiritual nature. Simply put, he and his third grade buddies used the Cathedral as a shortcut to his grandmother’s house.

Stuart and his cronies were regularly shooed out of the building by an unnamed pastor, who muttered under his breath and pointed Stuart and his buddies to the nearest exit. This was just what a third grader needed to spice up an otherwise mundane life. The situation devolved into a ritual of cat-and-mouse, with Stuart and friends always ending up one step ahead of the pastor.

This Cathedral eviction game ended abruptly when the Long family moved from Helena proper out to the valley, where he attended Capital High School, and by his own admission, he excelled in extracurricular activities. In his own inimitable way, he told me, “I played high school football, but they didn’t get good until I graduated. I also played football for Carroll College, but they didn’t get good until I graduated!”

Upon completion of studies from Carroll, with his newly-minted degree in English, Stuart’s life took even more interesting twists and turns. For a meteoric time, and under the tutelage of Father Jeremiah Sullivan, Stu became a professional boxer, a passion that was cut short by one-too-many upper cuts.

Hanging around the family house for six months too many, his mother Kathleen sagely suggested that he move to Los Angeles, and try his hand at the movie industry.

Like so many aspiring actors, the good paying jobs were few and far between, and he was unable to keep pace with incoming bills. In 1968, singer-songwriter Dionne Warwick penned wise words about aspiring L.A. actors -– “In a week or maybe two, they’ll make you a star. Weeks turn into years, how quick they pass, and all the stars that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas.”

And so it was with Stu. To put bread on the table, he worked for a time at a comedy club; he served as a bartender and even as a nightclub bouncer — all, of course, perfect preparation for a vocation to the priesthood!

The next seven years were marked by greater stability and equilibrium. He became manager of Pasadena’s prestigious Norton Simon Museum, home to a vast private collection of European, Asian and American art and sculpture, 11,000 pieces in all.

It was during that time of relative calm that he met a young woman who appeared to be his future bride, or so he thought. But his engagement to her came with a strict pre-condition: “If we get married, Stuart Long, we are going to get married in the Catholic Church.”

Her declaration was Stuart’s introduction to Catholicism 101. After a brief but intense Rite of Christian Initiation, he was baptized into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil, 1994.

During the Baptismal Rite that Stuart first experienced the persistent promptings of the Holy Spirit, and a nascent and inexplicable call to priesthood. It was a stirring that simply would not go away, despite his best efforts. Shortly after his reception into the Catholic Church, Stuart’s journey toward marriage came to an abrupt close, while his yearning for priesthood only increased.

For the next three years, Stu took up a teaching position in a Catholic school, before taking the big leap, traveling cross country to join the Capuchin Friars in New York City. His love for St. Francis of Assisi and his passion for serving the poor were actualized. So, too, was the realization that he was far better suited for diocesan priesthood rather than religious life.

Stuart Long was accepted as a seminarian by my predecessor, Bishop Robert Morlino, and sent to Mount Angel Seminary, south of Portland, Oregon. It was there, as he neared ordination, that he experienced the first symptoms of that debilitating disease that would radically alter and eventually claim his life.

Early on in the priesthood, during his brief but fruitful time in Browning and in Anaconda, Stuart wrote letters and memoirs that provide a window into his heart and soul.

On January 15, 2010, he wrote, “Today, Dad and I are traveling down I-90 to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota . . . . my body betrays me each day, and sometimes I don’t know if I can continue. Yet, I am truly overwhelmed by the prayerful support I am receiving from parishioners . . . . the power of the Lord, and His grace is penetrating me. I know that the Lord is responding to your prayers, and I am eternally in your debt as you ‘pray me on’ in my efforts to serve Him through you.”

During his stay in Anaconda, Stuart publicly acknowledged his gratitude for the selfless presence of his father, Bill, who, in Stu’s words, “made it possible for me to remain in priestly ministry as my body grew more and more limited. My dad is not Catholic, and I would not be a priest if he did not assist me. He sleeps on the floor of my apartment, and cooks me dinner. He will not accept remuneration for his service, and once said to me to keep me in my place, “I have afflicted the world with you, and now it’s my job to make amends!”

I offer Stu’s parents, Bill and Kathleen, our heartfelt gratitude for your servants’ hearts. Your example of altruism, humility, and prayer is an inspiration for the whole community, and both of you made it possible for your son to keep on going when the road became rough.

After a brief time in Anaconda, Stu took up residence at Big Sky Care Center in Helena. Room 227 became his headquarters, and there he saw a steady stream of friends and classmates, penitents, and counselees, saints, seekers, and sinners, coming and going night and day. Stu dispensed absolution, accolades, advice, tough talk and tough love with careless abandon. His ministry was driven by a genuine concern for the salvation of souls.

At the same time, most would agree that his unadorned candor and penchant for telling it like it is would have disqualified him early on from induction into the Vatican Diplomatic Corps!

Pope Francis often describes the Church, not as a museum for saints, but as a field hospital for sinners. Stuart was one of the Lord’s most effective field medics. He cherished and celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation both as priest and penitent, and received scores of penitents, reportedly telling them during awkward moments, “Hey, been there, done that!”

The words of St. Paul are so apropos in describing his unique ministry. “Every high priest is taken from among men and appointed on behalf of them in things pertaining to God. He can sympathize with those who are ignorant or who have gone astray, because he himself is beset with weakness . . . .” (Hebrews 5).

There is a beautiful prayer, found on the lips of Simeon in the second chapter of Luke. It is called the Nunc Dimitis, and gives us insight into the final months that preceded Stuart’s death. In recent years, he prayed assiduously that he would live long enough to see his parents, Bill and Kathleen, received into the faith Stu loved so deeply. Stuart’s prayer was fulfilled this Easter – 2014. In doing so, Simeon’s prayer became his own Nunc Dimitis – “Now, O Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace.”

Words cannot describe the joy he experienced by your decision, Bill and Kathleen, to be fully part of the Catholic community, but the look on your son’s face said it all.

As he grew in the spiritual life, Stuart wrote with confidence, “Death no longer looms as a frightening specter, but rather as the embrace of Christ as he leads me from this world to purgatory, where,” he added, “I will likely reside for a very long time.”

Just two weeks ago, I received another beautiful reflection from Stu, transcribed and hand-delivered by Alison Bell. He continued the purgatory theme, saying, “I hope that the Lord empties out purgatory once a week. If not, pray hard for me!”

Down through the years, Stu was able to embody the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose middle name he shared, as he labored under the growing weight of the Cross: “Take, Lord, receive. All my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, O Lord, I return it. All is yours to dispose of according to Your will. Give me only your love and your grace. These are enough for me.”

“As I am getting closer to dying,” he told me, “I am trusting more and more . . . and the gift of trust is keeping pace with my illness.” As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. With your rod and your staff, you give me courage. (Psalm 23).

Our collective prayer for you, dear Stuart, is that you now hear those words reserved for every servant who has loved the Lord so faithfully and well. “Well done, O good and faithful servant. Come, enter my Father’s glory!”

One final thought for Stu – after you grow weary from giving St. Peter unsolicited advice on how to run a more efficient operation at the gates of Heaven, may you, dear Stuart, finally rest in well-deserved peace. We all love you, dear friend. Goodbye, God speed, until we meet again.

2014_05_16 St. Margaret Parish 100th Anniversary Celebration

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, Ph.D.

On July 4th, 1914, Bishop John Carroll traveled to Cut Bank, Montana, to bless and dedicate a new parish church. He placed your parish under the patronage of
St. Margaret. It was a joyful and festive occasion, which gave the parishioners a certain sense of importance and relief.

In the years preceding that landmark occasion, the community had grown accustomed to a stream of visiting priests, priests who celebrated Mass in various and sundry venues – in the homes of prominent catholic families like the Chasses and Hagens, in a vacant building on North Central, and in the old Cut Bank public school.

This indeed was a momentous occasion for Cut Bank Catholics finally had a place they could call their own. The assignment of the first resident pastor only added to the new sense of security and stability.

Archival records in the Diocese reveal that the first pastor, Fr. Raphael Greven, a Norbertine father from De Pere, Wisconsin, was chosen for his facility in languages. His assignment at St. Margaret’s served a dual purpose, as he was deputed by the Bishop to assist in ministering to the Belgian colony newly established near Valier.

1914 was also a year marked by both momentous change and peril on the national and international fronts. These influences could be felt even on the remote northern Plains of Montana. For some years, storm clouds were gathering on the Euorpean horizon and in August of 1914, that fragile peace was broken.

In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson fully intended to maintain neutrality and broker an alliance among the conflicting nations, an ideal that was never fully realized. On June 28, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo, and diplomatic relations among the major European nations were shattered.

1914 marked the completion and official opening of the Panama Canal, allowing ship traffic to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through a canal of 40 miles long.

In the world of entertainment and literature, Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Burroughs made its debut, and the poet laureate Robert Frost published his first collection of poetry. Vachel Lindsay began his public career with the publication of The Congo.

T.S. Elliott and Joyce Kilmer, known for her classic poem Trees, were published that year. And the first six-reel motion picture starring Charlie Chaplin entertained the public which was mesmerized by this high tech development.

On May 7, 1914, Mother’s Day was first established on the second Sunday of May passed by Congressional resolution, and American’s favorite dance was the waltz and the two-step.

Here in this holy place, your ancestors were baptized and confirmed. Here they gathered around the altar to be nourished by the living body and blood of Jesus Christ. In that first church, the marriages of your ancestors were celebrated and their souls unburdened of sin.

Here, and in the first church, you laid your beloved dead to rest and mourners were comforted with the words of everlasting life.

In the old church, and in the spanking new 1941 building, your parish gathered in good times and bad to celebrate and rejoice, to laugh and to cry, and to mark those important family, parish, and community events.

Here in this holy place, you have been formed as a pilgrim people, a parish community marked by aspirations and imperfections, a community that is connected to the wider Church that is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”

Your parish community, like communities across this vast Diocese, has experienced the hardship and vicissitudes of economic good times and hard times, crop failures, bank dissolutions, productive seasons and good crops, drought and disaster, but all the while maintaining a strong sense of Catholic identity and mission.

The people of this valley are tough and resilient. You have survived various iterations of clergy and lay leaders, Norbertine fathers, diocesan priests, and Congregation of St. Joseph sisters, always remembering that we are God’s holy people and that Christ alone is the reason for our existence.

The Gospel of St. Matthew, read today, is clear and compelling, ten words, found on the lips of St. Peter, serve as the foundation for every community in every century, in every country and continent across the globe.

Jesus poses the question, “Who do people say that I am?” St. Peter’s response is our confession of faith and the reason why each community endures the test of time: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

This is our true foundation, making us living stones founded on a structure that remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Today is a day of holy remembering, a time to ask God’s blessings upon those whose pioneering efforts built up the Church across this valley. It is a time to also rededicate ourselves to being that strong and dedicated people of faith, a faith that endures in season and out of season, and remains undaunted by the challenges of the day, as long as Christ is recognized as the heart and soul of this community. Congratulations, aud multos anos and happy birthday St. Margaret Parish on this day of your centennial anniversary!

2014_04_20 Easter Cathedral of St. Helena

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

In the heart of New York City, on Manhattan’s upper West side, is one of the Big Apple’s most important tourist attractions. Since 1935, the Haydn Planetarium has evolved into a breathtaking showcase of science, astronomy, and ingenuity, a multimillion dollar exhibit that leaves the visitors overwhelmed, speechless, and amazed.

Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson is the Planetarium Director. He is New York City’s version of Carroll College’s Dr. Kelly Cline, an astrophysicist, researcher, and scholar extraordinaire, whose life’s passion is to make the complex world of astrophysics accessible to ordinary people like you and me.

The New York Times once opined, that “Dr. Tyson moves about the universe as comfortably and confidently as a man in his own kitchen. He knows what’s in the refrigerator, what’s good and what’s stale, and how to rustle up a treat without a recipe.”

In a two hour period, Dr. Tyson provides each visitor with a mind boggling joyride through the universe, a digital experience of cosmic gases and dark matter, exploding supernovas, distant galaxies, quasars, planets, and clusters of galaxies, topped off with a Milky Way for dessert.

The Haydn Planetarium represents the best science has to offer. Using the latest research, it attempts sheds light on the origin and development of the Universe. It is a world of theory and speculation, of Hubble technology and Zeiss photography, a formidable attempt to wrap the human mind around the incomprehensible and ultimately unknowable.

It is a “palace of wonder,” says the Washington Post, a monument to modern science and technology. As you emerge from the exhibit, you exit feeling small, humble, and insignificant.

Little wonder that the psalmist, gazing heavenward, asked the question, “ What is man that you take not/ce of him, or the son ofman that you care for him?” (Psalm 8)

As I emerged from the Haydn, that great Christian Hymn rang out in my heart. “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder; Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee. How great thou art! How great thou art!”

And so it is with Easter.

Another great mystery looms before us. The mystery of Easter stands at the centerpiece of the Christian faith. Yet is a mystery that entirely inaccessible to human reason. It is a mystery that leaves us breathless, awestruck, and grasping for words.

In speaking of this mystery of Easter, therefore, the Church in her wisdom first proposes not some complicated theology, or lofty theory, or an arcane dogma or unreachable doctrine.

She presents the person of Jesus Christ as firstborn from the dead, the Word made flesh, and splendor of the Father.

She presents Jesus as the first Word, the last Word, the only Word, the living Word, and the very incarnation of our Father’s love!

St. Paul cuts to the chase by blunt and unadorned preaching—”If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain, and so too your faith is in vain.” (1Cor 15:14)

Pope Francis proclaims, “The Risen One, Jesus Christ, does not belong to the past, but to the present,” here, today, and now. For he is alive…he is present as a force of hope for every person in the Church. He is here for you and for me.

  • Here is here for us as we walk in the shadow of death, confronted by mortality and aware of the fragility and brevity of our lives. He comes to us as life itself! His death at Calvary is our ransom from death, and through our Baptism, we hold a passport through the gates of everlasting life.
  • For those who feel that their live is adrift, marked by uncertainty and doubt, because of Christ’s Resurrection, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of fife” The Easter Liturgy sings our, “He is the Morning Star that never sets.” He is the light of the Sun—God’s Son, guiding you and me into the arms of the Father.
  • To those who labor under the weight of guilt, or live life burdened down of past remembrances of sin, He is there for you. He is the Divine Physician, the Healer of Souls, the embodiment of compassion and rich in mercy. He is calling us by name to and offering us peace and rest.
  • For those whose lives are marked by fear and anxiety, He also speaks to you. The words of St. Francis Xavier are healing balm for our souls—”Do not fear what will happen tomorrow, for the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”
  • For those who have been evading him, avoiding Him, holding Him at a distance, keeping him at bay, those whose commitment to the faith has been marked by mediocrity, or marred by complacency, Jesus is calling you, standing at the door of your heart, awaiting you with a life-changing life-giving embrace. Come to him. Receive him anew on this holy day.

Easter is time for a personal, life-changing encounter with the Resurrected Lord.

Easter faith means accepting, by personal decision, Christ’s saving sovereignty and becoming his disciple. It is living in full communion with the Church that He founded on the shoulders of the Apostles.

Easter is a time of grace and glory. It is the time to meet face to face with greatest mystery of all—the Resurrected Person of Jesus Christ, who has broken the bonds of death, broken the back of sin, and redeemed us thought the Blood of the Cross.

This great mystery of Easter! This is why we gather joyfully on this holiest of nights.

To proclaim with full voices and hope filled lives:

“Christ yesterday and today,

The beginning and the end,

The Alpha and the Omega,

All time belongs to him and all the ages! 

To him be glory and power through every age, forever and ever. Amen.”

2014_04_10 Chrism Mass

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.

On May 13th, 2007, the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean gathered is the city of Aparecida, Brazil for an important two-week assembly.

The reasons for their gathering were urgent and compelling.

The Church of Latin America was at a critical crossroads. It was facing urgent problems both from within and outside her walls. The Church was experiencing unprecedented attrition among the ranks of the faithful–a once deeply Catholic people affiliating in significant numbers with emerging Pentecostal communities. It was witnessing new waves of violence, largely related to drug and human trafficking, violence that was tearing apart the fabric stable family life. The Church was seeing an ever-widening chasm between the rich and the poor, with whole segments of the population living in daily misery. It was experiencing the ascent of atheism and secularism, a secularism that proved hostile to religion and to deeply-held Christian values.

“As pastors of the Church,” the Bishops wrote, “we wish to walk alongside our people at this challenging time, so as to inspire them always with hope and comfort.”

Fully engaged in that Aparecida Conference was a certain Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aries, Argentina—of course, the future Pope Francis.

The Aparecida Document which emerged from that Conference, some 190 pages in length, was largely the work of his hands. Cardinal Bergoglio was the mastermind behind this pastoral blueprint. It contains a vision born of his in vivo pastoral experience as shepherd and bishop, as priest and religious superior, and as missionary among the poor.

Aparecida was a clarion call to the Church of Latin America, a mandatum, a lodestar for guiding the Church of Latin American and the Caribbean through turbulent waters to a more peaceful harbor.

Aparecida drew its force from the power of the Gospel, from the teachings of Vatican II, and from the real life experiences of a diocesan bishop. It was a powerful prescription for treating the spiritual malaise coursing through the body of the Latin America Church.

In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that Aparecida is the source document and framework for the Pope’s first Pastoral Exhortation, called Evangelii Gaudium—the Joy of the Gospel.

Taken together, these companion documents gives us a glimpse into the future of the wider Church, a foretaste of things to come, and a vehicle for local Churches like our own to forge a path into the future, a path that will aid us in living out our commitment as joyful, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

On this Chrism day, 2014, it is accurate to say that the Church of Helena is also at a critical crossroads. We are facing one of or perhaps the most serious crises in our century-old history, a crisis that stems from broken trust, public scandal, ill-advised decisions, shattered lives, and wounded hearts.

During the past 32 months, I have been personally consoled by the words of the famous Dr. Elizabeth Kubler- Ross, when she wrote: “If we could see that everything, even tragedy, is a gift in disguise, we would then find the best way to nourish our soul.” A blessing in disguise is indeed hard to come by when the waves of a tempestuous sea are buffeting the ship. Still, I believe that her observations are sage and accurate.

Chrism Day, 2014, is the time and the moment to recall, reclaim, and renew our deepest identity as disciples of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician and Healer of souls.

The late Archbishop Oscar Romero once counseled his people, “It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view, for the kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.”

Chrism Day 2014 is just such a time, time to step back, to take a deep breath, and to take the long view.

To the entire community of gathered at Chrism Liturgy, lay, ordained, religious, I say this to you: We have been washed in the waters of Baptism, and anointed in the Chrism of Salvation. Our Baptism gives us a shared spiritual DNA, a common purpose, a common love, and a common destiny.

Chrism Day helps us to remember our most fundamental identity as beloved sons and daughters of God, a people commissioned to be heralds of that Good News of Salvation. Aparecida and Evangelii Gauduim speak clearly and loudly to our diocesan Church.

First and foremost, and in spite of our travails, we are to be a missionary Church, the bearer of Good News for others, a Church whose very heart is open wide to new generations of Catholics. We are to feed others copiously on Word, Sacrament, and lavishing them with words of encouragement, compassion and hope.

A Church which becomes self-enclosed, self-referential soon becomes a Church that is diseased and eventually immobilized.   In the words of Pope Francis, “A Church that merely protects its small flock, or gives all or most of its attention to its faithful clientele, is a Church that soon becomes sick.”

In the face of our travails, we cannot afford to wallow in self-pity, or become immobilized by financial hardships or limitations. We are already that poor Church that Pope Francis describes with so much affection, and we have gotten there with little effort!

Following the vision of Pope Francis, we must stand in the ready to dispense the medicine of mercy with careless abandon, and be agents of healing and reconciliation. As we continue to address the pressing issues of our day, I hold that the values of mercy, reconciliation, transparency, and humility will serve us far better than prolonged litigation and pugnacity. Healing and reconciliation are the Church’s strong suit.

Pope Francis has written, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets,” writes Pope Francis, “rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Nor are we to forsake our special solidarity with the poor and suffering, at home in mission lands. Suffering can harden the heart and make it cynical, or through the light of the Gospel, it can make us more compassionate and attentive to the needs of the poor. We must opt for the latter for the Diocese of Helena.

For the laity gathered here, Chrism Mass is a time to recall your commission to be the leaven of God’s love in society, or in the words of Pope Francis, “to create and to sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit, but from your everyday life.”

Pope Pius XII once wrote, “You, the laity, are ‘on the front lines’”, and charged to carry the Gospel into culture and community. I challenge you to learn and to make your own the values of Catholic Social Teaching.

I also ask you to never underestimate your power to evangelize others by the force of your example and through personal invitations to “come and see.” You are essential to the life and mission of the Church.

To our Deacon Community, the foundation of your ministry is to be servant of all, with a preferential option for the poor. Your ministry of Word and service at the Altar are to result in “applied compassion,” both in the parish and beyond the parish boundaries and your personal comfort zone. You are to be the “eyes, ears of the bishop,” always asking, “Who is not at the table?” and “How can we include them in mission and ministry?” Please know how deeply valued your diaconal ministry is in this local Church.

Religious women and men, you offer depth, color, and texture to the Diocesan Church through your prayerful presence and by living out the great evangelical counsels. You serve this Church through a wide variety of ministries, including chaplaincy and pastoral work, administration, archives management, liturgy, nursing and teaching, just to name a few. Your communities are directly responsible for establishing the social infrastructure in most Dioceses, including our own, especially through the founding of schools, hospitals, and social services. You continue to serve in season and out of season, and in ways that are often unsung and acknowledged. We cannot find words to adequately convey our gratitude.

To my brother priests, please know how deeply loved you are by me and by our people. You are essential to the life of the Church, and you bless this Diocese with an astounding array of gifts and talents.

You are my beloved brothers and closest collaborators, indispensable to my ministry as pastor and shepherd.

At the same time, you have suffered greatly in recent months under the lens of public scrutiny, cynicism, and suspicion.

Yes, we have been chastened and brought low. But we also share by virtue of our vocation in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, and we labor under the weight of the Cross. This is part of gospel living, and the cost of discipleship.

In the words of St. Paul, “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying about in the body of the dying Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” (2Cor. 4:9)

The present moment give us cause to rededicate ourselves to integrity of life, clarity of purpose, and purity of heart, and to proclaim with our lives our sincere sorrow for those whose lives and very souls have been damaged by the failings of our brothers.

None of this will be possible, of course, without being a spiritually rich and prayerful presbyterate—the kind our people both desire and deserve.

I ask you to renew your commitment to prayer, and develop a strong sense of “downward mobility,” rooting deeply in your respective communities. Have not only the heart of the Shepherd, but also “the smell of the sheep.”

Evangelii Gaudium underscores the importance of good preaching and prayerfully prepared liturgy.

Pope Francis insists on a priestly ministry that takes us beyond the confines of the office and the security of the sacristy, into the company of our people, especially those on the margins of life.

Evangelii Gaudium and Aparecida envision local Churches where the Gospel of Joy is awakened in the hearts of every believer, regardless of their state in life. They inspire us to be renewed in Spirit, and to plan for a future full of hope! Working together, we envision :

  • Lively parishes that are faithful and credible, nourished daily on the Word of God and the Eucharist;
  • Communities where discipleship is lived with joy and conviction, and every person is a missionary of Jesus Christ;
  • The promotion of a mature laity in their mission of making visible the Kingdom of God;
  • A Church that impels the active participation of women in society and in the Church;
  • Accompanying the youth in their formation and search for identity, vocation and mission;
  • Interfaith and ecumenical dialogue in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect;
  • The diocese as a model of reconciliation, justice and peace;
  • A community that embraces the poor and vulnerable and welcomes them at the Table of the Lord.

Let this Chrism Day be a time of renewal, rededication, replenishment, rejoicing, and holy remembering—remembering that we have been Baptized in the Spirit and anointed with the Chrism of Salvation.

Therefore, we can move into the future confidently and unafraid. For we walk in the presence of the Risen Lord, commissioned to preach and teach in His name, the name the One who is ever in our midst “as one who serves.”