Happy Epiphany!

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It was a cold winter day forty-five years ago today in Jonesboro, Indiana. I donned a white robe and headed to the baptistry located behind the choir loft just below the stained-glass window at Westview Wesleyan Church. I was 17 years old and I was finally going to be baptized!

Reverend Carlos Fletcher became my pastor during those critical high school years and asked me if I had ever been baptized. I told him that I hadn’t and true to his conviction and nature said, “We have to take care of that!” So at the beginning of the second semester of my senior year in high school I was baptized into the Christian faith.

Looking back I recognize that this was not just a ceremony, but an true incorporation into the life of Christ. A few months later I responded to a definite call on my life to pursue a missionary vocation. I shared this recently when my wife and I were interviewed on “The Journey Home” and I consider this a turning point in my spiritual life. You can see that interview here.

Historically, Epiphany celebrated four things: Jesus’ nativity, the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Each of these events is a special manifestation of Jesus Christ to humanity. In the Latin Church we typically focus on the visit of the Three Kings which symbolizes the revelation of Jesus Christ as a light to the Gentile nations and as the Savior born for all of mankind.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light

We Three Kings, verse 5, written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857.

Collect for the Epiphany of the Lord
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

 

Happy Epiphany!

An Open Letter to My Bishop

Your excellency,

Yesterday I witnessed the baptism of my newest godson in a parish in our diocese. What joy to stand with my wife and our godson’s parents and respond on his behalf the desire to be baptized and affirm the Creed. I lit his baptismal candle from the Christ Candle situated next to the baptismal font and I thought about the future our Lord has for this precious boy who bears the name of two of our stellar saints.

I know his parents would be thrilled if this little boy would discern a call to the religious life, especially to the priesthood. They will do everything possible to train up him up accordingly. As godparents, we are committed to pray, encourage, and model fidelity to Christ and his Church.

I have one son, eight grandsons, two godsons, and four other boys who have adopted me as “papa”. If any of them discerned a call to the priesthood I would be ecstatic! I don’t say this lightly—it is not an easy vocation to undertake, and all the more so when a priest is committed to follow in the steps of Christ himself, and adhere to the example of some of the amazing priests in our tradition and history—men like St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio, St. Damien of Molokai, and Father Thomas Byles who died hearing confessions as the Titanic was sinking.

I have been blessed to have wonderful priests in my life to celebrate the Mass, to hear my confession, to confirm me, to convalidate my marriage, to bless my home and to offer spiritual direction. It is evident through their lives that they are committed to Jesus Christ and his Church, and to my growth in sanctification and final salvation. I would be honored to have any of these young boys follow in their steps and minister in the same way to their own generation.

Thank you, Your Excellency for your part in making possible the parish that I am part of and the priests who minister the Liturgy of the Word and Sacrament to us on a weekly, even daily basis.

But, Your Excellency, I do have a request to make of you—something that I hold in the very depths of my heart, that causes me to cry out before God when I am alone before him. You know the burden that these children would take up if they discern a call to the priesthood. And so I ask you for them, and for all the sons of Catholic mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, godfathers and godmothers, that you be completely committed by the authority entrusted to you in the sacred office you hold, as successor to the apostles, to be vigilant for the spiritual well being and protection of these sons of the Church.

Leave no stone unturned  to protect our sons from predators who would try to derail them in their spiritual devotion to Jesus through attacks on their chastity. Predators have no place in our seminaries, and we hold you and the office of vocations directly responsible to weed out these destructive influences. (Also it would be helpful if you would make a statement to that effect to our diocese!)

Also, our sons love the Church in all of her liturgical and historic glories. Please make sure that these sons of the Church are not viewed with suspicion because they long to learn the beauty of the historical liturgies and practices, or because they are faithful to the doctrine and teachings of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Your Excellency, I leave you with deep respect and high regard for your holy office and close with the words of St. Jude at end of his epistle:

But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, “In the last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.” These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. On those who waver, have mercy; save others by snatching them out of the fire; on others have mercy with fear, abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh.

To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory, to the only God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power, and authority from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen (1:17–25 NABRE).

You are in my prayers daily.

Respectfully yours in Christ,

Gary Wiley

An Open Letter to My Bishop

Welcome Damian More!

Our second godson was born on July 7, 2018. His parents gave him the name Damian More. That’s a lot to live up to when you consider the saints whose names he bears. Today we have the privilege of standing with his parents and older brother as he is baptized and by virtue of the sacrament is born into the God’s family, the Church.

Paragraph 1213 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: ‘Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word'”.

Little Damian More won’t have any real understanding of all that will take place in his life by grace through the faith of his parents today, but knowing his parents very well, they are committed to lead him day by day into a knowledge of his Savior Jesus Christ and how he will become a sharer in the mission of Christ’s Church.

That brings me to his two onomastic saints: Peter Damian and Thomas More.

Peter Damian lived in the 11th century. He was a Benedictine monk and a cardinal of the Church in the time of Pope Leo IX. In 1828 he was named a Doctor of the Church. In his time he was mostly known as a reformer of the Church. In 1050 he wrote a very direct treatise on the vices of the clergy, which included fornication, homosexuality and abuse of minors, as well as the attempts by church officials to cover up these abuses. This was nearly 1,000 years ago!

Thomas More lived in the 16th century and is no doubt better known due to his close relationship with King Henry VIII of England. Sir Thomas More was a close friend of the king, served as his secretary and personal advisor and in 1529 was named Lord Chancellor. More served the king well, but his first allegiance was to Christ, his Church, and the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Clement VII. When the pope would not grant the king an annulment from his wife Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, Henry broke from the Church and declared himself head of the Church of England and was granted a divorce. Thomas More could not support the king and resigned his position. He could not justify the king’s action against the Church and the dissolution of his marriage. More paid for his conviction regarding the Sacrament of Marriage with his life. His last words before being beheaded were: “I die the good King’s servant, but God’s first.”

My dear godson Damian More, only God knows what you will be called upon to give witness to, to proclaim and to defend. May the power of the Holy Spirit flood you and empower you, and may the intercession of Peter Damian and Thomas More enable you to stand true in this your century of service to God. You have my prayers always!

Welcome Damian More!

Blessed Assurance

Yesterday I had an experience that brought two distinct parts of my life experience together in a very special way. I have had the privilege over the past several months to facilitate the “Breaking Open of the Word” each Sunday during the noon Mass at my home parish of Good Shepherd. What that means is that following the homily the catechumens, who are preparing to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, are called forward and blessed in prayer, and then leave the Mass to further “break open the Word” they have just heard. I love to hear them respond to God’s Word read and exposited each week.

The experience yesterday was a very important step in their Christian pilgrimage. The six catechumens from Good Shepherd, along with hundreds of others of the New York Archdiocese, gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the Rite of Election. Here, every catechumen joins his or her godparent to be offically welcomed by the bishop to receive the sacraments after they have gone through the Scrutinies during the Lenten season. I was there as a godparent to one of the catechumens and was honored to walk forward with her as she was called to sign her name in the Book of the Elect.

The Scrutinies (examinations) are “very special rites…celebrated on the middle three Sundays of Lent, at liturgies where the Elect are present. The Elect are those in our midst who are preparing for Baptism. Part of their journey to the (baptismal) font is that they have been received among us, the Rite of Acceptance, and they have been enrolled in the Book of the Elect in the Rite of Election” as described above.

There is a such a strong sense that while this is an individual decision made by each person, each person is also part of something much bigger than themselves, present with hundreds of others, but also present with millions of Christ-followers stretching back over 2000 years! I was taken with the liturgy and the ceremony spoken in three languages: English, Spanish and Mandarin, a liturgy and ceremony that have not always been a part of my faith experience. Yet my heart was filled with praise that I too am part of this amazing “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7).

As the service came to a close we were invited to sing the recessional hymn. There in the beautiful and cavernous expanse that is St. Patrick’s the cantor and organist led us in singing in three languages the great Gospel hymn of my childhood, “Blessed Assurance,” written by Fanny J. Crosby and composed by Phoebe Palmer Knapp. In that moment the wonderful faith expression of my parents and grandparents came together with the beauty of my faith expression in the historic Catholic Church.

  1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
    Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
    Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

    • Refrain:
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long;
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long.
  2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
    Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
    Angels, descending, bring from above
    Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
  3. Perfect submission, all is at rest,
    I in my Savior am happy and blest,
    Watching and waiting, looking above,
    Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

All glory, praise and honor to our Lord Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

 

Blessed Assurance