Generous Distributors of God’s Grace
A pastoral letter to the people of the Diocese of Cheyenne regarding marriage, family and vocations
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:10-11
In January, 2015, the Diocese of Cheyenne will embark upon a new set of priorities as set forth in our strategic plan. One of those priorities is an intensified renewal of prayer, energy and creativity regarding the promotion of priestly and religious vocations for and from this Diocese. The other priority calls us to greater support of the nobility and sanctity of marriage and family. Recently, this passage from one of St. Peter’s pastoral letters caught my attention as a fruitful way to instruct us in our pursuit of this goal.
Every one of us, through baptism and the other sacraments of the Church, have received ‘manifold’ graces from God. We are called to be good ‘stewards’ of this grace and the many gifts God bestows on us. (See Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19: 11-27; Luke 16:1-13)
Call to Holiness
A common element of being generous distributors of these gifts of God is being in relationship with God and cooperating with God’s goodness in such a way that we grow in holiness. As Christians, we grow in relationship with God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, I invite each member of every household of the Diocese of Cheyenne to give renewed attention to our relationship with Jesus.
As Christians, we are members of the Church through baptism. Our strategic plan renews our attention to God’s call, and invites us to live faithfully and joyfully the divine life Christ shares with us through the Church and the sacraments. The Church is the Body of Christ, so the Church is holy. As members of the Church we are called to be holy. We do this by being good stewards of the grace given us by Christ. We grow in holiness when we serve one another with the gifts given us by God.
A document of Vatican II,
the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,
teaches us about our common call to holiness:
Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness
, according to the saying of the Apostle: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”.(1 Thessalonians 4:3) However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called “evangelical.” (#39) … The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. (#40)
We, as members of the Body of Christ, will, in these coming months, give closer attention to the grace that God has poured into our hearts. We will pay close attention to the presence and action of Christ and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will strive to grow in holiness and commit ourselves to serve one another with the gifts we have received!
Life Lived as ‘Gift’ to Others
Our life in Christ, our being disciples of Christ, leads us to live our life as Christ lived, namely, in obedience to the Father’s will, in humble, loving service of others. Jesus is very clear and sober about the demands of discipleship: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus summarized the Law in the following manner: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 2: 37-39)
Clearly, the mature Christian life is lived for others. Our love for God is made concrete in our care and concern and generous service of God’s family. This requires steady faith, obedience to the truth, great love, self-discipline, and trust in God’s mercy and providential care. We are called to support one another in this call to selfless service of God and the Church. Husbands and wives need our support as they strive to give themselves faithfully to one another and to their families. Our priests need our prayers and encouraging support as they minister among us while trying to be faithful and joyful in the private witness of their day-to-day lives. Young people need our encouragement as they hear Christ’s invitation to follow and serve Him in their respective vocations.
Jesus said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with more, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)
Marriage and Family
From the very beginning, man and woman were created for a special bond with God. God created man and woman and entrusted all creation to their care. God has made the human person to be a partner with him. God’s desire to create man and woman in his own likeness bestows a dignity upon the human person which extends through every generation. Man and woman were not created in isolation, but in relationship to God and all of God’s creation.
The truth of the relational nature of the human person is reflected most intimately in the love of husband and wife. By nature, God created man and woman to find their ‘completeness’ in each other. “The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him … the man said: ‘This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’” (Genesis 2:18,23)
Adam and Eve are the culmination of God’s creation, through whom God brings forth the human family.
The family is the basic cell of society. It is the cradle of life and love, the place in which the individual "is born" and "grows". (St. Pope John Paul II,
On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World
Family: Seedbed of the Church
It is fortuitous that our strategic plan brings together at the same time attention to marriage, family, and vocations. Families are the seedbed of all vocations. Marriage, family and vocations are so intertwined that it is appropriate to give our attention and energy to these components of our faith life at the same time. The interdependence of marriage, family and religion is expressed nicely in an article written by Dr. Michael Naughton and co-authors:
The importance of the family, however, cannot be discussed without the importance of religion, since the health of one is fundamentally dependent on the health of the other. When people turn from religion, they also turn from having families; when people have families, they turn to religion and religious communities for support. (
Reconnecting Family and Faith in Business; A Family Point of View on Human Ecology
Michael Naughton, Ken Goodpaster and Ritch Sorenson)
Where would this world be without the love of husbands and wives? How can the human family, God’s family, continue without marriage and family? The family is called the domestic church. It is within the family that each person comes to know herself as loved, and within the family that each person first begins to learn the faith. Naturally, the seeds of every vocation are sown in the home and nourished by the broader family of faith found in every parish.
Families have to stick together. Families have to pull together. Families have to stay together. A stable society depends upon stable families. Stable families depend upon strong marriages. Strong marriages depend upon moral and sexual fidelity. Fidelity and morals flow from the truth given us in the person and teachings of Jesus. Thus, individuals, families, and marriages also need the Church.
As a diocesan bishop, I have responsibility to provide good shepherds for all of our parishes and missions. As parishioners of these parishes and missions, you have a deep desire for good and holy priests. We need to work together to make sure that we have plenty of well qualified young men entering the seminary, preparing today to be our priests for tomorrow. The quality of the shepherds depends directly upon their wholeness and wholesomeness as persons, qualities that are best ensured by cultivation in healthy, loving, wholesome families.
As a diocese, we have a long history of priests coming from other dioceses to serve us. In the past, the vast majority of these priests came from Ireland. Today, they are coming from Asia, Africa, and South America. We are very grateful for these priests and their willingness to leave their families and homes to share their priestly lives and ministries with us. It is very evident, that without them, we would not be able to provide properly for the sacramental and pastoral needs of our people.
At the same time, we cannot continue to rely upon the generosity of other bishops and dioceses to send us their priests. We have grown a great deal as a diocese since our founding in 1877, and we have now matured to the point where we can and must call forth the sons of our own families and parishes to shepherd us as priests.
The Consecrated Life
Another strong indicator of the promptings of the Holy Spirit and God’s Providence in the timing of our priorities is that Pope Francis has proclaimed this year as a Year of Consecrated Life. As our Holy Father has said, men and women religious through their consecrated lives and dedication to the Lord should be able to “Wake the world up!” God still calls men and women today to this joyful way of life, in which He calls them to be singularly devoted to Him.
This singular devotion of the religious is captured by Pope Francis in these words:
It is Christ who called you to follow him in the consecrated life and this means continuously making an ‘exodus’ from yourselves in order to center your life on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, laying aside your own plans, in order to say with St Paul:
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me
2:20). (Pope Francis,
Address to the Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General,
Rome, May 8, 2013)
In 2003, a new community of Carmelite Monks was founded here in Wyoming. The Monks of Mt. Carmel, for the most part hidden from the world, are an ordinary group of men seeking to live an extraordinary form of religious life. They are a vivid sign in our midst that the Holy Spirit is still raising up new orders within religious life for the needs of today’s Church and world. This means that God is still calling young women and men today to live the evangelical counsels (poverty, obedience, chastity) as their particular path to salvation. The singular devotion to the Lord of consecrated persons is a path to salvation not only for themselves, but for the whole Church in its common pilgrimage toward God’s kingdom. Religious help keep our eye on the ball, so to speak. Their presence in our local Church is important. Men and women religious are members of the family of the Church, and we pray that this local portion of God’s family be made whole as young people from Wyoming answer God’s particular call for religious witness and service in our Diocese.
There are presently only nine women religious living and active in Wyoming, but their presence and prayers remain powerful and the witness of their lives is an encouragement and hope to us all. We are grateful for their witness and we pray for those young men and women among us whom God is calling to the consecrated life.
The Role of Parents, Families, Parishes: Recognizing “The Call”
Most of us are probably familiar with the bible story of young Samuel. Samuel’s mother prayed in the temple for a child, more specifically, for a son. In her prayer, she promised that if God would bless her with a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord “all the days of his life.” (1 Samuel 1: 11) God heard and answered her prayer, and young Samuel was born. True to her word, Hannah took her son after he was weaned and presented him to Eli in the temple of the Lord. The prayer she offered at that time (1 Samuel 2:1-10) is echoed years later in the Magnificat of the Blessed Mother during her pregnancy and visit to her cousin, Elizabeth.
These women of faith, Hannah, Mary and Elizabeth, demonstrate the profound understanding that all life is a gift from God and that each child conceived comes from the hand of God. These women of faith still speak to us today, instructing us that every child has a path to follow according to God’s will. We pray for continued openness to life in all of our married couples, and for a faith-filled understanding and openness to
for every child. The Church continually needs faith-filled husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, who are generous in bringing new members into God’s family, who prayerfully discern with their children God’s providential will for each of their lives.
As the story of young Samuel continues, we hear the famous call of God as it was heard and eventually understood in his life. One day while Samuel was asleep in the temple, the Lord spoke to the young boy. He answered “Here I am.” He ran to Eli, thinking it was he who called him. Eli told him, “I did not call you. Go back to sleep.” After this happened three times, Eli finally realized that it was the Lord calling the young boy, so he told him: “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:9)
Eli’s role in helping young Samuel hear and understand God’s call is the role we are to play in helping our young people hear and answer God’s call in their lives. God speaks in the depths of every human heart. God’s love is “stronger than death, its arrows are arrows of fire, flames of the divine. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away.” (See Song of Songs 8:6-7) It is not only our responsibility to aid our young people in understanding God’s mysterious calling in their life, but it is also a distinct privilege to be a servant of God in the process.
As the story of Samuel demonstrates, it is not easy to recognize God’s love and we need the help of others to understand how God is at work in our own lives. This is the role of parents and family. This assistance we give others in hearing and answering God’s call is the work of priests and parishioners; it is the work of every parish. This work is called discernment and it is the work of the Church.
As some of you know, my own family of six children is blessed with three priests, one woman religious and two siblings who married. Many times people ask my parents: “What did you do to get so many religious vocations?” Other than my mother’s joking response: “I beat the
out of them,” there are perhaps a few solid answers for families today.
My parents prayed together, daily, and we as children saw them pray together. An integral part of their prayer was their desire that each of us discover what
wanted us to do with our lives. More often than not, they said: “We only want you to be happy.” Happiness is rooted in the pursuit of the “Good” and there is nothing better than God and God’s desire for each of our lives.
Finally, we prayed together as a family, and we went to Church together as a family. Such practices cannot be taken for granted today. Actively celebrating our faith, and doing so as a family must be a conscious choice. This choice will require families to set priorities and will require saying “No” to many other options that have invaded the sanctity of the Sabbath. The Ten Commandments clearly teach the necessity of keeping holy the Lord’s Day.
The Nature of Vocation
Every vocation is a matter of being chosen by God. Our language today betrays that we have things backwards when it comes to properly understanding “vocation.” Too often, we talk about what “I” am choosing; what “I” am going to do with my life. The truth of the matter is that God chooses, and we are chosen. We need a prayerful relationship with Christ, and a listening heart that longs to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,” (John 15:16)
Understanding one’s life work and vocation in the light of being chosen by God is important on a number of levels. First, this recognition keeps one grounded in the reality that God is God, and we are created for relationship with God. When we recognize our chosen path in life, we find contentment in the work God has chosen for us, and thus make the words of the psalmist our own: “The lot chosen for me is my delight!” (Psalm 16)
Accepting God’s will and call is also a daily reminder that it is ultimately the power of God that is our strength, and ultimately the grace of God at work in us that accomplishes any good. The first Letter of Peter makes clear this point: “whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.”
Finally, all of us know the challenge to remain faithful to our chosen vocation. The devil loves nothing more than to make us question at times our ability to accomplish God’s work. These are the moments to remember that we are chosen by God, and that, since chosen by God, his grace will be sufficient to provide the strength that we need to accomplish our respective missions. As St. Paul says:
“Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-5)
Encourage, Accompany, Invite
In short, we are to encourage and accompany our young Church. Besides helping them hear God’s voice and call, as we get to know these young men and women, we can easily share with them our insights about the gifts and talents that we recognize in them. Everybody loves a compliment! When we recognize young people and their gifts, it helps them grow in self-understanding, as well as boosts their self-esteem. I regularly tell our young members during Confirmation Masses that we need them. We need their faith, their joy, their enthusiasm, and their gifts.
Our young people also need the Church. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States summarizes this point beautifully in his address to the US Bishops gathered in Baltimore on November 10, 2014:
Obviously, young America is searching for something, or perhaps someone, to lead them beyond the frustrations they experience every day. They are looking well beyond just so-called "happiness." They are searching for meaning and purpose to their existence. What meaning and purpose young people can find in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit! How much fruit can be borne through a complete and total self-donation for the Gospel and the poor. The magnificent words in the hymn of St. Bernard are always before us: "O Lord, how good you are to those who search for you. But what must you be for those who have found you!" (
Jesu, Dulcis Memoria
). Our young people must be brought to a complete conviction of this reality in every aspect of life, but only because we ourselves are witnesses to this.
So, let’s invite our youth to take on roles of service and ministry within the parish. Let’s encourage them, as well, to take Christ into the world. Parish engagement is a healthy part of the discernment process, enabling individuals to better recognize where God is leading them in their life.
Most of our parishes have youth ministry programs. In the coming year, most will have introduced the
model of ministering to our youth. This particular model requires adults who are willing to make a commitment to accompany our youth through their high school years. Get involved! Offer to take on one of these roles. Let our youth know they are important.
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”
As Jesus walked this earth with his disciples, we are to walk with one another in faith today. Our Church is made up of many individuals and many families, and our Church is a Church on mission. Our mission together is to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. Pope Francis exhorts us “to live our human life to the fullest and to meet every challenge as a leaven of Gospel witness…” (
The Joy of the Gospel
As we rise to meet this challenge, our families and parishes will be strengthened, and we will be the salt and light to the world that the Gospel calls us to be. (Matthew 5:13-14) As we model this life of missionary discipleship to our young Church, and invite them to participate in it, they will find encouragement to live their faith and, in the process, clarity in hearing and answering God’s call in their lives.
Jesus tells us: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so
ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
During this next eighteen months, I am calling every member of the Diocese of Cheyenne to regular daily prayer. As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we will take seriously our relationship with Jesus Christ, by daily spending time listening for his voice. We will nurture our friendship with Christ by including him in each of our relationships, decisions, and everything we do. As disciples of Christ, we will follow him wherever he leads, for in Christ is our hope and our joy: “THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” (Pope Francis,
The Joy of the Gospel
As a part of our effort to call forth our future priests for service in the Diocese of Cheyenne, I am calling all parents to pray with your children. Talk to your children about the faith and about God’s plan for their lives. I am asking every parent to help their children prayerfully to reflect upon what God is calling them to do with their lives for him and for his people. This is an exercise of faith and a practice of charity. Granted, not every child is called to the priesthood. However, what parent cannot take comfort in knowing he or she has helped his or her child to discover God’s will, and prayerfully supported him in answering that call, whatever it may be?
This brings up a delicate point needing attention and honesty. I believe everybody wants his or her parish to continue. Everybody understands that we are a sacramental Church, a Eucharistic Church, and the sacraments require a priest. Some however do not see priesthood as an option for their son(s). In response to this, I say that priesthood is a beautiful vocation and an incredibly rewarding life and ministry. Granted, it is not easy at times; and it does have its sacrifices.
Time and time again, over decades, survey after survey shows that priests experience great satisfaction in their ministry. In fact, a recent survey of over 2,500 priests within the United States shows that priests enjoy one of the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness of any profession. (
Why Priests Are Happy
, p. 86, Stephen J. Rossetti)
Even more important than the level of satisfaction priests experience in their ministry is the
that they participate in the universal priesthood of Jesus Christ. God has promised to give us the shepherds that we need, (Jeremiah 3:15) and they are our own sons; the sons of our families and our parishes. As St. Paul says: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” (Romans 1:16) Be not ashamed of the Gospel and of being called a disciple of Jesus Christ. Be not afraid of God’s call. Jesus is calling: “Come, follow me.” (John 21:22; Luke 18:22)
Beginning January 1, 2015, in every parish and mission during every Mass we will pray together a prayer for vocations. Our prayer is specifically asking the Lord to bless this diocese with the holy men and women we need to fulfill our mission. This is not an abstract prayer. We are praying for the men and women, the young people of our parishes and families to hear the Lord’s call in their lives, and to answer the call with generous hearts.
The following prayer has been commissioned for this purpose. I am directing that this prayer be prayed during every Mass, either as a closing prayer to the General Intercessions, or at the end of Mass. This is a community prayer, for all to pray together.
I also encourage every family to pray this prayer together in their homes, perhaps with their meal prayers each day.
Prayer for Vocations
Lord Jesus, as you gave us your life you said,
"Do this in memory of me."
May all your disciples fulfill your command of love.
Raise up in our diocese
humble men to the Priesthood,
faithful people to the Consecrated Life,
and holy men and women to Married Life.
May all hear your call to holiness and have the courage
to respond with generous hearts. -Amen
Holy Hour at each Parish
There is no more privileged means of encountering the person of Jesus than in the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, I am requiring one Holy Hour per week in every parish, the intention being for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, from and for the Diocese of Cheyenne. Parishes that can offer longer periods for Eucharistic adoration, please do so.
God chose to enter the world through the Incarnation, and Jesus himself teaches that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27) Since every vocation is a call from God, we will take time to listen to the voice of Jesus speaking to us in the Blessed Sacrament. We will pray individually for the grace to be faithful to the state of life that we are already living. We will pray individually to know our particular vocations. We will pray for one another, especially for those seeking to know God’s call in their lives. We will pray for the grace to live holy lives that are pleasing to God.
Pray, Fast, Give Alms
Whether for oneself or others, I encourage increased practices of spiritual discipline. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about three pillars of the spiritual life, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-18). We do well to remember that none of us makes it to heaven on our own. We profess our faith together, as members of the Church, within the Church. God has created us for relationship with himself and with each other. As a practice of solidarity, we support one another through our spiritual sacrifices.
As we strive to grow closer to Christ, let us not forget to seek his face in the poor and less fortunate. As we focus our efforts on strengthening the family, let us be mindful of every member of God’s family. With God as our Father, we are more than neighbors to the people of this world: we are all brothers and sisters. As we serve those with the greatest needs, we serve Christ, and, in these acts of charity, we encounter Christ, who is love.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother
There is no more powerful intercession than that of our Blessed Mother. The Lord Jesus before he died on the cross entrusted her to St. John, while at the same time entrusting St. John to her maternal embrace. This is why one of the many titles enjoyed by our Blessed Mother is Mother of the Church. We all would do well to develop our devotion to the Blessed Mother, asking her to draw us closer to her Son.
Praying the Rosary is just one way we can turn to Our Mother, Mary, daily asking for her guidance and intercession. One particular practice of my own, which I strongly encourage is adding this prayer after each decade of the rosary:
God our Father, please send us holy priests
All for the Sacred and Eucharistic heart of Jesus
All for the Sorrowful and Immaculate heart of Mary
In union with St. Joseph.
My final observation draws attention to the artwork on the front cover of this letter. Around the year 1857, the French artist, Millet, painted this depiction of peasant workers in the field pausing from their work to pray the Angelus. One can see in the background a church steeple. According to Millet himself, he had childhood memories of his family working in the field, and his grandmother would always make them stop when the church bells rang out the traditional call to pray the Angelus.
The Angelus prayer is a Marian devotion calling us to reflect upon the Incarnation.
“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
I hope most of you know this prayer, and if you do not, I am asking that all households and individuals learn and recite the Angelus every day during this eighteen month period from January 1, 2015 through June 2016. The prayer is traditionally prayed at 6am, noon, and 6pm. My request is that we join in solidarity, wherever we may be, every day at Noon for this prayer. Where possible, if church bells are not already ringing the call to pray the Angelus at noon, I request that this tradition be restored.
It has been the tradition for the chancery staff to come together before noon every day to recite the Angelus prayer. As together we beseech the Blessed Mother to draw us deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation in our daily life, we can rest assured that we will be more capable of responding to the Lord’s call to be generous distributors of his manifold grace at work in our lives. I strongly encourage this prayer to all families, either before you disperse from your homes in the morning, or as an evening prayer, perhaps before meals, or even before bed.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!
December 9, 2014, the 5
anniversary of my episcopacy,
The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne, D.D., S.T.L.
Bishop of Cheyenne