The Most Powerful Prayer

Homily, Trinity Sunday B

One single prayer has probably been said more often than any other in the history of the world. And this prayer is so powerful, that it has been the occasion of countless healings of mind and body; it has the power to cast out demons and to overcome all the false power of Satan in the Church’s exorcisms; and in Baptism and Confession, this prayer transforms sinners destined for the everlasting flames of hell, into the children of God, to become “joint heirs with Christ” and the Saints in that kingdom that has no end. This prayer is also so simple, that it is likely the first prayer that we learn as Catholics. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As I say the words of this prayer, your hand probably moves without thinking, because most often we pray this, as the Sign of the Cross. We might not even think of the Sign of the Cross as being a real prayer, because it is just something we do before and after saying other prayers, or as we come into church, but the Sign of the Cross is really one of the most powerful prayers that we ever say.

A good practice that some of us might have is to pray the Sign of the Cross before and after almost everything we do, when we wake up in the morning and before we go to sleep, as we begin driving in our cars and in thanksgiving for safe travels when we arrive at our destination, when we begin our work or any particular task and when we complete it. How would our lives change if everything we did and everything we thought or said would be done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to do something in the name of someone or something else? To stop/ in the name of love, or to experiment in the name of science, or to command in the name of the law. The phrase usually means to do something on someone else’s behalf or by their authority. Now it seems incredible that we would be able to do anything on behalf of God or by His own authority, but this is what we are called to do as Christians, to work more and more according to God’s will for our lives, to become His coworkers, to cooperate with God in a real sense, as He works within us and around us, according to His power, wisdom, and love.

The theology of the Trinity can seem difficult to understand, one God in three Persons, and as a mystery, we can never fully comprehend God’s own inner life, but by revealing himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three Persons always in mutual relationship with one another, God invites us to share in that relationship, in that love and fellowship, so that we all might be united in him. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that genuine cooperation is possible, that distinct persons can work together as one, without rivalry and without ceasing to be who each one is, without the destruction of any one of them in favor of the others.

The unity that we see in God is the model for unity in all creation and especially in our human family. No matter how different we are from one another, and some of us are really different, but as a Christian, I am called to love my neighbor as myself, to love my neighbor as another self, to know that we’re all on the same team and that your good and health and happiness are bound up with my own, that we are in relationship to one another, whether we acknowledge it or not, and whether we like it or not.

When Jesus was asked in the Gospels to specify, “Who is my neighbor?” He replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan. At that time, for the Jews, the Samaritans were their sworn enemies. No matter who it is or what group of people we can’t stand, we are called to love them, to love them “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” because it is only by the power of God that we can overcome the divisions that exist within our human family.

During this upcoming week, I encourage all of us to pray more often and with greater attention the Sign of the Cross, this most powerful prayer. When we are in the midst of temptation, may it remind us of God’s presence and the power that He gives us to overcome sin in our lives. When our mind is racing with anxiety or anger, may the Sign of the Cross calm our thoughts and bring upon us the peace of God which surpasses understanding. When we become cynical and focused only on the negative aspects of life, may this prayer lift our eyes to see the countless blessings around us. At all times and in every place, may we strive with all the saints to think, say, and do everything “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Beneath the Cross

By Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P.

“Ecce Mater Tua. ‘And He gave him to His Mother.’ This sounds like a prelude to the sweetest words ever uttered on Calvary. For how else could He give a son to His mother but by saying, ‘Woman, behold thy son?’ (John 19:26).

“The Catholic tradition on the meaning of these words gives us a fair idea of Our Blessed Lady’s place in Tradition. From the first times, I believe, these words were taken to mean that Our Divine Lord on the Cross had two thoughts in His poor suffering mind. He was a son; thus He thought of His Mother. He was a Saviour, and He thought of sinners. The longing to see His Mother’s grief stayed made Him give her St. John as her son; now He Himself was leaving her. The longing to comfort His shepherdless flock made Him give His own Mother to be their Mother. You may deny this tradition and say it is untrue; but you cannot deny that for hundreds of years it was held to be true; and you have a hard task before you to prove that your opinion of the nineteenth century is truer than the constant opinion of the second and third centuries.”

As quoted in Daily Readings in Catholic Classics, edited by Fr. Rawley Myers

The Greater Works of the Holy Spirit

Homily, Pentecost B

Being on the road with Bishop Swain, I regularly witness the Sacrament of Confirmation, and I often think back to the day that I was confirmed, now more than twelve years ago. It was on Divine Mercy Sunday of 2006, with the same verses from John’s Gospel as what we just heard proclaimed, along with the rest of the story of doubting Thomas. As that was during the time when we were between bishops, I was confirmed by my Pastor, Fr. David Roehrich. More important, though, than any of these details is the reality that is communicated to us through the Sacrament of Confirmation.

How many of us, do you think—at the time of our Confirmation—how many of us really believed that we were receiving the very same Holy Spirit as the Apostles on the day of Pentecost? That same Fire from on high that compelled the Apostles to spread the Gospel to all the ends of the earth? How many of us were consciously aware that God was pouring out upon us in our Baptism and Confirmation the same Holy Spirit that allowed the Apostles even to rejoice in their sufferings, in being jailed, scourged, and put on trial, for refusing to be silent about Jesus Christ? God has no other Spirit to give, and we do not receive Him in any diminished form. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that those who believe in Him will do the works that He Himself did, and they will do greater works. What are these greater works, and do we ever really witness them still today among the followers of Christ?

Often, when we read the Gospel accounts or other parts of Scripture, what we find most conspicuous are the miracles, those signs and wonders that Jesus performs by the power of the Holy Spirit, and even the Apostles in the book of Acts are able to do some of the very same things, or perhaps even greater things. Jesus healed someone when they touched just the hem of His garment. But compare this to the people who were healed as St. Peter merely passed by and as his shadow fell upon them. Or those who were healed by receiving handkerchiefs that St. Paul had touched. But even these miraculous, physical healings are merely signs of the greater spiritual healing that God wants for us, the forgiveness of sins. In the Gospel we just heard, above all other works of the Holy Spirit, Jesus bestows upon His Apostles the authority to forgive sins.

What would happen, later in life, for each and every one of those who were physically healed by Jesus or the Apostles? Have we ever thought about the rest of the story? At some point as time went on, each and every one of them would grow old, perhaps become ill again, and eventually die. So beyond any physical healing and temporary relief from suffering, what happens in the Sacrament of Confession is far greater and more lasting. In Confession, souls that had merited the everlasting death of hell are restored to the life of grace and communion with God. But this is not the only “greater work” that the Holy Spirit has for us today.

Despite what we know by faith about eternal life and spiritual realities, many of us can still feel disappointed that God doesn’t often choose to perform miraculous physical healings through our hands or through our prayers. We all know people who could benefit from miracles, afflicted with various diseases and limitations. But again, what is really the greater work? That God would heal someone physically through your presence, that He would take away the symptom of some physical discomfort and pain, temporarily?

Or, in an age when so many people around us are pushing for euthanasia, for “mercy” killing, and selective abortions, is it not a far greater work of the Holy Spirit that God would be able to use us today to continue to affirm the value of each and every human life? That life doesn’t have to be perfect or free from pain to have infinite value. That regardless of someone’s condition or level of productivity, they still are in the image of God to us and worthy of our time, attention, and unconditional love. That human suffering can have meaning and value, when borne patiently and joined to the saving Cross of Christ. That those who are sick are not the only ones who benefit from a visit, but those who care for the sick actually receive more than they are able to give.

This is some of the “greater work” that the Holy Spirit is calling us and enabling us to engage in today, to speak and to act prophetically in the face of a culture of death. This is the power of God that He entrusts to each and every one of us, to say to every person that we meet, no matter what their status, their ability or inability, to say to each one, “You are loved by God. God longs for you and wants to spend eternity with you.” Our life on this earth is short. May the Holy Spirit always be preparing us and those around us, to live for ever.

Holy Spirit, Come Consume Us

Bulletin Letter, Pentecost B

I’ve always been fascinated by fire. As I was growing up, I could sit for a long time just watching the flames dance in our fireplace at home. And fire has always been my favorite image of the Holy Spirit, who appeared to Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost and filled them with zeal and courage to proclaim the Gospel of Christ throughout the world. Fire is not very balanced or moderate. It is not politically correct. Fire is not interested in negotiation. Instead, it seeks to completely consume everything it touches. The Holy Spirit wants to consume us, completely, making us a pure offering to God—not on our own terms, but according to the will of God. He wants to purify all our thoughts, words, actions, and desires.

I’d like to say that I’ve made this my life’s mission, to spread the Fire of the Holy Spirit and the Truth of Jesus Christ to everyone I meet, but at the same time, I know how far I fall short, how much of myself that I continue to hold back from the Fire of God. But God doesn’t ask us to serve Him with half or even most of our heart and mind. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30; Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

I’m not interested in adding to the already staggering number of mediocre Catholics. The world doesn’t need any more. Instead, I want to “fan into flame the gift of God” that we received at our Baptism and on the day of our Confirmation, that we might burn with love and knowledge of Him and give ourselves entirely (2 Timothy 1:6). If we think we’re just going to gently coast into heaven at the end of our lives, I think we’ll all be in for a rather rude awakening. “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Source of God’s creation, has this to say: ‘I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth’” (Revelation 3:14-16).

Following Christ is serious business. Let’s keep at it, “for our God is a consuming Fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

Ready for Heaven?

Homily, Ascension B

It’s a common saying—and it’s true—that the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. I often think of this when I’m on the road with Bishop, calculating the fastest route to Spearfish or Pierre or so many other destinations, and how much faster it would be to fly there. Unfortunately, there’s rarely a road that goes directly from Sioux Falls to any of these other cities. Besides actual travel, the saying that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line also makes me think of mowing lawns.

As I was growing up, we mowed quite a few lawns as a family, and as best as I could manage, I wanted the grass to look good when we finished, so I always tried to make straight lines with the wheels of the lawn mower. Well anyone here who has attempted such a feat knows how difficult that can be, especially when there are bumps in the lawn and different obstacles to go around. But someone once told me that the best way to get a straight line when mowing is just to pick a spot on the opposite end of the lawn, keep your eyes fixed on that spot, and walk toward it, or if you’re on a riding lawn mower, to steer toward it. Amazingly, in my experience, this strategy proves to be pretty effective, at least much more effective than staring down at just the part that I’m about to cut, which usually leaves a line with lots of curves and variations.

So often in our spiritual lives, too, we get so caught up and focused on the here and now, all the problems and stresses of this life, that we forget to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on the One who already shares in heavenly glory and calls us to Himself. We end up running in circles around the very same problems, the very same sins, every day, every week, every year, without making much progress towards our final goal. For all of us as Catholic Christians, our destination should be the same, the eternal life of heaven. And the straight and narrow Way to get to heaven is the same for each one of us, because Jesus is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

As we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into the glory of heaven, what are the ways that we have failed to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to see our way through the problems that we face, instead of just becoming stuck in them? How often do we really think about heaven? What it will be like? And how to order our desires towards the life of heaven? At the end of our lives, I truly believe that God will give us what we want. But if we go throughout our lives without much of a commitment or desire for prayer, if we can’t be bothered to really spend any time alone with God during this life, what makes us think we’re going to suddenly want to spend an eternity with Him in heaven at the end of our lives?

Heaven is not just some generic happiness, a country club or bar for God’s favorites. Heaven is a continual growth in the knowledge of and enjoyment of God Himself. If we still love any thing more than we love God, we’re not ready yet. If we still love anyone else or even ourselves more than we love God, we’re not ready. The time to prepare ourselves for heaven is now, the opportunity to fix our eyes upon Christ who goes before us and who wants to lead us by the shortest and straightest path to the glory that awaits us. Keep your eyes fixed upon Him, and walk, just as He did.