Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit

On September 2, 2014, I celebrated and preached the homily at the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the community at the University of Dallas. After Mass, I was welcomed for dinner and visited with Fr. James Swift, rector of Holy Trinity Seminary, the formation faculty, Fr. Jonathan Wallis, and the seminarians (which included 5 of our own) Tyler Dubek, Jason Allan, David LaPointe, Austin Hoodenpyle, and Anthony Vecchio. It was joyful for me to visit with the community I was privileged to serve as rector between 2008 and 2013! Please pray for the seminary and for all seminarians.

The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a tradition at Catholic educational institutions to invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit throughout the academic year. The Holy Spirit gives wisdom and knowledge and assists the natural efforts to come to know God Himself, who is the Truth. Below is my homily from the Mass.

+Bishop Michael F. Olson

Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit
University of Dallas

Acts 2:1-11
John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Christ has called us by name at the start of this academic year to celebrate the Eucharist as instituted by Him at the Last Supper. Our Gospel reading, proclaimed in this celebration of the Eucharist, is taken from the Gospel of John, where the action represented occurs in the context of Christ’s Last Supper discourse whereby Jesus is teaching and instructing His disciples to remain in the way he has taught them – to remain in Him.

Christ promises an Advocate who will remain with them, with us, while Christ departs. The Advocate (parakletos) is the one who will remind them, intercede for them, and plead their case. It is a legal term; it means "lawyer," or as we used to say in my neighborhood “mouthpiece.” It is a term that connotes what a good defender would do for a client. So the disciples will not be lost when Jesus departs. Yet, what is this case and what is this needed defense that requires an advocate? The answers to these questions unfold in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

The events of Pentecost relayed in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles reveal God’s continued undoing of the effects of sin. In particular, it is the undoing of the sinful effects of Babel. There human beings sought to make themselves like God establishing their lives on their own autonomously selfish initiative and behaving as if God did not exist. The result was chaos and disorder from the confusion of speech – the fomenting of distrust, the systematizing of discord between and among human beings, resulting in violent injustice.

At Pentecost, the initiation of the Church’s life, it is the Divine initiative that compels the apostles to understand and to speak in the languages of the then known world. Each nation heard the Gospel preached by the apostles in their own particular vernacular. The understanding they receive comes from above and it involves the active and graced response of human beings. There is a divine condescension, and a human participation in God's activity of gathering into one; it is the blossoming of the flower of salvation from the Cross, the tree of life. As we read the prophesy that foreshadows this salvific event in the 45th chapter of the Book of Isaiah – "Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down; let the earth open and salvation bud forth." Or in the Vulgate, "Rorate Caeli desuper nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem."

That which humanity has previously inflicted upon itself as part of the chaotic result of the arrogant sin of Babel, the confusion of languages, is now redeemed by Christ’s victory over sin through the activity of the Holy Spirit in forming the Church. The unity of the Persons in love who pour out to each one all that each Divine person is, holds nothing back.

The Holy Spirit in animating the Church, unites each human person into the perfect love of the Divine persons of the Trinity. This is the authentic mission of the communion of the Church. So Pentecost is the righting of the wrongs of Babel – not simply forgiving the sins of Babel but rather redeeming them. In this we see the first mission entrusted to the Church as animated by the Holy Spirit: the drawing into the life of the Trinity in the unity that transcends distinction. So it is not humanly imposed uniformity based upon language, or culture, or any particular ideology; but rather our cooperation as the Church with the action of the Holy Spirit.

As then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "The Church does not begin, therefore, as a club; rather she begins catholic. She speaks on her first day in all languages, in the languages of the planet. She is first universal before she brought forth local churches. The universal church is not a federation of local churches but rather their mother. The universal Church gave birth to particular churches, and these can remain church only by continuously losing their particularity and passing into the whole."

The cause that the Advocate pleads is the mission of communion of the Church. The defense is against the return of the distrust, chaos, and violence of Babel. The Holy Spirit is the advocate that will not allow the chaos of Babel to return to human beings through their graced membership in Christ’s Church. Again as then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "Church is mankind being brought into the way of life of the Trinitarian God. For this reason she is not something that belongs to a group or a circle of friends. For this reason she cannot become a national Church or be identified with a race or a class. She must, if this is true, be Catholic in order to gather into one the children of God."

The same temptations of Babel remain in our fallen yet redeemed world of today. There are voices in education, politics, and the arts who reassert the arrogant claims of Babel as ideologies and programs that dehumanize persons by a systematized pretense that God does not exist. We are gathered here in this Eucharistic assembly to ask the Advocate again that we remain a stronger part of the Church’s mission through our educational endeavors; we seek the Advocate to protect us from the seduction of subverting the Church’s mission as our own selfish initiative – in the fields of our educational endeavors involving language, philosophy, theology, culture, literature, politics, and the arts. We pray that we be a part of Christ’s plan, not that He might be a part of our plan.

We have the guarantee of the defense of the Advocate who is given to us again in the same context in which He was first promised us by Christ in His Last Supper Discourse – the celebration of the Eucharist by which we share in Christ’s eternal sacrifice of redemption – the Eucharist – that makes all of us the Church.


Homily for the Reception of Candidacy at Saint Mary’s Seminary

On August 24, 2014 I celebrated Mass and received the petitions for candidacy of the third year class of seminarians at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas. Among these candidates, many of whom were my past students at Holy Trinity Seminary, is included Mr. Nghia Nguyen whom I hope to ordain for the Diocese of Fort Worth to the transitional Deaconate in the first part of 2015. It was also a special day for me personally because I spent my last 5 years of seminary formation (also 5 years as a faculty member) at St. Mary’s Seminary. Below is the text of my homily from this celebration.

+Bishop Michael F. Olson

Congratulations to Mr. Nghia Nguyen whom I formally received as
a candidate for priesthood for the Ft. Worth Diocese.

This year's candidacy class at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston.
I enjoyed celebrating Mass there with them all.

Homily for the Reception of Candidacy at Saint Mary’s Seminary
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 22:19-23
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth possesses in its collection a painting by Nicolas Poussin. The painting depicts the very scene described in our Gospel reading from this Sunday; Christ entrusts the keys of the Kingdom to Peter. Interestingly enough, it is entitled The Sacrament of Ordination and is one of a series of seven paintings depicting the sacraments by Poussin. The artist presents this scene from the Gospel as representing Peter’s ordination by Christ. Honestly, upon initially viewing this beautiful work of art, I must state that I was puzzled over the choice of this passage of Scripture to present the Sacrament of Holy Orders. If I were able to draw or paint beyond stick figures, I would have selected the Call of the Apostles, or perhaps the Last Supper, or the Washing of Feet to represent Holy Orders. Not the entrusting of the keys of the Kingdom to Peter.

Yet, in a very profound way, this is what the Sacrament of Holy Orders brings about -- the bringing of order out of chaos. Just as God created the ordered Universe and all within it out of the primordial chaos of nothingness, and sin brought about disorder through abuse of all that is good, thus Christ restores order (beyond that of the original order of creation) sacramentally through the ministry of His priests in the pastoral care of His people -- as priests govern, teach, and sanctify.

The Rite for the reception of Candidacy is very simple. It seems to be so much of an understatement; it’s almost stark. There are two short and direct questions and an equally short declarative statement of reception made by the Bishop in the name of the Church. There is no Book of the Gospels; there is no Chrism; there is no imposition of hands. Yet, perhaps this simplicity is precisely the point.

The Rite is truly marked by the simplicity of faith; it is the faith required to hear the call and to say “yes.” It is the simplicity of faith that St. Paul reminds us comes from listening. The Rite is steeped in simplicity because our human condition encounters so many temptations to complicate the nature of our call, even to the point that a man can forget that he is here because he answered a call at Christ’s initiative, not because a man has undertaken a lifestyle choice of his own desires. Faith begins with listening to and for God, Who is incomprehensible.

In our second reading today, taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Paul abandons himself to the mystery of God, whose judgments are inscrutable and whose ways are unsearchable. While Paul is speaking particularly about the question of Israel’s destiny, his point is that only the truly wise and prepared are humble enough to acknowledge that they really do not know -- the “how,” the “why” and the “when” of God’s call to them. Paul faithfully trusts the One whom no one can comprehend. Thus, should our aspirants to candidacy (and each of us as well) believe that God is upright and will never reject us (His People, His Church) even when we cannot grasp the details of the entire picture. Perseverance is required and specifically sought from our aspirants in the Rite we celebrate in today’s Liturgy.

The first question seeks from the aspirant a declaration of resolute perseverance in preparation for ordination for ministry of the Church. The question specifically makes explicit the presupposition that the aspirant’s declaration is in response to Christ’s call to him. This presupposition is essential. It requires that a man has heard a call and has adequately discerned through faith and prayer that it is indeed the Lord who is calling him.

The second question seeks from the aspirant a declaration of resolute preparation for faithful and generous service to Christ and to His Church. The preparation does not simply involve external compliance to authority as delineated by a series of infantilizing imperatives. The preparation is of mind and spirit and involves intimately conversion of heart in loving one’s neighbor in the freedom of a disciple who knows himself, accepts himself, and gives of himself as one who is loved and redeemed by Christ. The response on the part of the aspirant does not declare that he is ready to complete a requisite course of study; it does not declare that he is always willing to please the whims of capricious power masked as authority. The response calls for a humble manifestation of faith in God, that all of this is mysteriously God’s work. Without the manifestation of authentic faith, the gift can be lost through a cloudy sense of entitlement.

In our first reading from Isaiah, we see that this is precisely what occurs to Shebna. He stops listening. He loses faith. He forgets that he has been entrusted with the keys of the Master’s Household; he stops letting the Master’s people into the Master’s House, which is the Master’s reason for so entrusting him with the keys. And at the time of crisis when the people most need to be brought into the security of the Master’s House, he refuses to do what he has been called to do, and instead builds for himself a majestic and expensive tomb. Perhaps this is a foreshadowing of the Scribes and Pharisees condemned as “whitened sepulchers” by Jesus later in Matthew’s Gospel, or even other more contemporary examples that might come to mind. The result is that the Lord thrusts Shebna from his office and instead entrusts the authority of office to Eliakim because Shebna has come to mistake the office as his entitlement.

In the Rite, it is the office of the Bishop to receive the declarations of candidacy. The statement of reception is short and to the point. It must not manifest entitlement to the declarations that are made freely. The reception is joyful; it is hopeful because through it the Church acknowledges gratefully the good work that God has both begun in these men, and that only He can bring to fulfillment. More so in this manner it is intended to manifest the fruit of listening -- of faith. The statement of reception is not made at the Church’s initiative; it is most certainly not made at the receiving bishop’s initiative no matter how insightful he might be; it is not made at the Seminary’s initiative no matter how trustworthy the program of formation might be. The statement of reception is the fruit of listening. It is made in the name of Christ with the same confident and humble declaration of faith in the mysterious workings of God as made by the aspirants, and not as the bitter fruit of self-serving arrogant judgment. The authentic authority entrusted to Peter to serve the Messiah’s House (that is, the Church) is the task of admitting the People of God into the Kingdom. This is carried on today through the sacramental ministry of priests. This provides order to God’s People and saves them from the chaos of the evil one.

Finally, it is important to note that in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew, Peter is addressed as “Simon bar Jonah.” The name “Simon” is derivative of the Hebrew word “shema” which means “to listen.” And “Jonah” is referent to the Old Testament prophet who precisely did not do that -- he refused to listen. The point is that the Church, and those who are entrusted with authoritative offices in service to Her, are called to listen first, and so to recognize that the authority is indeed entrusted to them and belongs more profoundly to Christ. It also means that conversion is a gradual endeavor that marks God's Kingdom. Patient perseverance must characterize our formation and pastoral ministry. The gift of rightly ordered authority by Christ to His Church underscores the need for rightly ordered servants who can only become so through the honest simplicity of faith. There is no lasting hope or legitimate charity without first entering through the door of faith. This simplicity of faith begins with listening. It then responds to the heard Word with perseverant service to those most in need. And those who are most in need are those to whom the Master sends us to save from the chaos of sin and selfishness and to admit them with His keys into His Kingdom and Household, the Church. Listen, have faith, be attentive.


Homily for Priestly Ordination

Father Gary Jeffrey Joseph Picou and Father Raul Martinez Lopez at their
ordination ceremony last May 25, 2014.

May 25, 2014
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Why do we ask you to promise obedience today, on this the day of your ordination?

I once heard that in the 1950’s one of the business schools at a prestigious American University identified the Catholic Church as a model business organization. It was reasoned that this was because, in part, that the Church possessed a loyal and compliant workforce that labored for little financial compensation while being completely dedicated to the cause. It was noted that the promise of obedience made by its workforce made this possible.

This is not why the Church asks these men to promise obedience to their bishop on the day of their ordination as priests.

The obedience of a priest is not simply compliance. Too often our policies for parochial administration can become more important to us than the mandates given to us by Christ concerning love of neighbor, the Beatitudes, or even the dignity and nature of marriage as taught by Jesus and His Church. The obedience that Christ requires of His priests is a life-giving obedience that makes known the obedience of Christ to the Father. Obedience is an act of the heart directed to the bishop, but to the bishop as he represents Christ and His Church. Thus, obedience is never simply procedural or administrative. Obedience doesn’t end with a particular assignment nor does it end with retirement. Priestly obedience is at its core an apostolic heart ready to be inconvenienced and available for the burden of God’s people wherever and whenever they cry out for us.

La obediencia de un sacerdote no es simplemente el cumplimiento. Con demasiada frecuencia nuestras políticas para la administración parroquial se vuelven más importantes para nosotros que los mandatos relativos amor al prójimo, las Bienaventuranzas, o incluso la dignidad y la naturaleza del matrimonio como lo enseñó Jesús y de su Iglesia. La obediencia que Cristo requiere de Sus sacerdotes es una obediencia vivificante que da a conocer la obediencia de Cristo al Padre. La obediencia es un acto del corazón dirigida al obispo, pero al obispo como él representa a Cristo y su Iglesia.

As Pope Francis recently articulated, “An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness,” who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out.”

So, when as priests we receive that emergency phone call at 2:30 in the morning, remember it is Christ calling to whom we are obedient; this form of obedience engenders a generosity that will generate even more devotion among the faithful people of God encouraging even stronger and life-giving marriages and more robust priestly and religious vocations within our local and universal Church.

A lack of docility and obedience on our part manifests a symptom of a church challenged in its health. This symptom is more broadly identified by Pope Francis as a lack of a sense of belonging among the people of God. The Pope states, “If part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is due to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of people.”

The real objective of the enemy is to scatter the flock so that he can pick them off one at a time like a predatory wolf. This lack of belonging is a sign of the scattering of the flock, the work of the enemy. Obedience is important because the priest’s deference to the bishop’s authentic leadership helps to prevent the enemy from scattering the flock. The bishop has the responsibility to keep the entire flock in his sight and may have to ask his priest to sacrifice his own preferences or even well-formed judgment for the sake of the unity of the entire flock, the life of the local church, the Diocese. This can never be simply understood as compliance to a procedural request or assignment.

If we are to nurture a sense of belonging among the people of God, a sense that is rightfully all of ours by the grace of our baptism, we must first work hard to belong ourselves as priests---to each other as bishop and priest, to our presbyterate as brothers, and to the entire Church as servants by living and preaching-with God’s help-the entire Gospel---especially those parts that left to our own devices we would rather omit. Our fidelity to this mission will help to reverse the process of secularization that harms our unity by reducing the Catholic Faith to that of the private sphere, to an individual commodity, or to that of the exclusively personal opinion or prejudice.

+ Bishop Michael F. Olson

Also See:

Bishop Olson ordains Deacons Gary Picou and Raul Martinez to priesthood
North Texas Catholic Newsmagazine


My New Blog! A Reflection on Saint John Paul II

It is my hope that by maintaining this blog it will help to lead others (and myself) to Christ. I hope to use this as a pastoral instrument to help me to remain close with “the sheep” of Christ the Good Shepherd, which are entrusted to my care in His Church. Hence, we have the title of this blog "Life on the Chrism Trail" as the Bishop of Fort Worth.

This past Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two of my favorite popes---Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. These saints, like Pope Francis, are examples to me of bishops who beautifully exemplified the joy of evangelization among God’s people. They were courageous in their ministry and always allowed the limitations of their humanity to display the limitlessness of God’s presence and love.

I am posting a reflection on Saint John Paul II on the occasion of his canonization. It is based on a homily I gave on the Thursday of the Second Week of Easter in 2005---the week following his death on Mercy Sunday.

God bless,
+ Bishop Michael F. Olson

Saint John Paul II

First Reading from the Mass for the Thursday of the Second Week of Easter.

Acts 5:27-33

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
"We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man's blood upon us."
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
"We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

We see a different image of Saint Peter in today's reading than we did in the Gospel as read during Holy Week. Saint Peter, who denied Christ three times in fear, now professes Him with courage in the face of danger. The Grace of Faith has transformed Saint Peter's weakness into profound courage.

In 1815, after the destruction of war brought on by Napoleon in Europe, the Congress of Vienna divided the Duchy of Warsaw (modern day Poland) into three parts: one to be ruled by the Emperor of Austria, the second to be ruled by the King of Prussia, and the third to be ruled by the Tsar of Russia. Between 1830 and 1832, there occurred a series of Nationalist uprisings in Poland against these monarchs. The native Polish hierarchy supported these uprisings and the nationalist sentiment of Catholic Poland especially in the face of the Lutheran King of Prussia and the Russian Orthodox Tsar.

The Emperor of Austria pressured Pope Gregory XVI, then the successor of Peter, to reprimand the Polish hierarchy. The Successor of Peter sent the encyclical, Cum Primum to the Polish hierarchy admonishing them to instruct their faithful that it was their responsibility to be obedient to the sovereignty of the Austrian Emperor, the Prussian King, and the Russian Tsar. Pope Gregory XVI had himself put down revolts in the Papal States with the help of Austrian troops so he feared the loss of Papal Sovereignty as temporal ruler of Rome. The Pope cited in that encyclical letter Sacred Scripture to reinforce the Christian virtue of civil obedience as directed to the Austrian Emperor, the Prussian King, and the Russian Tsar. This became known colloquially in Poland as the "Thrice Denial of Peter".

These events prompted the Polish nationalist and poet, Julius Slowacki, to write in 1833 these prophetic words from his exile in Paris:

"God has made ready the throne for a Slav Pope, He will sweep out the churches and make them clean within, God shall be revealed, clear as day, in the creative world.
This Pope will not take flight at cannon's roar and saber thrust
But--brave as God Himself-- stand and give fight counting the world as dust."

The Slav Pope, that Successor of Peter was elected 145 years later in 1978. He was Karol Wojtyla, now known to us as Saint John Paul II.

This poem, and the national experience that it expresses, helped to shape the man who became Saint John Paul II. He was very aware of the weakness of Peter having experienced that previously in his national identity as a Pole as captured by the words of Slowacki. He was also aware, in his vocation as the Successor of Peter, of his need to be obedient to Christ alone in order to perfect that weakness. Saint John Paul II often spoke of his responsibility to be obedient to the Gospel of Christ-that the Pope was not an earthly sovereign but the Vicar of Christ, and the Servant of the Servants of God. Saint John Paul II was obedient to the Gospel and could not change what is essential to the Gospel despite the criticism and attacks that were leveled at him because of his fidelity. It is this same obedience that prompted him to be able to ask forgiveness for sins committed in the name of the Church, just as Saint Peter asked forgiveness of Jesus for his denial made in fear early on that first Good Friday. It is this understanding of obedience that prompted Saint John Paul II to preach that obedience should never be used as an excuse to commit evil in the name of any religion thereby perverting faith into an ideology. This obedience is very much like the humble obedience exemplified by Saint Peter after the death and Resurrection of Christ: the courageous obedience displayed in today's first reading.

The fruit of this obedience in faith of Saint John Paul II was his unwavering courage. Saint John Paul II's first decision as Pope was to be called by the name John Paul in order to continue the mission of his immediate predecessors Saint John XXIII and Pope Paul VI (and implicitly Pope John Paul I) towards the renewal of the Church initiated by Vatican II. As Saint John XXIII opened the windows of the Church for the winds to blow through, and Pope Paul VI suffered to keep the windows open against the gusts and to keep clear the Church's authentic vision in the midst of the ensuing obscurity caused by the cloud of dust kicked up by the wind, Saint John Paul II continued this mission as he swept out the cloud of dust and its obscurity to make clean the Church from within so that its Gospel of Jesus might be proclaimed anew to all people inside and outside of the Church. This mission is entrusted to us. It is the mission of Christ Risen that conquers all fear and vanquishes sin through mercy.