An overflow crowd filled the Holy Rosary Church in Lander as the western half of the Diocese of Cheyenne gathered to anticipate the opening of the Year of Faith. 

I must admit, it felt a bit strange celebrating this Mass today prior to our Holy Father formally inaugurating this Year of Faith, but mother nature and distance challenge us here in the great state of Wyoming for diocesan-wide celebrations.  So, today, the two deaneries of the western half of the state ‘anticipated’ the opening…sort of like a Saturday evening Vigil Mass for Sunday.

Next Saturday, the other three deaneries will gather in Casper for our Year of Faith celebration in the eastern half of the state and diocese.  Despite a bit of snow in several parts of the state overnight and cold temps this morning, people braved the elements for what turned out to be a great celebration and a clear blue sky afternoon.

Nearly 100 youth showed for the youth rally and as already stated, the church was overflowing!  It is heartwarming to see so many make the sacrifice and effort to come together to celebrate our Faith!

The homily from today’s Mass is below.  Pics will no doubt follow.

Year of Faith Anticipation Mass, Homily

As we gather today, we anticipate the beginning of the Year of Faith, which our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI will inaugurate on Thursday this week.  This Year of Faith is a year to both give thanks for and to reflect upon the fruits of the Second Vatican Council as well as the publishing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  For us here in Wyoming, it marks the conclusion of our 125 year as a Diocese. 

Stated briefly, this year is a time for all people of faith to be renewed in our life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.  One of the documents of the Second Vatican Council teaches: “the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man’s history is to be found in her Lord and Master.”  (Cf CSDC #31, Gaudium et Spes 10)

As Christ renews us in the life we share with and through Him, we are called to live our faith not only in the eyes of God, but in the sight of our neighbors.  (St. Ambrose) 

Quoting again from the same Council document, Gaudium et Spes (N. 3) we see the effect of living a consistent life of faith as:  “…bringing the light kindled from the Gospel and putting at the disposal of the human race the saving resources which the Church has received from her Founder under the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  It is man himself who must be saved; it is human society which must be renewed.”  This is precisely what the Year of Faith calls us to accomplish; personal growth in holiness for the renewal of society, for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Our readings today remind us that we are not individuals making our way through this world alone.  We all have our origin in God.  God carries each human person through this worldly journey of faith. (Deuteronomy 1:31)  The Opening Prayer from today’s Mass provides a courageous hope for this Year of Faith as we ask the Father to “give what prayer does not dare to seek.”  What else could this be but the transforming communion with God offered us through the redeeming love of Jesus Christ?

The Book of Genesis reminds us that the human person is not created for an isolated journey through life.  The human person is created for relationship, for communion, for love.  Ultimately, we are created for relationship and communion with God through Jesus Christ.  God in the beginning created man and woman for a communion of love that is to mirror the communion of love God desires to share with each person.  This love of husband and wife is described as so intimate that the two become one flesh.  As man and woman find a suitable partner in each other, God indeed is The “suitable partner” for each of us.  The Year of Faith is an invitation to allow God to rekindle this communion of love with us, for to walk in this love of God is to allow the “Lord to bless us all the days of our lives.”  (Psalm 128)

Several years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited Memphis.  During her visit, she asked then Bishop Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB to pray for her.  She asked very specifically that he pray for her during the preparation of the gifts as he poured the drop of water into the chalice of wine.  She asked: “Pray that as the drop of water disappears and becomes one with the wine, so may I disappear that people may see only Jesus in me and my love for the poor.”  Blessed Mother Teresa understood the mystery of becoming ‘one flesh’ with Jesus through the Eucharist.

Today’s readings give a rich understanding of the dignity and sanctity of marriage.  The Book of Genesis and Jesus in the Gospel remind us that God is the origin and designer of marriage.  “In the beginning,” God brought man and woman together, and what God has joined, no man can separate.  We might add today, no government can redefine. 

Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding when he changed water into wine.  This miracle in some sense takes place at each Mass, as the water is mixed with wine, ‘becomes one’ with the wine, and through the prayer of the priest and the Church, the wine becomes the Blood of Christ.  This drop of water in the wine in some sense represents all of humanity and God’s desire that we be transformed and intimately one with Christ.

The Word who became flesh for our sake, unites us to himself in each reception of the Eucharist, so that we might find our origin, our identity, our destiny and fullest expression in Him.  Through the Eucharist, Jesus draws us more deeply into communion with him.  It is precisely this life and communion with Christ that we are called to live more fully during this Year of Faith.  In the Eucharist, we ‘become one flesh’ with Christ.

Interestingly in today’s Gospel, after Jesus teaches about God’s original design of marriage, Jesus begins to speak about children.  “Let the children come to me.”  This is not coincidental.  Clearly, one of the main goods and purposes of marriage is that the “one flesh union” of man and woman be a co-creative act with God to bring more children into the family of God.  That is why the Church has always taught that every act of marital love is to be open to life.

The Letter to the Hebrews today teaches us that Jesus is bringing many children to glory, and that we all have one origin.  It is only through Christ and faith in Him that we become true children of God; that we become the one family of God.  In His Letter calling for this Year of Faith, our Holy Father writes:

“1. The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.” (Porta Fidei)

The Year of Faith calls us to the humility of children that we might enter the Kingdom of God.  The Year of Faith calls us to a consistent and courageous practice of faith in the public square.  The Year of Faith challenges us to make no compromises in living and professing our faith.  The Year of Faith calls us to build the Kingdom of God by creating a culture of life, a life that finds its origin in the Creator of all life, Jesus Christ. 

In a message to the assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action this summer, the Holy Father wrote:  “Co-responsibility demands a change in mindset especially concerning the role of the lay people in the Church.  They should not be regarded as “collaborators” of the clergy, but, rather, as people who are really “co-responsible” for the Church’s being and acting.”  He goes on to quote the Vatican II Document, Lumen Gentium:  “Many benefits for the Church are to be expected from this familiar relationship between the laity and the pastors.  The sense of their own responsibility is strengthened in the laity, their zeal is encouraged, and they are more ready to unite their energies to the work of their pastors.  The latter, helped by the experience of the laity, are in a position to judge more clearly and more appropriately in spiritual as well as in temporal matters.  Strengthened by all her members, the Church can thus more effectively fulfill her mission for the life of the world” (n. 37) (L’Osservatore Romano August 29, 2012)  What a beautiful description of Church as the one family of God.

The Prayer after Communion in today’s Mass invites us to “be transformed into what we consume.”  The Letter to the Hebrews today teaches that “Jesus is consecrating us.”  The Year of Faith is a call and challenge to be transformed by our life in Christ, indeed to become “another Christ.”  The Year of Faith holds out to us the grace to become “one flesh” with him who took on flesh that we might be redeemed, renewed, and recreated into the one family of God.

Today, I invite the people of the Diocese of Cheyenne to renew their practice of the faith.  Return to Christ through regular celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.  Return to Christ through regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Return to Christ in the sacramental love of Holy Matrimony.  Return to Christ in Eucharistic Adoration.  Return to Christ through devotion to His Blessed Mother and praying the rosary.  Return to Christ by living an uncompromising and consistent faith in the public square.  Return to Christ by loving God and loving your neighbor. 

In short, this Year of Faith is a call to renew one of the great themes of the Second Vatican Council, namely, all of us are called to holiness.  All of us are called to be saints.  Let this be our goal.  Holiness is nothing short of being united to Christ.  United to Christ, He will renew His Church.  United to Christ, He will renew the society of our age; He will renew the face of the earth.

Please God, may it be so!