Knights bring Christ alive in wonderful ways

I recently attended the Knights of Columbus 135th Supreme Convention in St. Louis, a gathering of over two thousand from throughout North and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Europe – bishops, clergy, Knights and their families – to celebrate what the Knights of Columbus accomplished over the past year and to give encouragement to the members as they carry out the mission of the Knights of Columbus in their local church. The theme of this year’s convention was “Convinced of God’s Love and Power.”

Throughout their history, since 1882, the Knights of Columbus have been a force in responding to the challenges of the times, those challenges presented by the culture, and the challenges faced in society around the world. The Knights’ dedication and commitment to the mission of Jesus Christ is expressed through the ways in which they serve as the Lord’s hands. As we all know, the heart of Christianity is not a series of principles or ideas. It is the person of Jesus Christ who extends his deep love for us and then propels us into action, sacrificing our own lives for others. This is the work of the Knights of Columbus.

Those who are “convinced of God’s love and power” find this as the source of the Christian life and mission. This underlies the work of Christian charity and fraternal charity which is the hallmark of the Knights of Columbus and their councils throughout the world.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, in his annual report given at the convention, shared the major accomplishments of the Knights of Columbus over the past year. He spoke of new records in charitable giving, with more than $177,500,673 given last year. Over the past decade, the Knights of Columbus have donated $1,622,606,995. Over 75 million hours of volunteer service by its members around the world reflect countless individual acts of kindness and love, changing the lives of many people. Other accomplishments include increased membership and the sixteenth consecutive year of growth in insurance sales.

The Knights of Columbus led the way worldwide in assisting Christians facing persecution, especially those facing genocide in the Middle East. They have provided more than $13 million to persecuted Christians since 2014 in the form of food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care. Supreme Knight Anderson shared, “Christians who endure suffering and death for their faith in places like Iraq, Syria and Egypt, show us how to confront terrible evil with the weapons of love and truth. They are a brilliant witness to God’s love and power.”

Two new initiatives were announced to assist Christians at Risk. First, on November 26, the Knights of Columbus and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will sponsor a day of prayer for persecuted Christians followed by a Week of Awareness and Education. Secondly, a new effort was announced to help save Christianity in Iraq by raising $2 million to save the Christian town of Karamedes in Iraq. Until recently Karamedes was controlled by ISIS. The terrorists desecrated churches and graves and looted and destroyed homes.

The Knights of Columbus are urging local councils, parishes, or other church groups, and individuals to help by donating $2,000 — the approximate cost of resettling one family. The rebuilding work will begin immediately. For more information about this initiative or to donate to it, please visit www.christiansatrisk.org.

These are just a few examples of the great charitable work of the Knights of Columbus, continuing its efforts to build a culture of life and a civilization of love.

I am deeply grateful for the great work the Knights of Columbus have done in parishes throughout our diocese, for their support of me and our priests, and for their witness and dedication through the ways in which they serve as the Lord’s hands.

I would encourage all Catholic men to become members of the Knights of Columbus. It is a wonderful way for men to support one another in their faith, to deepen their faith through prayer and action, and to answer the Lord’s call to intentional discipleship. When Catholic men come off the sidelines and get into the work of Christian charity, unity and fraternity the mission of Jesus Christ comes alive and many lives are deeply affected.

To my brother Knights in the Diocese of Rapid City, I conclude with the encouragement that our Supreme Knight shared at the annual convention. “This year let us be in even greater ways who we are called to be as brother Knights. Let us strive to be that radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion that our church and our world so desperately need. Let us strive to be authentic witnesses of how to care for one another, and how to encourage and accompany one another. We can and we will do these things as the spiritual sons of Father Michael McGivney. We can and we will do these things because we are convinced of God’s love and power.” Vivat Jesus!

 

Invited to become Spirit-filled evangelizers

In last month’s West River Catholic, I wrote about “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” which recently took place in Orlando, Florida. This convocation was in response to Pope Francis’ call for the church to embrace her mission to go out to the peripheries in answering the radical call to missionary discipleship. The Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) was used as the guide and platform for the convocation.

The heart of the convocation directed us to examine and reflect upon the current landscape and mission field that is awaiting us; our response that leads us to renew our call as missionary disciples and our commitment to form missionary disciples; where are the peripheries and margins of society that await us and who lives there; and finally, strategies for addressing the issues; and equipping Spirit-filled evangelizers.

The Diocese of Rapid City sent a delegation comprised of myself and fourteen men and women from across the diocese. Throughout the four days, we heard many inspiring talks from various leaders in the Catholic Church and from panelists across the country who led discussions in the daily breakout sessions on a range of diverse topics.

An important point in one of the talks was that the work of evangelization is the means to address poverty in the world — all poverty and all forms of it. As we know, poverty is everywhere, in many different forms. We can see it all around us and it can also easily be hidden. It is in every part of our society, culture and geographical area. And because it can be hidden, none of us are removed from experiencing it in our lives.

This is perhaps why Pope Francis has invited “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal

encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (EG #3).

Daily asking for this gift of a personal encounter with Jesus should be the beginning point of accepting our call to be missionary disciples, going to the peripheries across our diocese and across America. It begins with conversion in our own hearts which will not happen unless we seek this renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ unfailingly each day. If we are going to accept our baptismal call to radical missionary discipleship, it begins here for all of us. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight for the Knights Columbus, noted in his address that perhaps we ourselves are the first periphery.

This is at the heart of a life of faith. Many people express a desire for a deeper relationship with the Lord, but often neglect the means to facilitate this desire. Pope Benedict XVI shared these words with the people in St. Peter’s Square, “For every Christian, faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more” (Wednesday General Audience, October 21, 2009).

What is needed in our families, our parish communities, this diocese and our world is a new passion for holiness. If we are not seeking this, then we will not accept a radical call to missionary discipleship and a call to holiness. This was clearly one of the challenging messages of the convocation.

As a disciple of Jesus seeks to live out his or her call to holiness, first asking the Lord to accompany him or her, then it will be possible to practice the “art of accompaniment” as expressed by Pope Francis (EV #169). It is the Lord Jesus who will teach us as he accompanies us. This is precisely how Jesus began the early church — “accompaniment” with his disciples. Our response to this encounter with Christ also requires the accompaniment with others, leading us to become Spirit-filled evangelizers.

“To create a culture of encounter and witness, we must live explicit lives of discipleship. We are called not only to believe in the Gospel but to allow it to take deep root in us in a way that leaves us incapable of silence: we cannot help but to announce the Gospel in word and in deed. This missionary outreach is at the heart of disciple-ship” (USCCB, Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization, p. 14).

In the end, going to the peripheries requires us getting out of our comfort zones, leaving our all too familiar maintenance-mode mindsets, and becoming parish communities which are both creative and mission-driven to share the joy of the Gospel. This has been the encouragement given to us by Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel. “

“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (EV #20).

This was also the challenge given to the participants who attended The Convocation of Catholic Leaders. This is the challenge I offer all of us in the Diocese of Rapid City.

It is our mission: We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.

 

Convocation examines today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities

It is hard to believe that only nine weeks ago we celebrated the Sacred Triduum and Easter Sunday. I recall the great joy of those who answered the call to enter into the Catholic faith on that Holy Saturday night. Each in their own way answered the call to come and follow Jesus in a new way.

Since Easter, I have been on the confirmation circuit, traversing the diocese, helping those who were confirmed to come to a deeper understanding of what Jesus is asking of them as he pours out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon them, sharing with them the seven gifts which will help them to become mature disciples. These gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit have been given to all who have been confirmed so that all of us can live as true witnesses of Christ in our everyday lives. This is our call in Christ. As to whether we take it seriously, only each of us can answer for ourselves.

This is at the heart of the mission of the Diocese of Rapid City. I wonder, even after the Diocesan Priority Plan was promulgated and Through Him, With Him, and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan was shared across the diocese, if most parishioners would know the mission statement of the diocese — it is the mission statement of each one of us.

Here it is again: We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.

This propels us into the New Evangelization, stemming from our baptism and strengthened through the sacrament of confirmation. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis has been very clear about this in writing: “The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth.” In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth.” Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” (#20).

In response to this call the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken seriously Pope Francis’ exhortation to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy of the Gospel growing in our own call to missionary discipleship of Jesus Christ as well as helping to form others in this call.

The USCCB is convening “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” on July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida. Under the guidance of the bishops, this gathering of diverse Catholic leaders from around the country will provide an opportunity for the church of the United States, to

examine today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities in the light of the church’s mission of evangelization. They will be equipped to go forth, ready to engage the world with the joy of the Gospel. The Diocese of Rapid City will be represented by a diverse team of fourteen leaders from across the diocese.

Two key outcomes for the convocation include: first, leaders will be equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, and second, they will come away with new insights from participation in strategic conversation about current challenges and opportunities informed by new research, communication strategies and successful models. From these conversations, the hope is that participants will bring back — to the diocese, their parishes and our ministries — tools, resources and renewed inspiration to apply and move forward the “Joy of the Gospel” and Pope Francis’ desire to create a church of missionary disciples who lead others to a “missionary conversion” so that, together as the body of Christ, we can have a profound impact on the culture and society in a dynamic way.

This convocation will be of great value as we move forward the mission of the Diocese of Rapid City. To that goal, I would ask that this Convocation of Catholic Leaders, its participants and the ministry which flow forth from it be lifted up in your daily prayers, asking the Holy Spirit to direct and guide these efforts. Pastors, please include an intercession for this intention in the Prayers of the Faithful at the weekend Masses of July 1-2.

Only together can we live our mission and build the kingdom of God in western South Dakota. May God abundantly bless you and your families.

 

Bidding farewell to priests departing for new assignments

 

The Easter season is a very busy time for me as I travel the highways and byways to many different parishes to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to our young people. This is one of the things I enjoy most about being the bishop — the chance to interact with our confirmation students, their families and parishioners in each parish.

Late April and early May is also a time for finalizing priest assignments for the following fiscal year. The departure of a number of priests from the diocese has made this process a real challenge this year. While the challenges are real, I have so much for which to be grateful.

It all began with Bishop-elect Steve Biegler being named the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne. What a gift the people of Cheyenne are getting! I am deeply grateful for his ministry in the Diocese of Rapid City for the past twenty-four years. But I am grateful that I will still see him at least twice a year at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference meetings.

I am saddened that Frs. Godfrey Muwanga and John Lule, our Ugandan priests, are being called home for new assignments, although I am grateful to their bishop for allowing them to remain here for ten years (five years longer than originally planned). They both provided wonderful ministry and were great additions to our presbyterate. They will be deeply missed. Thank you, Father Godfrey and Father John, for your service among us.

We will also say farewell to Fr. Andrea Benso, our priest from Italy. After serving in the diocese for the past three years on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations and completing his Native American Ministry experience, he will return to Italy to continue his priesthood in his own diocese. We wish him well and thank him for his service among us. Despite his short time with us, he, too, has left his mark.

It will also be hard to say goodbye to some of our Jesuit priests who will be leaving the diocese over the course of the next few months. Fr. John Hatcher, SJ, will be departing later in the summer after serving the Native American people for the past 45 years. He will be taking a well-deserved sabbatical over the next year. Fr. Rick Abert, SJ, who has been a dedicated servant to the people on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a total of 13 years, will be leaving the end of May to take on a new pastoral assignment in another diocese. Fr. Peter Etzel, SJ, who has served here for seven years as the

Director of the Sioux Spiritual Center, Director of the Deacon Formation Program and Director of the Lay Ministry Formation Program, will also be reassigned to another diocese-missioned to a new assignment, departing later in the summer.

I am deeply grateful for the presence of the Jesuit communities here in the diocese and for all that they have been doing to serve the Native American communities for these many, many years. Fr. DeSmet first arrived in the Dakota Territory with the “Black Robes” in 1838 — 179 years ago. Many wonderful Jesuit men have served here sharing their gifts, talents, and their love for the Native American people. They have taken on the most challenging ministry in the diocese and truly made a difference in the lives of many people. As I have traveled around the diocese, the names of many Jesuits who have served here have come up in the conversation with parishioners who have described how their lives have been touched by the ministry of these fine men. The Jesuits who will be leaving us are among the finest. Fr. John, Fr. Rick and Fr. Peter, I cannot thank you enough for your ministry. You have each left a lasting mark on the church in western South Dakota and all of you will be deeply missed.

In the face of these departures, the Lord has assisted us in meeting the challenges of assigning priests to provide necessary coverage for our parishes this year. The process has been difficult and it is only possible because of the generous priests we have in our diocese. I am deeply grateful to our priests for their willingness to give of themselves in many ways for the sake of the needs of the diocese.

I am grateful for those priests who are willing to move if asked, for those priests who are willing to delay their retirement, come out of retirement or remain out of retirement for another year. This has been extremely helpful in addressing the priest shortage this year because of the many departures. I am thankful for those priests willing to accept a new assignment before their current assignment has ended or who have accepted one that is not necessarily on their wish list. This is just another example of the many ways they serve sacrificially for the greater good of the diocese. We also rejoice in the return of Fr. Brian Christensen, who will complete his assignment at the North American College, and the arrival of several priests to serve in the diocese for the first time. (The assignment changes are listed on page 4 in this paper.)

Although it has been challenging to program the placement of priests this year, I will always trust that God will provide for the Diocese of Rapid City. However, I also know that we all MUST do our part by praying for vocations every day, by inviting your sons or other young men in your parishes to consider a vocation to the priesthood, and by helping to create a culture of vocations in your parishes. There is no reason why the Diocese of Rapid City should be facing a priest shortage. There is an abundance of priests in our diocese!

As I wrote in Through Him, With Him and In Him: “Families and local parish communities should be the seed beds for priestly and religious vocations. There are no shortages of vocations to the priesthood. They are in your families and parish communities. You have not called them forth. The only shortage is that of vocational discernment. If more Catholics were to intentionally

engage the Lord in a conversation about what his plan for their life might be, in other words, seek out their personal vocation, many would discover a call to the priesthood or religious life. This is precisely why families and parish communities must be engaged in the work of vocations.”

In conclusion, I offer my deepest thanks for the priests who have so generously served the people of God in the Diocese of Rapid City, those priests who are departing us and those who continue to give of themselves across western South Dakota. Be assured of my continued prayers for all of our priests and for those whom God is calling to discern a religious vocation. I also ask the People of God in our diocese to remember to regularly thank your priests and to thank God for them. We can never take their presence for granted.

‘What would happen if parents began teaching the psalms to their little ones?

Last month I was in Davenport, Iowa, my former diocese, to give a four-night Parish Renewal on Stewardship at St.

Anthony Catholic Church, the oldest parish in the Diocese of Davenport. It was a great joy to be back amongst many people whom I have come to know through my years of ministry in that diocese. Having never given a parish renewal before, I was not sure what to expect. Many questions came to my mind: Would people show up? How would they hear my message? Is a prophet welcome in his native place? Any concerns that I had quickly went by the wayside. My message was well received and I deeply enjoyed the experience.

But my experience went beyond just giving one-hour talks on various aspects of stewardship. One afternoon, a woman from the church who faithfully attended each evening talk, as well as the talks that I gave following the daily Mass, invited me to come and bless her office. She was a local chiropractor and her office was not far from the church. When I showed up at her office, I also found her mother and her almost five-year-old nephew. They were not unfamiliar to me because they had all been at Mass on Sunday. But this gave me an opportunity to get to know them a little better.

What I experienced was beautiful and deeply moving. The little boy was very active, but a little shy in my presence, at least for a little while. It didn’t take him long to warm up to me. The next thing I experienced was something unexpected. His aunt asked him to pray with me the 23rd Psalm. As a four-year-old, this little boy could not yet read, but he began to recite Psalm 23 for me by heart. Remarkable! I was blown away. During the visit, he later recited Psalm 91 for me as well. But if that was not enough, there was more.

Prior to me leaving his aunt’s chiropractic office to go next door for a cup of coffee at his mother’s café, this little boy was asked to pray a prayer of blessing over me from his heart. Out of his mouth came this beautiful extemporaneous prayer, asking God to bless the bishop with many blessings and to grant me a safe trip home. Again, I was deeply moved, even to tears. I have never experienced anything like this before.

It revealed to me not only his faith, but the faith of the parents, the aunt and the grandmother. They were intentional about working with this child and sharing with him the importance of prayer and a relationship with Jesus.

As I reflected upon this experience, it reminded me of two core values in the Diocesan Priority Plan — Prayer and Family. The first Core Value is prayer, which is the very foundation of the Catholic life. “As the primary educators of their children in the faith, it is imperative that parents teach their children how to engage in a relationship with Jesus through prayer. It is the one way in which they will build a strong and secure foundation, leading to an intimacy with the Lord based on faith and trust. The active engagement of family prayer is also what builds strong, healthy marriages and families. Daily family prayer is what best models the life of the Holy Family. It should be the practice of every Christian family.” (Through Him, With Him, and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, pg. 32).

This family was living out this Core Value of Prayer, but also the Core Value of Family. It was clear that they had created the “domestic church,” a place where we first learn about who God is and how we encounter him in prayer; a place where Christ is encountered within a community, an individual Christian family where each member plays a role in the mission of evangelization. We evangelize when we share faith, teach faith and live faith. The Christian family is where this begins and should continue, lifelong” (Through Him, With Him, and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, pg. 51).

There is no doubt that these family members took seriously their role in the evangelization of their little four-year-old. I found myself thinking what society would be like if this was the norm rather than the exception. Imagine what would happen if parents began teaching the psalms to their little ones; if they began teaching them how to pray from their heart at this early age. This little boy was no doubt very smart, but his gifts for prayer came alive and were developed because family members took the time to share their faith and teach him the importance of God in his life.

To learn more about the Core Values which provide the basis for living an authentic Catholic way of life, read and reflect upon the Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan – Through Him, With Him, and In Him.

(More free copies are available. Ask your pastor how you can obtain one.)

Who knows where this little boy’s life will lead him, but certainly he is well on the way in building a strong and secure foundation in the Lord. His prayer over me was truly an experience of resurrected life in Jesus.

As we celebrate this beautiful season of Easter, may Jesus set our hearts afire with his love so that we all become bearers of Christ’s radiant glory, filling the world with this new life!

 

No one will be denied the opportunity to share love with a child

By the time you will read this, the South Dakota Legislative Session has drawn to an end. One of the bills which has drawn most of my attention from an input level has been Senate Bill 149 — the Faith-Based Adoption Agency Protection Bill. This was a very important piece of legislation because it ensures faith-based adoption agencies in South Dakota the freedom to continue placing children and making decisions within their agencies that are consistent with their deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions, which should be protected by our First Amendment rights.

The bill has passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the governor. There has been great pushback from opponents citing it as a “hate” bill or misrepresenting it as “state funded discrimination.” Our opponents either fail to understand or do not want to understand how important a role religious beliefs and values play in the lives of Americans across this country. It seems to matter little to them that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and appears that they will go to great lengths to rid the culture of our First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion.

With this particular situation, opponents allege that because there are religious criteria in the policy of Catholic Social Services for making placements of children into homes of loving parents, CSS is discriminating against the LGBTQ community. This is far from the truth. The opposition is agenda driven, partisan and assisted by news media who unfortunately do not seek all the facts.

CSS has been providing adoption services in western South Dakota for over forty years and has always served the best interests of the children in accord with our Catholic faith and traditions. It and other faith-based organizations receive no government funding for their adoption programs — one reason why this bill is important for the sake of our Catholic ministry.

The very mission of CSS is “To share in Christ’s ministry of offering hope, promoting individual human dignity and strengthening families and communities, by providing professional social services to people of all faiths in western South Dakota.” Encouraging families to consider becoming foster or adoptive families is part of their mission. Contrary to the false statement from the ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director, that “this law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families,” when a potential adoptive family cannot be served because they fall outside of CSS’s policy, they are referred to other organizations who can provide for their needs. The State of South Dakota has more than enough agencies and attorneys available to provide adoption and foster care services. Every family who wants to adopt a child can find an organization to assist them if CSS is unable to do so.

In fact, the opposite is true. In the case of CSS, if they are forced to make decisions which force them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, they will close down their adoption services before violating those beliefs. Closures of adoption agencies would affect the number of families and birth parents being served. The bottom line is that the government should not be dictating how religious organizations carry out the mission of Jesus Christ in service of the Gospel. Faith-based organizations do far more than any other agencies in serving the poor and vulnerable. If those opposed to Judeo-Christian religious values and traditions are determined that the government should control the ministry of faith-based organizations, the less fortunate and vulnerable will have many fewer places to turn for services and care.

I would like to personally and publicly thank the sponsors of SB 149, Senator Alan Solano and Representative Steven G.

Haugaard, for their work in getting this bill passed. They and those who voted for it have my admiration and gratitude for speaking out for religious freedom in the State of South Dakota. In today’s culture it takes courage to risk stepping out publicly on faith-based issues. Doing so, as Jesus warned us, has made these brave legislators the subject of persecution (Jn 15:20). Thank you for being courageous in spite of the persecution and derision you received from the opposition. It shows your true character.

I am also deeply grateful that Governor Dennis Daugaard had the same courage and signed this bill into law for the sake of religious freedom and religious beliefs held by the

individuals who serve others through CSS and all faith-based organizations across our state. Thank you so much!

The statement on religious liberty from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, begins, “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.”

Religious freedom is not only about Catholics being able to attend Mass on Sundays or enter into private prayer, but it involves whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. It is about the ability to continue to do the good works the Gospel of Jesus calls us to do without having to compromise our Catholic faith.

State funded adoption agencies and faith-based adoptive agencies have worked together for many years helping thousands of children find loving homes in South Dakota with an admirable tolerance of each other’s beliefs. Little by little, those opposed to Christianity have become intolerant and are trying to impose their beliefs on society. They believe that, because our ministry is guided by Gospel and traditional family values, there should be no place for it because they don’t like it.

We will continue to fight for our First Amendment rights.

Senate Bill 149 is an important way in which we can carry out the mission of Jesus without others telling us how we must do it. This fact remains, even with the passage of this legislation: no one will be denied the opportunity to share their love for a child through adoption.

 

Assisted suicide — are we headed there too?

In 1994 Oregon passed a law allowing physicians to prescribe deadly drugs for some patients in order for them to take their own lives. Since then, Montana (1995), Washington (2008), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado (2016) and Washington, DC (2016) have all passed laws or court rulings allowing doctor-prescribed suicide.

This movement continues across our land. Much of the momentum began from the story of a 29-year-old cancer patient from California named Brittany Maynard. She announced in the fall of 2014 that she did not want to face the expected suffering associated with her brain cancer and therefore would move to Oregon so she could take her life using its assisted suicide law. Her story became a media sensation and she then became a spokesperson for the group called Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, is the primary organization leading the drive for cultural acceptance and legalization of assisted suicide. This organization is well funded through the efforts of a large fundraising staff, raising money and awareness through wealthy and committed donors like George Soros.

Are we headed there too? Last December an article in the Rapid City Journal revealed that in November 2018 the people of the State of South Dakota could find a ballot measure on doctor-prescribed suicide under the misleading title, “Death with Dignity.” This ballot measure will give voters the opportunity to vote into law doctor-assisted suicide.

Though this campaign to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide has been rejected by most policymakers in our society, there is still great cause for concern as the throwaway attitude in our culture deepens. Most people, regardless of religious affiliation, know that suicide is a terrible tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent. They realize that allowing doctors to prescribe the means for their patients to kill themselves is a corruption of the doctor’s call to assist in healing.

Proponents know these facts and thus avoid terms such as “assisting suicide” and instead use code words such as “aid in dying.” These proponents cite that it should be a person’s right to choose to end his or her life so as to alleviate their suffering on his or her own terms, enabling them to die with “dignity.” They see this as a form of compassion and choice.

“The idea that assisting a suicide shows compassion and eliminates suffering is equally misguided. It eliminates the person, and results in suffering for those left behind — grieving families and friends, and other vulnerable people who may be influenced by this event to see death as an escape. The sufferings caused by chronic or terminal illness are often severe. They cry out for our compassion, a word whose root meaning is to “suffer with” another person. True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead. It helps vulnerable people with their problems instead of treating them as the problem. Taking life in the name of compassion also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions” (USCCB, To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide).

In the case of doctor-assisted suicide, the “dignity” of the terminally ill is ultimately stripped away because the dignity of the sick person is placed purely on a subjective level. This can easily lead down a slippery slope when subjectivity determines the value of a human life.

Doctor-assisted suicide is not free choice because it’s often driven by depression and hopelessness. The assisted suicide agenda can actually increase the suffering of isolation and hopelessness often experienced by seriously ill people. Seeing their death as an acceptable or even desirable solution to their problems only magnifies this kind of suffering. For example, people dying under Oregon’s law more often cite as a reason for their choice the feeling of being a burden rather than any concern about pain. There is also proof that in Oregon general suicides have risen dramatically since assisted suicide is promoted as a “good.”

Documentation suggests where there is legalized assisted suicide there is less commitment to palliative care. Government programs and private insurers have even limited support for care that could extend life, while emphasizing the “cost-effective” solution of a doctor-prescribed death. This was reality for Stephanie Packer, a California wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma. Her insurance company refused to cover the cost of her medical treatment. When asked if her insurance company would cover the doctor-prescribed suicide drugs, the company told her, “Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.”

A society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms. The government, by rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, implicitly communicates the message that some may be better off dead. Assisted suicide is also a recipe for abuse of elderly and disabled persons because it can put lethal drugs within reach of abusers. No oversight and no witnesses are required once the lethal drugs leave the pharmacy. There is also no requirement to notify a family member or emergency contact for a person taking their own life. Imagine the trauma the family would face in such a situation.

There are many other reasons why doctor-prescribed suicide is not good for this country, the State of South Dakota and for families — too many to lay out in this article. But it is important that in supporting a culture of life, we begin to speak out against this serious challenge and deadly issue now, in our parishes, in our families and in our communities. We do not want our state to be the next one to support a culture of death in allowing suicide for its citizens. Resources can be found at www.usccb.org/ToLiveEachDay.

In conclusion, from an article which appeared in Crisis Magazine by Maria Cintorino:

“Genuine death with dignity, dying naturally, is courageous for it dares to live despite suffering. It affirms the dignity of the human person as grounded in the image and likeness of God and recognizes that the beauty of life entails both the moments of joy and health as well as the sorrows and sufferings which are part of life. Dying with true dignity means accepting and embracing the suffering of a terminal illness and the death which ensues, no matter how prolonged the process may be. True death with dignity does not “opt” out of life — it fearlessly charges on as it recognizes the immense power of redemptive suffering and affirms the value of each human being who suffers.”

Praying for more priests

I am writing to share with you some important information and to seek your assistance. God has blessed this diocese with many wonderful and dedicated priests. I am proud of and deeply grateful for the priests who serve the people of God across the Diocese of Rapid City. They live as true witnesses of the love and mercy of the Lord, day in and day out. This is good news. Please be grateful for all they do for you and continue to pray for them daily.

But I also want to share with you some not-so-good news about the priests’ situation in the diocese, seeking your daily prayers for this situation as well.

The Diocese of Rapid City currently has seven men in seminary formation for the priesthood. This is good news. However, we had no ordinations this past year and the next ordination to the priesthood for our diocese is not scheduled until the summer of 2019, if the man currently in Theology II discerns this through to completion.

We also have priests who are moving into retirement. Fr. Bill Zandri retired last July, although he is still active in hospital and nursing home ministry. Another priest is due to retire in July 2017. Due to health issues of two of our active priests, we are already short on clergy personnel for this current year. Fr. Ed Vanorny has come out of retirement to cover a cluster of parishes in Harding and Perkins Counties.

In addition, Fr. Godfrey Muwanga and Fr. John Lule, who are on loan from Uganda, have been serving for almost ten years and their status in our diocese is year-to-year. Fr. Andrea Benso, who has been here on loan from Italy, will be returning home to his diocese next June. In addition, the two Jesuit priests serving at the Sioux Spiritual Center will also be taking new assignments, thus leaving a void in the ministry which they have been providing.

Also, Fr. Brian Christensen will complete his assignment in Rome and return to the diocese in July 2017. Taking all of this into consideration, there will be a shortage of at least one priest, and maybe more, if the Ugandan priests are called home.

So as you can see, the priest personnel situation leaves a challenging reality in covering our current places for ministry into the coming years. People may inquire, “Why don’t you get more priests from outside the diocese to come here?” This is much more difficult than one thinks. Obviously, in doing so, it would have to be the right person — one who would fit well into the culture of our local church.

St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Corinthians, “But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”

Yes, we are one body of Christ in the Diocese of Rapid City. If one parish is affected, all parishes are affected. A shortage of two priests or even one priest has an impact across the whole diocese. Any adjustment to the number of parishes we can serve will impact more than just one parish. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” We all must become concerned about these challenges in our diocese.

Therefore, while I wanted you to be aware of this situation, I am also asking each of you to take seriously the call to pray daily for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. But I am also asking that each of you pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our diocese and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor to find more priests to serve here, so that there will not be a shortage in this coming year and the years to follow.

Be assured of my prayers for all of you and your families. May Christ’s peace and love be the source and meaning of your lives.

 

‘Fear hardens our hearts and creates binders on our eyes’

 

The symbols of Christmas speak a language which we all understand. Pope Francis reminds us, “The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized. The cribs set up in churches, in homes and in so many public places are also an invitation to make room in our life and in society for God, hidden in the faces of many persons who are in conditions of hardship, of poverty and of tribulation.”

As we have listened to the readings of Advent and look forward to the readings of Christmas, we can see that they speak of a new era, one of peace and tranquility — a new dawn breaking upon the world. This message is meant to fill the world with hope, with deep longings fulfilled, thereby diminishing the anxiety and fear experienced by many people in this country and throughout the world.

Emmanuel, God Is with Us, brings new promise. The Messiah has come to deliver people from their suffering and affliction. The promise has been realized. This is the gift of Christmas. This is what we celebrate these days.

But perhaps not for everyone. The threat of deportation among the undocumented in this country, and even worse the threat of death for being Christian in the Middle East, brings severe angst among many populations. The mystery of Christmas for them may seem to be a hidden reality.

As I sit to write this column, the sad news has come across the Internet of a bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral killing 25 people and wounding another 49, mostly women and children, during a Sunday Mass. One cannot imagine the pain and suffering felt by Egyptians in the aftermath of such barbarism. But this is not an isolated incident. My heart goes out to the people of Cairo and all across Egypt. We must not forget the people of Iraq and Syria as well, for so many of them have similar experiences.

The fact is that the persecution of religious believers has become an increasingly tragic situation all across the world. People of all religious denominations, including Muslims and Jews, are facing the wrath of persecution. But Evangelical Protestants and Catholics have especially become targets of terrorism initiated by evil authorities who are often motivated by anti-Western, anti-democratic ideologies and who feel threatened by Christian faith and worship.

Pope Francis, in a homily in June 2014, said that “there are more martyrs in the Church today than in the first centuries.” After an additional two years, the evidence bears this out even more. Little has been done by the United States government in terms of speaking out against these terrors of religious persecution. Perhaps as a Christian nation we have failed to do all within our power to alleviate the suffering of those persecuted. This should concern all of us.

We might think, “what can I do?” We can be in solidarity with those who have been displaced from their homelands because of persecution through prayer and support. As I wrote in my Pastoral Letter, “To be in solidarity with others is to see them as God sees them, to love them as God loves them, and to sacrifice for them as Christ has sacrificed for them. United together, we are the Body of Christ. Every time we neglect others in the Body, the whole Body suffers (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). When we live in solidarity and charity, the Body of Christ is built up, there is communion, and the Kingdom of God is made manifest.”

We are often are afraid of people who are different from us. Fear hardens our hearts and creates binders on our eyes. But when looking at this situation with our eyes open, not living in fear but in solidarity and love, we will see their plight as an opportunity to be messengers of Christmas peace and hope. Then blindness and indifference will be transformed into solidarity and love.

In gathering with family and friends to celebrate this great feast of Emmanuel, God Is With Us, don’t forget to include the suffering and persecuted of the world in your prayers, in your conversations and in your generosity. These are simple ways in which we can be in solidarity with these brothers and sisters. May your Christmas be filled with very grace and blessing!

 

‘How do we get the nation back on the right track?’

By the time most of you will have read this, the Jubilee Year of Mercy will have come to an end and the 2016 Presidential Election will be over. Now what? Where do we go from here? What is next?

What a wonderful Jubilee of Mercy it has been. I recall the words of Pope Francis when he first informed the world of the Year of Mercy: “It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to be ever more effective.” It is my hope and prayer that the Holy Father’s wish has become a reality all across the world. It is the experience of mercy, both received and given away, that will bring true peace and harmony. So where do we go from here as the Jubilee of Mercy ends?

This Jubilee has raised awareness for us of mercy being at the heart of the church’s mission. Proclaiming and living the mercy of God is at the heart of the church’s identity and where she is most credible and authentic. Therefore, though the official Jubilee of Mercy has ended, the clarion call to continue the works of mercy continues because it is at the heart of Catholic identity. This is the reason why both mercy and solidarity were specifically included as core values in the Diocesan Priority Plan. We will always be called to “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). As I wrote in Through Him, With Him, and In Him,’ “To be in solidarity with others is to see them as God sees them, to love them as God loves them, and to sacrifice for them as Christ has sacrificed for them. United together, we are the body of Christ. Every time we neglect others in the body, the whole body suffers (cf. 1 Cor 12:26).

When we live in solidarity and charity, (and share mercy) the Body of Christ is built up, there is communion, and the kingdom of God is made manifest.” Continuing to seek ways in which these values are lived out among us allows us to more fully embrace our true identity.

As I write this monthly column the presidential election is pending and I find myself still quite concerned about our country regardless of which candidate wins. The threats to human life and religious liberty remain, here and around the world. The threats to traditional marriage and family values are on the rise. The number of people living in poverty remains. Immigration issues, healthcare issues, the national debt issue all remain. The threat of violence from terrorism remains. The rise of secularism continues. A new face in the White House doesn’t change these realities.

So where do we go from here? Recent polls show that more than 70 percent of the people surveyed believe our nation is on the wrong track. How do we get the nation back on the right track? What is the right track? There are probably as many different answers as the number of people polled. I would propose that the right track is a Catholic world view. What is it?

The world view when this country was founded was from Judeo-Christian values brought from a Christian Europe. A world view is a lens through which we look at everything in life. It informs our laws and policies. It helps determine how we think and act in all situations and circumstances. An individual may not even be aware of having a world view.

The Catholic world view is the view of the world and our response to it that has been given to us by Jesus Christ through his church. It is not something man-made, but given to us by God — revealed to us. The Catholic world view has its foundation in the Biblical world view — the world seen through the lens of divine revelation, the divine and living Word of God.

Many people today have a world view that is informed by things other than our Catholic faith, i.e. by secularism, by a culture that is profoundly un-Christian and becoming even anti-Christian. Intentionally or unintentionally, many Catholics have rejected the world view given to us by God’s revelation.

Catholics make up the largest Christian denomination in the world. Therefore, one would think that Catholics in numbers could have a profound impact in helping to shape and transform our culture. There would be great power to change the world if Catholics wholeheartedly embraced the revelation given us by Christ in his church.

Dr. Ralph Martin in a talk entitled “The Attack on Religious Liberty and the Catholic Church: The Spiritual Dynamics and Our Role” quoted noted scripture scholar Father Francis Martin: “The root sin of the world is the refusal to believe in Jesus and the place he holds next to the Father as the revelation of the Father. The root sin is to reject the truth.” And then he quoted John 3:36, Whoever believes in the son has eternal life. Whoever disobeys the son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath. The wrath of God is not God getting angry at people, but is our experience of God’s holiness when we’re rejecting it. It’s the anguish of soul and the darkness of mind that comes when we say no to the testimony that God is giving to his Son. This is perhaps the situation in our world today.

We need a Catholic world view if we are to live as Jesus’ disciples and become the people whom God created us to be, our true authentic selves. This call leads to seeking our personal vocation and mission in and for the world. We can’t transform the culture if we’ve accepted the secular world’s distorted world view. Unless we receive and accept all that has been given us through the church, we cannot be powerful witnesses in the world. There is no doctrine revealed that is not part of the Gospel message. We have a duty to live it all and share it.

Many Catholics received religious formation in years past but have gone no further in the faith formation process and therefore have an elementary understanding and knowledge of the Catholic faith. This is why Forming Disciples is our second pastoral priority. As written in the Diocesan Pastoral Priority Plan: “We are called to a deep union with Christ — a relationship of love. We will work together for formation in the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral areas. This formation will empower us to grow as faithful stewards of God’s gifts, living a Catholic way of life through hospitality, faith and discipleship.”

According to the Priority Plan, renewed efforts in religious formation for all ages lay a firm foundation for Catholics to grow in their union with Christ, to obtain adequate knowledge of the Catholic world view and to develop the necessary skills to be able to carry on the work of Christ in the world, each in one’s own way.

Pope Francis in the “Joy of the Gospel” wrote: “To believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone means realizing that he seeks to penetrate every human situation and all social bonds: ‘The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, even the most complex and inscrutable.’ Evangelization is meant to cooperate with this liberating work of the Spirit.”

Evangelization is the duty and responsibility of all baptized Catholics. Evangelization shares the Catholic world view and will lead others to true faith, living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church rather than under the deceitfulness of the Evil One. So, that’s where we go from here!