Who is Pope Francis?

 

In preparation for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States the El Paso Times asked me to write a column that they would include in their anticipatory booklet that was distributed just before the Pope’s arrival in our Country.

Who is Pope Francis?

Pope Francis is not Jesus Christ! Let’s be clear about that from the outset. Clearly Pope Francis does not see himself as Jesus Christ. When asked to describe himself at the beginning of his Papacy he said very simply, “I am a sinner.” So as we prepare for the visit of the man who is referred to as “Our Holy Father” let us consider more fully who he is. This will allow us to more fully grasp how we should take his words and actions among us.

We Catholics call the Pope, the “Vicar of Christ”. A ‘vicar’ is someone who stands in for another. As Bishop of Rome and successor of the one Jesus placed at the head of the Apostles, he is represents in his office Christ’s leadership of the Church.

As many who study history will point out to be a Pope is not to have an assurance of holiness. Many popes in fact have been anything but holy. Needless to say a pope ought to be holy. Through sanctity they can more transparently reflect the one they represent. But Christ did not promise Peter that he would always be holy. He promised Peter that he would be the ‘rock’, ‘petrus’, upon which his Church would be built and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. We Catholics have always understood that this means that in essential matters of faith and morals, by the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter and those who continued his mission as his successors would be preserved from teaching error.

So the Pope, as the successor of the one whom Jesus chose, represents Christ in a unique and wonderful way. Many Popes have fulfilled this awesome role by not teaching error despite their very unChristlike lives. Many have given the ultimate testimony to their faith through their death as martyrs. Many have been excellent teachers and even reformers of the Church in times when reform was desperately needed. Each pope has particular gifts that he brings to his office. A study of history will often show that the particular gifts and talents he brought were exactly what the Church and the world needed at a given time. Thanks in large measure to their service, the longest running institution in history has continued her divinely ordained presence and work in the world.

So this Holy Father is not Jesus, but he represents Jesus present in the world in our day. I think many people will agree Pope Francis does that very well. Like Jesus he is a prophetic presence who, like every prophet, at times shocks and challenges his listeners. Like Jesus he is a “sign of contradiction” loved by some (especially the poor and the outcast) and rejected by others who are threatened by his teaching.

Like Jesus, he has not rejected the religious teaching of those who came before him. Quite the contrary! But he has reframed the faith of the Church in a way that people can find surprising and can sound completely new.

In the popular understanding the Catholic Church had come to be seen as that ‘moral nanny’ who always said “No”, especially in matters of sexual behavior. Pope Francis set the reset button, so to speak, and chose to focus on the most fundamental aspects of Jesus’ teaching, aspects that must be grasped and experienced before any moral teaching can begin to make sense. In Christ-like fashion he has enamored us with actions and words that express God’s unconditional love and mercy, especially to the poor and to those lost and unnoticed on the fringes of society.

Who has not been moved by his washing of the feet of a young Muslim teen in a detention center, or his embrace of a man terribly disfigured by the so-called “elephant man disease”, or by his tears for children victims of senseless violence and war? Who has not also been personally challenged by his call to service of the poor and especially of migrants, or his urgings to reject any kind of violence as a solution to our conflicts, or by the utter simplicity of his lifestyle?

Yes, this Pope has gotten the attention of many in our world and not only Catholics. He has caused many who have fallen away from their faith to recognize in their heart once again the still quiet voice of God.

As this amazing Shepherd comes to our country my hope for the people of our region and our country as well is that we will not find ourselves standing back and judging the words of Pope Francis according to our politics or our self-interest. This is the kind of reception Jesus received from people of his time and place. We are about to be blest with the presence of a man who is not Christ, but who in many ways is very like him. I pray that we will not let this opportunity pass us by but that we will receive him and his teaching with open hearts.

Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of El Paso

September 2015

Celebrations

Homily for the XXI Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Bp. Mark J. Seitz                                     XXI B 2015

August 23, 2015                                       St. Patrick Cathedral

 

First Reading: Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-17,18                                                           Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32                                                                Gospel: John 6: 55, 60-69

 

Matrimony: Sign of Grace, Sign of Love

 

I was observing the married couples out here as the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was read. When the lector read, “wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord”—I saw many husbands looking at their wives as if to say, “I hope you are listening.” When the lector said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. He gave his life for her…”—I saw a wince on the part of the husbands as their wives’ elbows found a place between their ribs. Paul certainly has something challenging to say to both husbands and wives in today’s passage.

 

In the Gospel of today we find some of the disciples departing from Jesus because they cannot accept his radical teachings when he says, “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” People have always had trouble accepting Jesus’ teaching about the Real Presence. Many have through the centuries tried to water this teaching down and to change it. Recent surveys of Catholics show that even many Catholics do not fully accept what Jesus teaches.

 

Yes, people have problems accepting this teaching about the Eucharist, but the Real Presence is not the only teaching found in our readings that is met with rejection today. Many also apparently do not believe in the fundamental meaning of Marriage or in the possibility of living this call in love and fidelity for life.

 

Give me a show of hands. How many here have been married for 50 years or more? A number of couples. Wow! How many have been married for 35 years or more? More hands are raised! How about 20 years or more? The church is filled with you and your families! This seems impossible to many. It must be a miracle! I know that you married couples will agree that miracle or not, it is clearly a sign of grace!!

 

The true meaning of marriage is taught throughout the Scriptures—starting at the beginning. In the Book of Genesis, after the creation of Adam and Eve, God tells them, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Christ repeats this doctrine and he goes on to say that once a valid marriage is entered into, this union is indissoluble.

 

Paul also repeats the passage from Genesis but then he goes even deeper in his teaching. He makes it clear that to form “one body” out of two requires a sacrifice like that of Christ. It is a laying down of one’s life, a dying, for the sake of the other. It is a love like that of Christ for the Church. On the cross he laid down his life for her—every last drop of his blood. This love forms a union of Christ with his Church so close that the two are practically indistinguishable. Paul could find no better image of this complementary union than that found in Holy Matrimony.

 

I‘ve had the chance to celebrate many weddings. Presently I am assisting a young couple in their late 20s. In speaking with them, the groom-to-be mentioned that he was a big sports fan—baseball, football, soccer, you name it. When a game was on he wanted her to understand that this was his time. He expected not to be interrupted. Poor young man! I tried to explain to him that this will be one of the smaller areas of sacrifice in his life. Yes, there will be some time for sports, but it will always need to be second to his spouse and to the needs of their family. I think it is sinking in.

 

Out of the union of husband and wife, marked by such a profound mutual self-giving, a married couple becomes conscious sharers in the very work of God. Their relationship has the potential, God willing, to become life-giving in a most concrete way; they can bring a child to life. Children become the living, might we say ‘incarnate’, sign of their love.

 

In this time many do not understand nor accept any of this teaching. They do not understand that Matrimony is the complementary union of a man and a woman. They do not grasp that marriage is a call to self-sacrifice for the sake of the other. They do not understand that marriage involves a love without conditions and for all of life. They don’t comprehend that this love must be, by its very nature, open to fruitfulness and cannot be separated from that fruitfulness without also taking away from the union.

 

In practice we are far from the teachings of God regarding Matrimony. We should not be surprised to see this awesome gift of God reduced to little more than a temporary agreement among friends. Today, Marriage is not seen as a way for a man and woman to lay down their life for the sake of the other, instead it is seen as a way to fulfill oneself emotionally. It is no longer seen as a covenant to provide a stable loving home for the sake of the children born of that mutual love. No, today Marriage is seen as something I do for myself and for my self-fulfillment—and when I am no longer feeling happy—I say, “Adios”!

 

If we wish to reclaim our sanity as members of society we need to rediscover these fundamental but challenging teachings of Jesus and his Church: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and another sign of Jesus’ real presence among us, Sacramental Marriage. Many will hear these teachings and depart murmuring. But we, along with Peter, will continue following Christ with confidence knowing that there is nowhere else we would rather go. Jesus has the words of eternal life! With Joshua we can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Celebrations

 A Chocolate Covered Lesson of Life

July 2015

InSeitz

 

Tell-all true confessions are certainly popular fare these days.  It’s time for me to come clean.  First I have to remind you of some background.  I am the eldest of 10 children.  Of course, as the eldest, I was an only child for the first 11 months of my life.  I kind of liked it that way.  It was great to know that every toy in the house belonged to me and me alone.  Perhaps that is why I didn’t particularly like to share.

But on a fateful day, without seeking any input from me, my sister was brought into the family.  Suddenly the attention and things no longer belonged only to me.  They were divided.  In another year my brother came along, then a sister, and so on.  In our house practically everything had to be divvied up.  How much is left of a pie divided into 12 pieces?  Even clothes were shared or passed along the line as long as they held up.  (Being the eldest, I did usually get first shot at the boy’s clothes.)

As you can tell this requirement to share wore on me.  There were moments however, wonderful moments, in which something that came to me was mine, all mine!  Sometimes for Christmas or for a birthday the gifts would include candies or cookies.  Of course, the expectation was that these would be shared with the hungry masses.  But if I was clever, and used the proper diversionary techniques, I could spirit that gift away and no one would take note.

On one particular occasion when I was around 11 years old I was given a box of chocolate covered cherries.  I loved chocolate covered cherries!  Today they seem just too sweet, but then this food tasted like the dessert of the heavenly banquet!

I deftly made the box disappear from the midst of a crowded room.  It was one of my best slights of hand.  Soon the box made its way to a hidden spot behind the curtain on the windowsill of my bedroom.  Over the course of the succeeding months I would carefully ration those chocolate covered cherries to myself.  I was very disciplined.  From time to time I would just look at them, without eating a one.  My mouth would water as I dreamed of the next occasion when I would covertly help myself to my hidden treasure.

So it went through the long winter and into the summer until a particularly hot spell in June.  One day as I entered my bedroom I noticed something was amiss at the window.  A white and brown substance was dripping from the windowsill and on to my bed.  Upon closer inspection I realized what had happened.  The sun had fallen upon the box and those glorious chocolate covered cherries had been reduced to a soupy slurry.  What’s more, ants had helped themselves to the bonanza, some at the cost of their lives (although I’m sure they died happy).  Half a box of cherries, melted away!  It was one of the saddest days of my young life.

It struck me in a graced but painful moment of insight that it would have been much better had I simply shared my cherries from the outset.  What good is it to have something if it just ends up being wasted?  Besides, it feels good to be generous and share.  Sharing also makes God happy.  After all, that is the way God is with us.

I have since entered into a gradual process of learning the virtues and joys of sharing.  It has been a long hard road.  At times I am still tempted to revert to my former unconverted self.  But I have also learned from you, the members of this Diocese.  I have come to marvel at your great willingness to give wings to your Faith by sharing of your time, your many talents and your material possessions.  So many of you really lay your gifts out there at the service of others from day to day, long before they could ever spoil.

How did you learn to share so well?  Did you have a box of chocolate covered cherries melt on you too?

 

+Bishop Mark

El Paso

Diaconate Ordination – Frank Hernandez

Bp. Mark J. Seitz                               Diaconate Ordination – Frank Hernandez

June 29, 2015                                            Nuestra Señora de la Luz

 

Be a Living Stone Built on the Rock of Peter’s Faith

How wonderful that today, on this Feast of the two key people upon whom Jesus chose to build his Church, that we would be celebrating the Ordination to the Diaconate of one of our own, Frank Hernandez.  Today we are connected in a real way, a tangible way, with this foundation.  When Peter teaches in his letter that we are to be like “living stones, being built into a temple.”  He means the Church is far more than an abstract set of ideas.  She is built of us—built of you, Frank.

 

When God chose to create a holy People, the Church, he didn’t simply send a manual.  He sent his only Son, who became one of us.  His Son chose the Apostles, with Peter at their head upon whom he said he would build his Church.  From the Cross he gave birth to his new Body and on Pentecost he breathed life into her.

 

Everyone who is Baptized has a part in that new Body, but since it is an ordered Body, God chooses certain ones to receive a special transformation into a living sign for the rest of us to see.  Certainly with your cooperation, but especially through his grace, Frank, you become “sign person” today.  By receiving this first degree of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ conforms you to himself as a visible sign of his loving service.  You will reflect this service by your acts of charity, by celebrating Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals; by bringing Communion to the sick and homebound and Viaticum to the dying, by assisting at Mass and preaching and by leading God’s people in prayer.

 

But the most important work you will be doing in God’s name will be even more profound than these public actions.   Your most important accomplishments will not be in any actions at all, but in your person itself, in your very being.  Peter left his father, his wife and family, his boat and his nets and followed Jesus.  Paul changed the whole course of his life from being a persecutor of the Church to the point where he could say, “Now it is no longer I who live; it is Christ living in me.”

 

This is that day for you, Frank.  You have heard me say before I think that priests (and bishops) should celebrate the day of their Ordination as Deacons in a special way because on that day we laid it on the line and God accepted our offering.  On this day you will promise a life-long obedience to me and my successors as to Christ—to place yourself completely at God’s disposal.  On this day you promise, before God and His People, to live the life of a deacon faithfully upholding the mystery of faith and proclaiming it, prayerfully conforming your life to the example of Christ.  On this day you promise to be a person of the word of God—believing what you read, teaching what you believe and practicing what you teach.

 

Perhaps the most powerful way you will, in your very self, become a sign of the presence of God in our world is by your promise of celibacy.  Many in the world today believe chaste celibacy is impossible—that being sexually active is a requirement for anyone who wishes to be happy and fulfilled.  And we would have to agree—this life is impossible if we are left to ourselves and our own strength.  But, with grace, all things are possible—and you will be a living sign of that grace and power of God in our midst!  Your joyful, committed, celibate life will be a great encouragement to those who are single and struggling to remain chaste.  Your life will be a gracious counterpoint to holy married couples, reminding them of the special beauty of their life-giving complementarity in the family, which you today dedicate your life to serve.

 

As you look back upon your life, Frank, it is as though you can look back down the mountain trail and see how it has cut across various ridges and made many sharp turns.  As you consider your early family life and your first encounters with the living God within your family—as you consider your studies and your love of music, and the first thoughts of the possibility of another plan the Lord may have had for you—a chance to make your very life a song of praise to God—I have no doubt there were many times when you were unsure where the path was leading.  (Were you on the right trail or were you lost?)  Today after these many years of formation and discernment, in a definitive way, you encounter Christ just like Peter did.  Today, through the action of Christ’s body, the Church, and in me (unworthy though I am) whom the Lord has chosen as his representative, Christ says to you “no mere man has unfolded this calling in your life, but your heavenly Father.” 

 

Today God chooses you for his service.  Today he makes you, in your very person, through the laying on of hands, a sign of Christ’s presence in our midst.  Stay close to Him!  Seek his help daily to make this calling a lived reality!  Give yourself generously to God’s service!  Be that living stone, built upon the rock of Peter’s faith!

Celebrations

Laudato Si – Praise Be to You!

June 21, 2015

InSeitz

Laudato Si – Praise Be to You!

 “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you set in place—what is man that you should be mindful of him and the son of man that you should care for him?”  Ps. 8

 

“Let the earth bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.  Mountains and hills, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.  Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”  (Dan. 3: 74-76)

As you are aware Pope Francis has issued a bold new Encyclical letter on the Environment.  The care he expresses as our chief teacher for the wellbeing of this earth is not something new to Christians.  Since the time of our Hebrew forbearers the People of God have praised God whom they have seen at work in the midst of creation.  They recognized that creation itself gives praise to God by simply being God’s handiwork.

When our Holy Father, draws from his namesake, St. Francis, to title his Encyclical he is placing this work within the constant Judeo-Christian tradition of seeing ourselves as stewards, cooperators with God in his marvelous work of creation.

There are those on both sides of the political spectrum who would like to see the Church retreat from concern about the lives of human beings and the wellbeing of our planet.  On the one hand we have the new definition of what constitutes a Constitutionally protected Church activity such as that found in the Federal HHS Mandate in which agencies of the Church such as hospitals, schools and other service organizations would no longer have the right to act according to our consciences as we follow Church teaching in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  On the other hand we have statements like that made recently by a Republican presidential candidate saying the Church should restrict its teachings to things that make us better as people.  I would ask them how we can be better as people if we are not caring about things that impact our fellow human beings and our planet?

People say that people in the Church are not scientists.  Some are!  Even if we are not we need to be attentive to what scientists say and consider how it impacts our lives and the lives of others.  Allow me to give you an analogy: I am not an auto mechanic, but if I notice that my engine is making noise I should know enough to take it to a trusted mechanic and then listen to the mechanic’s advice about how to correct the problem.

We all have heard of and experienced changes in climate.  The vast majority of scientists agree that there are some alarming trends.  Most believe human beings have something to do with them.  Even if we do not, doesn’t it make sense to pay greater attention and to prepare?

In this country we have learned that human activity can indeed impact our environment on a local scale.  We have had to deal with polluted rivers and lakes and air.  Is it unreasonable to think our activities can impact the planet on a larger scale?  And what if the things that we learned to prohibit here are now being practiced by U.S. Companies and others in other places?  In our Sister Diocese in Honduras in the village of Transito I visited with residents who were suddenly under threat when a North American Mining Company suddenly came in and began mining operations under their town.  Their home foundations were damaged and their water supply destroyed.

The Pope had much to say as well in his letter about human dignity.  Here is an example: “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected,”  Pope Francis writes. “Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others.”  His environmentalism is not at the expense of human dignity but rather a way to ensure that our place in creation is rightly understood.

The Diocese of El Paso has already been involved in efforts to be better stewards in our beautiful corner of God’s creation.  Here are some steps that we have begun:

  1. LED lighting has been installed in at least two parishes: St. Raphael and St. Theresa of Jesus in Presidio.
  2. One parish has installed solar panels (Bl. Sacrament) another is considering (Christ the Savior).
  3. Solar outdoor lighting is being installed gradually at the Pastoral Center.
  4. We are gradually installing water-saving desert landscaping at the Pastoral Center.  This project has been underway for a few years.
  5. We are upgrading Pastoral Center thermostats to allow temperatures to be adjusted according to times of use.
  6. Some parishes have recycling bins. (Holy Trinity and Christ the Savior)
  7. A committee has been formed to evaluate ways that Catholic Properties, diocesan entities, parish properties and schools, can become more green.

 

As Catholic Christians we love all human beings and see them as brothers and sisters.  We love this earth and see in it signs of God’s hand.  Its beauty leads us to awe and wonder when we see a technicolor sunset or a majestic mountain or glowing stars at night.  We believe that God has called us not to be pillagers of the earth but its stewards, using its resources gently and with a view to the needs of generations to come.

Along with our Holy Father we invite all people of good will to reflect upon these realities and to come together to care for the earth and its people.

“Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,

who feeds us and rules us…

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,

and serve Him with great humility.”

(Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis of Assisi)

Bp. Mark

 

Celebrations

Priest Assignments are Coming!

Jesus told his disciples to “Go out to all the world and announce the Good News.” (Mk. 16:15)  While every Christian has that responsibility this mandate to “go out” is particularly pertinent to those whom Jesus calls to serve his people as priests.  There are many different ways that priests live out this vocation, but whether they are religious or diocesan priests you will find that, with the exception of priests who serve in monasteries, all priests are called to be ready to move from place to place for the sake of the Gospel.

As Jesus moved about there were some places that did not want to receive him.  He often went anyway.  There were other places that saw his wonders and experienced his love and begged him to stay.  To them Jesus explained that he needed to continue on.  In many ways that dynamic has not changed today.  There are priests who go to a particular place and sometimes they are not well received.  This could be due to the priest’s own idiosyncrasies (I suspect we all have them).  Or it could simply be that we human beings are just averse to change, even if the change could be for the better.  There are also priests who come to a community, accomplish many good things and become beloved by those whom they serve.  In those cases the community may resist that pastor’s call to another place.  They very understandably want to keep the priest for themselves.

In my life as a priest I always found moving difficult.  After some years of service I would come to feel like I was truly a part of the parish family.  I could look out at the congregation on a Sunday and recognize so many faces of people whom I had the privilege of accompanying through moments of great joy and sorrow.  I would look around and say to myself, “There are the Smith’s with their new baby whom I baptized.  There’s Mary, whom I anointed a few weeks ago in the hospital.  There is Juan and Lupe, with their children.  I remember their wedding.  There is Jose whose wife died last year.  I had the opportunity to walk with them from the time she was diagnosed with cancer until God called her home.”

Especially as a celibate person I found my family in the parish community where I served.  Departing was never easy for me and the people certainly expressed that it was difficult for them.  Still, accepting a new assignment was important for me in my vocation and in my spiritual walk.  It was an opportunity for me to make concrete my promise to be at the Lord’s disposal and to go wherever I was sent.  It was a reminder to me that in this life I have no lasting home.  We are all just passing through.  It was also an experience of freedom.  The obedience I had promised on the day of my ordination meant that I did not have to be burdened with deciding God’s will for my life in regard to my service.  I trusted that the Holy Spirit was guiding my pilgrimage in far better ways than I could have planned for myself.

Here in this diocese there have been relatively few changes of priests in recent years.  I suspect many of us, both priests and laity, have become pretty settled with the way things are.  But change is inevitable.  There are some parish openings, most notably the Cathedral and St. Theresa in Presidio, that badly need to be filled.  When openings such as these are filled it inevitably leaves other openings.  We will have one ordination in December, for which we are very grateful to God, Deacon Allen Oluoch.  He will need a first assignment.

I have formed a personnel board made up of priests of the diocese.  They are: Msgr. David Fierro, Fr. John Telles, Fr. Frank Lopez, Fr. Saul Pacheco, Fr. Joe Molina and Fr. Tony Celino.  I am working with them to find the best ways to fill the needs that lie before us.  And we are praying earnestly to the Holy Spirit for guidance. 

Please join us in prayer.  When the new assignments come out I ask you to do your best to be supportive of those priests who may be moving.  Let them know how much you love them, but don’t cling to them.  That would only make it more difficult for them.  Please welcome the priests who come to your community.  Let them know that with you they will find new family members who will love and support them as they do their best to be a sign of Christ in your midst.

+Bishop Mark

El Paso

“Male and Female God Created Them…”

InSeitz

“Mommy, how are boys different than girls?”  Most children ask this question or some variation of it in the early years of their lives.  Even now, long after I learned about the physical differences between the two genders, I am still learning about the many differences between men and women and, frankly, I’m still trying to understand the opposite sex.  Even science is adding to our knowledge about the differences between the genders.  Recently research came out pointing to different ways in which the brains of most men and women are women are wired.

Yes, Johnny, boys and girls are different and I thank God for that!   The physical differences between the genders are more than skin deep.  They are differences meant to create a complementarity that is directed toward a profound union of life and love.  I think we could all agree that the differences between the genders have been overly stereotyped in the past by cultures and that, in many cases, women have not been given their full role in society and the Church.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis recently addressed this in his Wednesday Audience as he continued his teaching on the family.  He said much more work is needed to give women their full voice.  But he also warned against going to the other extreme and losing sight of the essential complementarity of the genders: “Not only man as such, not only woman as such, but rather man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between them is not a question of contrast or subordination, but instead of communion and generation, always in the image and semblance of God.”

According to Pope Francis, the gender difference between man and woman is directed toward their union and through that union, to the potential for the generation of new life.  It is not about superiority of one over the other or about competing claims.  Our Holy Father sees the differences as a call to unity that is intended to be a model for the rest of humankind.  He wonders if the efforts to minimize these differences, to suggest that the differences of our bodies are not important, is perhaps a capitulation to the challenges involved in making the deep, life-giving union of man and woman a reality.

Here is how Pope Francis says it: “Modern and contemporary culture has opened up new spaces, new freedoms and new depths for the enrichment and understanding of this difference. But it has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. I wonder, for example, if so-called gender theory is not an expression of frustration and resignation, that aims to cancel out sexual difference as it is no longer able to face it.”

The Pope goes on to assert that running from the challenge is not the solution.  I’ll let Our Holy Father have the last word: “Yes, we run the risk of taking step backwards. Indeed, the removal of difference is the problem, not the solution. To solve their problems in relating to each other, men and women must instead speak more, listen more, know each other better, value each other more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship. With these human bases, supported by God’s grace, it is possible to plan a lifelong matrimonial and family union. The marriage and family bond is a serious matter for all, not only for believers. I would like to encourage intellectuals not to ignore this theme, as if it were secondary to our efforts to promote a freer and more just society.”

El Paso

What a Holy Week!

InSeitz

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, after the Consecration, we profess the Mystery of our Faith.  In the third version of this acclamation we say, “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”  This is the Mystery at the heart of our Faith.  This is the reason for our hope.  These events which we recall and celebrate every time we come together for worship are the events we enter into with special solemnity in this holy week ahead.  There are no more important days in our entire church year.  There are no more graced moments in the life of the Church.

 

The Season of Lent, our 40 days of penance and conversion, concludes on Thursday of Holy Week.  Then the greatest Feast of the entire Church year begins on the evening of Holy Thursday.  It is known as the Easter Triduum because it takes in three great days in which we celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  At this time the celebration of other Sacraments are limited so we as a Church can put all of our focus upon living this Feast.

 

On Holy Thursday evening we gather for the beautiful Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  We commemorate the institution of the Eucharist as well as the Lord’s washing of the feet of his disciples.  The Feast continues with Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.  On this day we enter into Christ’s saving death.  We fast and abstain from meat today and we are encouraged to continue the fast on Saturday as we recall Christ’s words; “When the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast.” (Matt. 9:15)

 

On Holy Saturday we gather in the evening to wait in vigil for the celebration of the rising of Jesus from the tomb.  As we wait by the light of our Easter fire we listen as the history of our Salvation is unfolded through the proclamation of the Scriptures.  As the Easter Eucharist begins and our Alleluias ring out the saving work of Jesus will be accomplished before our eyes as our Catechumens die with Christ and rise to new life with him in the waters of Baptism.  Others, already baptized, will be received into full communion in the Church.

 

The Easter Vigil is the most beautiful and the most holy celebration of our entire Church year.  One thing the Vigil is not is brief.  Traditionally it lasted until dawn.  To gather in vigil means to wait in prayer.  We should forget our watches and be on God’s time.  Expect a good three and a half hours in which God will be very much in our midst.  It takes about as long as a Pro Football game but not as long as a Superbowl.  Following the Vigil will be a reception to welcome and congratulate our new members.   Rest during the day and give the night to the Lord.

 

No words can describe the power and beauty of these celebrations!  The only way one can know is to experience them.  May God bless us all through our celebration of these holy days.  May we all, along with our new members, come to know more deeply the wonder of our sharing in Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.

 

Bp. Mark

Celebrations

How Does a Bishop Lead Today?

Many, when they think of the ministry of a bishop, imagine him sitting by himself in regal splendor making decisions right and left regarding the people and finances of the diocese. If that was ever the case, it could not be further from the truth today. Just how mistaken that image is came into even clearer light for me on Tuesday evening, the 17th of this month when I had the joy of gathering with lay members of boards and committees that serve various entities of our Diocese of El Paso for a Mardi Gras Dinner. I wanted to express my gratitude to them for their generous service. They came from all over El Paso and from the rural parts of our Diocese as far as Fort Davis. By the time we accumulated a list of all those who serve on the diocesan level, we had a list of an amazing 130 board members and their spouses to invite!

The gathering was made up of members of the Building Committee, Casitas San Mateo, Catholic Counseling, Catholic Properties, Diocesan Board of Education, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Education Assistance Fund Board, Finance Council, Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso, Liturgical Commission, Northeast Catholic Schools Consortium, Pastoral Concerns Committee, Review Board, Cathedral High School, Inc. Board, Tepeyac Institute and Physicians’ Guild Boards.

Of course this list doesn’t even include the many Councils and committees on which priests and deacons sit to offer me advice and to aid me in my shepherding of the Diocese. These would include the Presbyteral Council, College of Consultors, Personnel Board, Committee for the Ongoing Formation of the Clergy, and the Deacon Community Board. To this one could add the many professional staff members working at the Pastoral Center who give me guidance in my work every day.

Soon we will establish an important new Council to assist in the pastoral planning of the Diocese as a whole, a Diocesan Pastoral Council. They will study future needs and challenges of the Diocese and develop a plan that will help us to prioritize and address them. I am presently awaiting nominations of lay leaders from every Vicariate of the Diocese. Then I will add Religious women and men as well as priests and deacons.
What do I do when these groups meet? The main thing I try to do is to listen as they raise issues and work out plans to direct the work of the Church. I also share my concerns and my dreams and look forward to their feedback. When consensus is reached in these groups, this is the direction we go. Of course, at the same time my responsibility is to listen to the teaching and guidance of the Church and to assure that we as a local Church are in tune with what the Universal Church is passing on to us.

Yes, the role of the bishop may be very different from what many imagine when it comes to his administrative responsibilities. I am very grateful for the many hundreds of members in the Church of El Paso, both Religious and lay, who have stepped forward with such incredible gifts and talents and are guided by such a rich faith. I know the Spirit is at work and Spirit’s Wisdom is revealed when we work together as the Body of Christ.

Bp. Mark

 

Celebrations

Discipleship Written in Stone

Bp. Mark J. Seitz            III B 2015 Discipulado
25 de Enero, 2015          La Purisima, Socorro, Santa Teresita Mission, Pdr. Yermo

I feel sorry for the family of Jonah.  I feel sorry for the family of Simon and of his brother, Andrew; for the family of St. James and John and for their father, Zebedee with whom they worked.  I also feel sorry of the family of Mary when she received the call of the angel, Gabriel.

Jonah left his family immediately after he was call by God and began to run the other way.  You are familiar with the story.  When he was saved by a giant fish and spit out on the land he decided to follow God’s call and preach to the people of Nineveh.  Thanks to his preaching the city was saved.  But…what happened to his family during their time without a father?

The Gospel tells us that Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Immediately left their nets and followed” Jesus when he called them.  But what about their wives?, their children?  What about Zebedee—what happened with them?

Mary was a young girl around 14 or 15 years old when the angel came to her.  Her life was changed radically from that day forward.  Her “yes” had implications for all the days of her life.  Without understanding anything except that she had been called to be the Mother of God through the working of the Holy Spirit, she left her childhood and left with Joseph to whom she was betrothed.

Each of the people in these examples experienced definitive changes in their lives when they accepted what they understood to be the will of God.  Did the resist the call?  You bet they did!  Jonah ran in the other direction.  Peter and the other disciples left Jesus alone in the garden on the night before his Pasion.  Mary, without doubt, had questions, but in a way that distinguishes her from all the Saints she always reflects and accepts what happens with love and fidelity.  One day she held her beloved son in her arms as a baby and in what must have seemed like the next moment she held her adult son in her arms following his Passion and Death

In all of these cases we cannot avoid the conclusion that those who follow the Lord as his disciples are called to put aside other concerns, even those commitments that may be good and important, for the sake of responding in a way that without reservations, without conditions, to the call of God.

It seems many times as though the activities that fill our daily lives are essential, as though all our life depends upon them.  But when we reflect a bit more we realize that there is really only one thing that is important—that we do the will of God in every moment—because “this world is passing away.”

And now we come to a question we must all ask ourselves: What type of disciple are we going to be?  In a few minutes we are going to see in person an exact replica of a work of art that is, in the opinion of many the most inspirational single piece of art in the world.  We can learn much from the Pieta.  In this great work we will witness Jesus who is resting at the end of his great work after his Pasion, waiting for the moment of his Resurrection.  And we see a mother, sad, but youthful in her virtue, not one who despairs because she is full of hope.  Her face reveals faith and peace.

We have all received a call to serve the Lord.  Every Christian is called to serve according to his or her particular vocation.  The major part among us are called to marry and raise a family.  Others, in a more radical call, are intended by God to serve as Sisters, Brothers (Women and Men Religious) or priests.  But how can we do this?  By being Disciples of Christ who seek the will of God in every moment or by being disciples of this world who live for the passing moment?

Will we do it by putting aside the things of God to gain the world or by being people who receive everything as a gift from God to be used in the service of His people that we might gain a treasure in Heaven?  Are we going to be like Jesus and his mother, like the Apostles and martyrs looking for the will of God and accepting our sufferings along the way with peace and confidence, or will we run?  This is our decision.

I give thanks to God that, thanks to the discipleship of Richard and Esther Stewart and the parents of Esther in particular, because the donation they have made will serve to inspire the members of this community and all who visit for years to come as a record written in stone of the commitment to which every disciple of Jesus is called.


El Paso