A statue depicts St. Teresa of Avila. (CNS)
A statue depicts St. Teresa of Avila. (CNS)
" The church is a divine institution. Christ established the church, not human beings.

" Archbishop Alexander Sample Aug. 23 homily
Archbishop Alexander Sample reminded worshippers Aug. 23 that the church’s authority comes from Jesus and cannot be easily dismissed.

“Some say there is a crisis of authority today,” Archbishop Sample said during a homily livestreamed from St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. He referred to cultural changes 50 years ago that popularized questioning all leadership, including that of the church.

The archbishop said that Oregon, with its pioneer spirit of rugged individualism, made defiance a defining characteristic.

“We Oregonians don’t like to be told anything,” he said.

The archbishop also noted that church authority has suffered by its own doing, especially because of the clergy sex abuse crisis. The archbishop said he understands how sex abuse, even while involving a small percentage of clergy, shook confidence in church authority.

“I am as disgusted as you, but that does not annul or cancel the words Jesus uttered to the apostles,” the archbishop said. “The church as a whole still carries the promise of Jesus in teaching on matters of faith and morals. That authority is not taken away by the sinfulness of the pastors.”

Many of the changes in the 1960s and ’70s were good, notably the advances in civil rights, the archbishop said. But indiscriminate rejection of authority has done damage in some cases. He cited widespread rejection of church teaching on contraception and other matters of human life and dignity.

Archbishop Sample reminded listeners that while civic leaders derive authority from the people, the church has a divine mandate and responsibility, most clearly seen in the Gospel story in which Jesus tells St. Peter that what the church teaches will hold in heaven. The archbishop added that the Lord also promised the Holy Spirit would guide the church.

“The church is a divine institution,” Archbishop Sample said. “Christ established the church, not human beings.”

Authority rests on the entire church, but the successors to the apostles, the bishops, have a special authority to teach the truth on faith and morals, the archbishop explained.

“There are so many other voices out there who claim to authentically represent Jesus in the Gospel,” the archbishop said, warning listeners to be discerning when engaging with media. Even established Catholic organizations can get it wrong, he said. As an example, he cited the Catholic Health Association, which countered the nation’s unified bishops in lauding the Affordable Care Act without ensuring it had protections for the dignity of life and religious freedom.

Sunday Mass from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception from Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon on Vimeo.

Private prayer an ‘absolute necessity’

Archbishop Alexander Sample offered an overview of prayer during an Aug. 14 informal talk livestreamed from his home chapel in Portland. One of his thousands of regular viewers suggested the topic.

He began the weekly Chapel Chat with a simple definition of prayer from a doctor of the church, the 16th-century Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila: “Prayer is nothing more than spending a long time alone with the one I know loves me.”

Saying the Catholic Church has the world’s richest spiritual tradition, the archbishop focused on private prayer.

“It is an absolute necessity in our life,” he said.

He explained that some prayer involves formal words, spoken or in one’s head. Such prayers can express praise and gratitude. One also prays when asking God for help.

A deeper prayer, the archbishop said, is informal heart-to-heart conversation with the Lord. “Sometimes, we don’t say anything but just sit in the presence of the Lord, listening,” he said.

One can meditate on Scripture or, with time and practice, move into contemplation, which leaves words and even ideas behind. “The Lord takes hold of our soul and draws us into deeper communion with him,” he said.

The archbishop urged listeners not to overcomplicate prayer. Any time during the day when our hearts or minds turn to God — that’s prayer, he said.

Prayer is necessary and takes discipline, the archbishop explained. “To get closer to God requires effort on our part. It doesn’t just happen.”

The archbishop prays early each morning and keeps his considerable schedule at bay during that time.

“It’s all about a relationship — with God,” he said. “Ours is a faith deeply rooted in a person. We are never going to get to know God in our life if we don’t spend time with him.”

The archbishop urged listeners to treat prayer time like a doctor’s appointment, something we’d never skip. He suggested starting with 15 minutes of personal prayer each day.

He noted that Jesus often retreated to quiet places. “If the Son of God needed to pray, we sure need to, too.”

At Mass Aug. 16 at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the archbishop in his homily discussed the Blessed Mother as one who receives prayers and intercedes for humanity in heaven.

“She knows what we were made for and she wants nothing more than for us to join her,” the archbishop said. “Like a mother, she wants only what is best for us.”

Chapel Chats with Archbishop Alexander Sample from Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon on Vimeo.