‘Together, we will leave a wonderful legacy for those who follow’

Most people do not think about leaving a legacy. Perhaps it is because we think legacies are for people with a lot of money or cultural clout, for people who are famous or who have done significant things in their lives.  “How can someone as simple and small like me leave any type of legacy?” we think.

But Jesus did not fit into any of those categories. He was a humble, dependent, faithful and compassionate man, seeking to do the Father’s will, sharing the Father’s love, rejected by many people, willing to suffer and die for humankind, yet the legacy he left has continued for more than two thousand years.

Materially, Jesus left nothing. He left no widow, and no children. He gave away practically everything he had during the course of his life and was stripped of everything left when he died. Yet, Jesus left a greater inheritance than anyone in human history.  He passed it on to eleven fearful apostles who became empowered through the gift of the Holy Spirit and then they carried this legacy into their future. Because of those humble and challenging beginnings, even today, we still draw on that legacy and always will.

Jesus’ legacy has been given to each one of us to carry forward. Like the first disciples, each of us is called into the mission field to proclaim Christ crucified and risen, “living the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.” Christ’s mission has been given to each of us in baptism and strengthened again through the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Lord has promised to “be with us always” (Mt 28:20) never depriving us of the help necessary to carry out that which has been entrusted to us.

The mission statement of the Diocese clearly reflects this:

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.

Each of us must answer our call to evangelize, to share the Gospel so that Jesus’ mission is lived in our own time and for generations to come.

The vision of the Diocese of Rapid City expressed in the Priority Plan also echoes the vision of Jesus and his public ministry. Recall our vision statement:

Reconcile – Make Disciples – Live the Mission. Our vision statement provides the window in which we see our mission. These identifying marks — Reconcile – Make Disciples – Live the Mission — are the foundation stones for moving the diocese forward in the future.

As you will read on pages 1 and 2 in this edition of the West River Catholic, the diocese is embarking upon a capital campaign to assist in the work of carrying forward the legacy of Jesus into our future. To reflect this, the campaign has been entitled: Living the Mission — A Legacy of Faith, A Legacy of Giving. 

Living the Mission invites each of us to personally take up the mission of Jesus, leaving our own legacy of faith and a legacy of giving in response to our call to discipleship. Living the Mission as outlined in the Vision Statement in the Priority Plan is not a project to complete but an ongoing way of discipleship. It is also reflected through the Living the Mission — A Legacy of Faith, A Legacy of Giving campaign whereby our generosity offers us the hope of continuing the mission of Jesus in the Diocese of Rapid City and the Rapid City Catholic School System for years to come by meeting current pressing needs.

The goal of the Living the Mission campaign is $12,000,000 to support a new Pastoral Center, the Priests’ Pension Plan, Native American Ministry, the RCCSS Endowment and a new cafeteria and kitchen at St. Thomas More High School. Again, on pages 1 and 2, more information about these goals can be found. These current needs, as well as future needs not described here, were developed through a comprehensive master plan- ning process completed in June 2017.

Living the Mission — A Legacy of Faith, A Legacy of Giving provides the people of the Diocese of Rapid City a real opportunity to not only carry forward the legacy of Jesus, but to leave our own legacy for generations to come just as those before us have done. This legacy of faith and generosity has been the hallmark of the diocese for generations.

I hope that you will join me in continuing this holy tradition following in the footsteps of our Master, who not only showed us the way, but taught us the way. Together, we will leave a wonderful legacy for those who follow us and the mission of Jesus can become more fully present among us, all across the diocese.

May Christ’s peace, love, joy, and faith reign in our hearts.

Please keep the canonization cause in your prayers

Last October 21st was an important day in the history of the Diocese of Rapid City. On this day, during the celebration of the Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Pine Ridge, a decree was read formally opening the cause for beatification and canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, Sr. I would like to update you on what has happened since that momentous day.

At the November 2017 USCCB meeting, as required by canonical procedures, I made a presentation to the American bishops seeking their prayerful support to move forward the process for beatification and canonization of Nicholas Black Elk. Following that procedure, their unanimous approval was made public and since then I have been amazed and inspired by the interest in this cause from all across the country and throughout Europe.

Since the opening of the cause, I have received a number of letters and phone calls from people in various parts of the country sharing with me the impact or influence that Black Elk has had in their lives as they have studied his life or through intercessory prayer. In addition, numerous film producers have contacted me expressing interest in creating a film or documentary on his life.

In recent months, we have secured a postulator in Rome, Fr. Luis Escalante, who is experienced in working with the process and procedures and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, bringing an expertise that is not available locally. Bill White of Christ the King Parish in Porcupine will assume the role of Vice Postulator. Part of the process is to formally appoint the Officials of the Inquiry. Fr. Joseph Daoust, SJ, has been appointed Episcopal Delegate, Fr. Dan Juelfs as Promoter of Justice, and Teresa Spiess as Notary.

To assist in searching out and gathering all the published writings of the Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, those not yet published, as well as all historical documents, a Historical Commission is appointed. Members of this commission are Mark Thiel, Archivist at Marquette University where many records about Nicholas Black Elk are kept; Fr. Michael Steltenkamp, SJ, author of two books about Black Elk — “Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala,” and “Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Missionary, Mystic;” and Ken Stewart, Archives Research Administrator for the South Dakota State Archives/South Dakota State Historical Society.

Two Theological Censors must also be appointed. Their role is to examine the published writings of the Servant of God — his own works or by others — to verify that there is nothing contained in them contrary to faith and good morals. The names of the Theological Censors must remain secret.

An important aspect of the cause is to verify the heroic virtues and the reputation of holiness and intercessory power of the person being considered for beatification and canonization. This takes place through the testimony of witnesses. These include eyewitnesses, that is, those who have had direct and immediate knowledge of the Servant of God, i.e., blood relatives and other relations as well as others who have received information about Nicholas Black Elk from those who have had direct and immediate knowledge. The witnesses are bound by an oath to tell the truth and to keep secret their role in this process.

There are other particulars that are a part of the process, but because of limited space here I have outlined the basic process. In the coming months the Officials of the Inquiry will be completing their work, bringing together all of the required documentation — Acta (Acts) — necessary to move this cause forward. Upon completion, the Acta are then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Then the diocesan phase of the process is completed.

An important aspect of this whole process on a local level is cultivating an interest in the life of the individual being promoted for the cause of beatification and canonization. This has begun in our diocese with the prayer cards and the posters of Nicholas Black Elk highlighting some aspects of his life. A website is being developed to promote his cause as well as provide historical information on his life. A Facebook page promoting the cause will also be up and running in the near future.

This is an important opportunity for the Diocese of Rapid City. I would ask that you keep this cause in your prayers. If you have not already begun to do so, please use Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk as an intercessor in your lives. We never know how the Lord will use those prayers of intercession. On this page is the prayer that has been created for this process. Hopefully it is found on prayer cards in your parishes. Let it find its way into your daily prayer life.

I believe that the church’s special recognition of Black Elk’s saintly life will provide the Native American  faith-community and peoples everywhere the example of a very special person whose presence to others is worthy of imitation. As a model, he showed how the Native American culture could enrich the Body of Christ, integrating the two traditions, thereby bringing a richness to both.

This Catholic missionary and mystic holy-man of the Oglala Sioux would be a welcome symbol to all Native Americans, leaving a legacy of someone who sought the Sacred, who lived the Gospel in everyday life, and who inspired others (Native and non-Native) to do the same.

Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, pray for us.

 

Heavenly Father, Great Spirit! Behold us, who stand before you singing our song of thanksgiving for Servant of God, Nicholas Black Elk. Faithfully he walked the Sacred Red Road and generously witnessed the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ among the Native American people. We humbly ask you to hear the prayers we plead through his intercession. We ask Holy Mother Church to recognize his sanctity by acknowledging his presence among the company of Saints and as one to imitate in his zeal for the Gospel. Open our hearts to also recognize the Risen Christ in other cultures and peoples, to your glory and honor through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seize every occasion to act in a loving, holy way

At the State Knights of Columbus Convention a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching at the Mass celebrated on Friday evening at St. Joseph Church in Spearfish. During the homily I asked the congregation the question, “How many think you are holy?” I have asked this question before in other settings and the response is always the same — not more than a very few people raise their hands. The reason for this is either they are very humble, or they do not understand what holiness really looks like. Isn’t this the call of all Christians?

Seeking holiness is first and foremost the call of a disciple of Jesus. Chapter Five of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) takes up this idea that all who believe in Jesus Christ regardless of their vocation in life are called to holiness. The Core Values outlined in the Diocesan Priority Plan stem from this very call — the call we must accept if we are to be living witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world.

I bring this up as a way to encourage people of God across the diocese to read Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – The Call to Holiness in Today’s World. This short document was released on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. It was not meant to be a treatise on holiness, defining it in some way. Instead, the Holy Father is re-proposing for all of us “the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love.’ (Eph 1:4).” (#2)

It is easy, with all of the distractions and noise in our world today, to forget or even dismiss this call as unattainable. So often people relate holiness as perfection, thinking that this is the reality of the saints and not the average Christian. How far from the truth!  Pope Francis relates, “We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable … We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” (#11)

In this apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis relates a story about Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân’s witness to holiness during his 9 ½ years of imprisonment in North Vietnam, which began in 1976. If you are interested in his story, read “The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison.” I would also recommend a short spiritual memoir entitled “Five Loaves and Two Fish.” that shares a bit about his life during his time under house arrest.

During his imprisonment, Cardinal Nguyên van Thuân refused to waste time waiting for the day he would be released. Instead, he chose “to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.” He decided to live his life in prison in this way: “I will seize the occasions that present themselves every day; I will accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way.” (#17)

If we do this, led by God’s grace, then the holiness of God becomes the heart of our every action. There are a couple of other points that I would like to highlight from Gaudete et Exsultate in reference to the call of every disciple of Jesus. The first regards our mission. In my Confirmation homily this year I share with the students who are being confirmed that the Spirit defines our life and leads us to our own personal mission for Christ. This is at the heart of this Sacrament of Confirmation.

Pope Francis reiterates this, “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for ‘this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thes 4:3). Each saint (each of us) is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” (#19) I wonder how often we see ourselves as a mission in our moment in history.

The second point that caught my attention is the call of each of us to be a message to the world. “Every saint (every one of us who seeks to live a life of holiness) is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people.” (#21) Since this is the case, what is the message of our life that is being given to his people?

Yes, holiness is for each of us. We must not be afraid of holiness. “It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” (#32)

The Holy Father expounds on two enemies which present false paths to holiness that are present in our culture today — Gnosticism and Pelagianism. These will be countered by a genuine understanding of holiness, which he presents through an interpretation of the Beatitudes. These instruct us in how to be holy and are at the heart of this exhortation.

Seeking holiness is not easy. Pope Francis describes how holiness comes through the daily struggles each disciple of Jesus faces. He notes that this spiritual combat is not only with worldly values and our own weaknesses, but is also with a very real enemy, the devil. To aid in that fight, the Holy Father concludes his exhortation by addressing discernment and “recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism.” (#174) And this mission, of course, is to be holy. And, yes, this mission is attainable.

“In the end, it is Christ who loves in us, for holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full. As a result, the measure of our holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on his.” (#21)

 

 

To access the document: http://w2.vat ican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhor tations/documents/papa-francesco_esor tazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsul tate.html.

Redirect resources to mental health care and reduce suicides

One of the most important social issues that we face in the State of South Dakota is record number of suicides that affect not just the individual families, but those communities in which the suicide takes place. The impact on those affected is difficult to measure, but these tragic experiences are a deep source of pain and suffering to so many people.

Whether we have been personally

affected or not, this issue bears the attention of all of us.

Below is an editorial on suicide that I submitted to newspapers across the State of South Dakota. It was recently published in the Rapid City Journal. In case you missed it there, I wanted to share it with all of our West River Catholic subscribers.

Imagine coming home to discover that your child, perhaps a 12-year-old daughter or a 16-year-old son, has taken their own life. I can’t imagine such an experience. But too many parents in communities across South Dakota have experienced this tragedy. Many priests and ministers serving in our communities agonize over the number of funerals resulting from suicide.

While it is true that Native American suicide rates in South Dakota are twice as high as the suicide rate for white South Dakotans, it is important to remember that almost 80 percent of all suicide deaths in South Dakota are white. The reality is that South Dakota’s children and young adults (under age 24) of all races end their lives at double the rate of youth nationwide.

Over the past 25 years, annual suicide numbers have doubled in this state and in the past five years, suicide has reached epidemic levels in South Dakota. Final numbers for 2017 have not been released, but the South Dakota Department of Health says it will exceed 173 suicides, a record high set in 2015. Rural areas suffer significantly higher suicide rates than urban areas, both nationwide and in South Dakota.

Research indicates our farmers and ranchers have the highest rate of suicide of any profession.

While the loss of life at any age is tragic, it is especially so for youth. The losses caused by suicide go beyond actual deaths. For every suicide death, approximately six people will be severely impacted. These “survivors” often experience complicated grief and recovery which impact their productivity in school or the workplace. Statistically, for every successful suicide, there are approximately 25 attempts. Many attempts result in permanent loss of health, medical costs and lost productivity in school or employment. While these economic factors may seem insignificant compared to the loss of life and grief borne by survivors, they do suggest that investing in prevention and treatment programs will relieve significant social costs.

We know that addiction and mental illness are contributing factors to suicide among all races and in all communities. For too long, we have relied upon the criminal justice system to deal with the behavioral challenges caused by addiction and mental illness. Ultimately, jails and courts are not equipped to handle the underlying issues associated with mental illness and addiction. This type of intervention is not a “treatment” program and is the most expensive response and the least effective.

Wouldn’t a more effective solution be to redirect some of our criminal justice and law enforcement resources into alternative treatment services, instead of prosecuting those with mental illness? Too often, access to basic mental health services is lacking in places most impacted by this suicide epidemic, our rural areas.

More funding for prevention efforts is needed to combat the root cause and help deter this problem among our youth. Prevention programs that target reservation schools and communities should be given funding priority over lower risk communities.

While all of us should make it a priority to pray for those who have taken their lives or have lost a loved one to suicide, prayer alone however, is not enough. As parents, pastors, educators, service providers and political leaders, we all have roles to play in addressing this epidemic and finding solutions. In the words of Sitting Bull of the Oglala Sioux, “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

We must engage our elected officials, asking, “What is the State’s suicide prevention plan?” Fighting epidemics should be a priority and behavior health losses are no exception. This epidemic that has our children taking their own lives is unacceptable.

‘Bring God’s redeeming love into the world’

Many people have very special days or periods of time in their lives that are not only significant, but because of their meaning, are celebrated each and every year with great intention and anticipation. Those could be birthdays, anniversaries or other events that are meaningful in the sense that they bring deep joy, happiness and fulfillment. These celebrations help us recall in a special way something personal, something life-giving or perhaps something life-changing.

For the Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, those special days are Holy Week — Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday. For the Christian, Holy Week is the most important and the most significant week in the church’s liturgical year. And the summit of the week is the Easter Triduum — the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the celebration of the Lord’s passion on Good Friday, and the great liturgy of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. Though celebrated over three days, they are liturgically for us one day unfolding the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

About five weeks ago we began a season of grace. Our Holy Father has encouraged us to “once again turn our eyes to (the Father’s) mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”

So now we find ourselves on the cusp of Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum. It is a week like no other in the church. From the very beginning of time, God has desired to share his love for humanity, to share the fullness of his Trinitarian life with us — that deep love between the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. And he wants this even more so after the fall of Adam and Eve, where sin entered into the world. He wants fallen humanity to come to know the depth of his love. Because of this desire, he sent Jesus to show this love for us and to save us from sin, reconciling us to the Father so that we could be partakers of this divine life shared between the Father and Son, not just when we die, but here and now, in this current age. Holy Week, and in particular, the Sacred Triduum, not only expresses this reality, but makes this love real for us once again.

In the Passion narrative from St. Mark, we read, “Peter followed at a distance …” We also read that when Jesus returned from prayer, he found his apostles asleep. We can be like Peter sometimes, following Jesus at a distance. We don’t want to get too close to him. Is it because we are afraid of what he may ask? Is it because we fear getting too close? Is it because he doesn’t excite us too much? Is it because we are not convinced of what he offers to us? Is our faith asleep, like the disciples who were asleep in the garden? Will we remain close to Jesus all week?

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter, The Joy of the Gospel, extended to us a challenging invitation:  “I invite 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 Joy of the Gospel, #2).

The celebration of Holy Week is all about accepting this invitation. I hear people often say that they wish they had a deeper relationship with the Lord. But often they do not make use of the opportunities available to them. No amount of casual contact with God will draw us into this mystery of love.  No amount of routine contact with the Lord can bring about this deeper encounter.

During the first Holy Week, 2000 years ago, Jesus achieved victory over sin and evil. During this Holy Week, he wants to extend that victory into our lives, into the parts of our lives that still need it, that still haven’t learned how to live the paradox of Palm Sunday. Jesus knows what he wants to say to each one of us this week, uniquely and individually. So we cannot follow at a distance, like Peter.

In drawing us close to him, Jesus wants to share with each of us the benefits of the cross, personally and intimately. In doing so, we will come to experience that the crosses we carry are not empty burdens with little value, but that every cross we carry can be an opportunity to bring God’s redeeming love into the world and to embrace the grace of suffering for which we see new meaning and hope.

We can never come to fully understand or grasp the depth of Christ’s love for us, but each time we enter into this sacred week as a response to his saving love, we experience more deeply the benefits of this mystery — a love that transforms the suffering and sin in our own lives, allowing us to participate in his Paschal Mystery.  This is precisely why each year Holy Week is a gift to us, to be unwrapped and opened.

It is my hope and prayer that all of us will make this Holy Week the greatest priority of our lives, entering into the mystery of Christ’s love. It is my hope and prayer that our churches will be filled to capacity during this Sacred Triduum — a faith community gathered, celebrating and giving thanks for this profound love. We will discover anew the joy of Christ’s unlimited love amidst the most profound sorrow and deepest joy in our lives.

My friends, let us not watch at a distance, but give Jesus the time and attention he deserves. Let Jesus speak to you in the quiet of your hearts as he unfolds the mystery of his love for you — because whatever he shares will be exactly what you most need.

Have a blessed Holy Week and a joy-filled Easter.

Lent —a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others

We have entered into the season of Lent, a season of grace. The Lord invites us to enter into a very powerful period in the liturgical year in the church. On Ash Wednesday, the Prophet Joel gave us these words of encouragement: “Even now, return to me (the Lord) with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning: Rend your hearts, not your garments … for gracious and merciful is he” (Jl 2:12-13).

The invitation has been extended — return to me and rend your hearts. In other words, tear open our hearts and seek the merciful love of the Father. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, encouraged, “In this season of grace, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”

Jesus presented to us the activity of the Lenten season, something far beyond the externals of the scribes and pharisees. Our Lenten activity must be rooted in an attitude of the heart, the interior place of our souls, that inner sanctuary of our relationship with Christ. “Rend your heart.” This is where true conversion takes place, where Christ’s heart and our hearts come together in a quite intentional way for us.

Like those coming into the Church at Easter, all of us are called to be converts, to be looking at our lives and our sinfulness in the light of grace, the light of God’s grace. In response to this season, many people will take on different Lenten practices. Whatever disciplines of Lent we embrace, we do it joyfully in order to thank God for his mercy and to open ourselves more to God’s overflowing life that surrounds us each moment. Our efforts to change and to grow in holiness are not made to earn God’s saving love for us. Rather, they are a consequence of it. I can’t imagine what life would be like without the love and mercy of the Father, whose mercy never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew.

In this season we are called to fast and abstain. In this culture of excess, it seems easy to give some things up for a few weeks. In doing so, how is this or that practice helping me to become more prayerful, more generous, more holy? Our Lenten practices will only lead to conversion and life in abundance if they are connected to our relationship with Christ — Jesus leading us through conversion. If not, then our fasting from food and drink will be a mere diet and our almsgiving will be merely giving money away.

But Lent can also be more than a just a time for fasting. It should also be a joyous season of feasting — a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others. Perhaps you will find these suggestions I came across many years ago helpful. It was written by William Arthur Ward.

Lenten Litany of Fasting and Feasting

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness;  east on forgiveness.
Fast from self concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of sincerity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.
Fast from instant gratifications; feast on self denial.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Trust in God.
And finally, fast from sin; feast on the abundance of God’s mercy.

The joy in doing this type of fasting and feasting is that these practices truly lead to rending our hearts and to conversion. And this conversion is a turning from those things that do not give life and a turning to God, who gives life to us in abundance. As you keep your gaze on the Father’s love and mercy, may this season of Lent be filled with every grace and blessing.

 

A New Years resolution to bring God’s abundant blessings

We find ourselves in the second half of January already. Christmas and New Year’s Day are distant memories for many people. Now the focus is perhaps “getting me through winter.” The beginning of each new year can also be a time where people refocus their lives. This comes about through New Year’s resolutions. With great resolve and determination, a new course is set for ourselves. New Year’s resolutions should have a positive impact on our lives, bringing about new blessings. Otherwise, we wouldn’t resolve to make them in the first place. Shouldn’t resolutions make us feel better, never worse?

But a month or two down the road, New Year’s resolutions can become a source of depression and unnecessary stress or foster disappointment if the resolutions are unattainable or we experience failure in carrying them out and they becomes just another a list of things we had hoped to do.

I would like to offer one resolution for everyone in the diocese. This is already part of everyday life for some of you, but my prayer is that it becomes a part of everyone’s lives. I guarantee that this resolution will bring God’s abundant blessings upon us as individuals, upon your families, your parish community, and our diocese. When practiced with desire, determination and discipline, lives will be changed and enriched in ways you cannot yet imagine. Guaranteed!

The resolution? Spend a half hour each day with the Lord Jesus in prayer — only one-half hour of the twenty-four hours allotted to us each day! When we think about the magnitude of God’s love for us, how are we not compelled to return daily to the Lord in gratitude? Yes, thirty minutes is a long time for many people to be in silence with the Lord. But spending time in silence with our hearts and minds gazing upon the Lord Jesus, either in Eucharistic Adoration or simply in private prayer, leads to intimate communion with the One who loves us more than we love ourselves.

In a recent Sunday Gospel, we heard the story of two disciples following Jesus. “Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see’” (Jn 1:37-39).

This question, “What are you looking for?” is a question for all of us. What are we looking for? What will bring the deepest meaning to your life? Are we looking for Jesus each and every moment of our daily lives? He is always present, waiting to encounter us, waiting for us to “come and see.” Are we looking for the intimacy that he longs to have with us? In other words, have we fallen in love with the Lord, as a bride is in love with her bridegroom? This is what Jesus desires with and for us. “What are you looking for?”

Falling in love with God is the vital key to opening the door to the fullness of the Christian life. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, points out, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, falling in love with God in a quite absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love. Stay in love. And it will decide everything.”

Jean Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, notes that prayer, in its simplicity, “is contained in these three things: To look at Jesus [to fall in love]; to unite ourselves to Jesus [to stay in love]; and to act in Jesus [and it will decide everything]” (my emphasis added in the brackets).

What keeps a person from pursuing this relationship with reckless abandon, like a man who has found the love of his life? There are many reasons. We all have our own. Often it is because we are looking for fulfillment in other things besides Jesus. In other words, we are seeking fulfillment in idols. Or we see prayer as another “thing” to do.

Salvation in Jesus is meant for everyone, and therefore it must be simple — uncomplicated. This is why daily prayer is so important, but also so simple — gazing on the one we love and the one who loves us.

The work of staying in love with God is about remaining steady and committed to prayer, even if such prayer is one long exercise in suffering the absence of a felt presence of God. The blessings we seek cannot be attained through our own strength but must be received as a gift, when the Lord chooses to give them. We must wait on the Lord. When we succumb to the temptation to skip regular prayer, Jesus chooses to remain intimately present, even though we might not feel anything. His love deepens in our hearts in the painful, felt absence.

Recently, while on retreat, this question for meditation was proposed. “In prayer, have we lost our expectation of intimacy with Jesus?” Perhaps this is why people struggle to enter into a daily life of quiet prayer. They have lost their expectation of intimacy with Jesus. Prayer is not complicated. Perhaps it is we who are complicated and are afraid to love and be loved. Prayer is communion with the Lord and not something we do or accomplish. Jesus desires this union with each of us more than we do ourselves. Jesus is looking for us! “What are you looking for?”

There is so much more that can be said about prayer and its importance in our daily lives that cannot be addressed in a short article. But the New Year has begun. Will you claim this resolution as your own — 30 minutes of daily prayer — and put it into practice? It is the same amount of time as one program you watch on television daily. If so, the year 2018 will be one filled with many graces and blessings, more than you can imagine. It is said that it takes doing something seventeen times in a row for it to become a habit.

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into this habitual daily life of prayer. The Spirit is eager to initiate and sustain this union with the Father and the Son. Do not be afraid!

Jesus said, “What are you looking for?”

 

God’s gift should continue to impact us every day

We are about to begin a very beautiful season in the Church’s year as we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming man in the womb of the Virgin Mary — the Solemnity of Christmas. What we celebrate is a clear reminder of how God deeply desires to be with us. The Son of God became a child born into a human family. Through the Incarnation, God has demonstrated how he chose to experience human life so that he could not only be close to us, but so that he could save us. This reality calls forth from us deep reflection, because as Catholics, it expresses and gives clear focus in how we are to live from this reality in every day life.

In other words, it must extend far beyond just this time of the year. The real meaning of Christmas is part of the Christian past, but must also be part of our present and future. The real meaning of Christmas defines who we are and to what the birth of this child calls us. This gift should continue to impact us every day in how we choose to follow Christ. Our whole identity as human beings is bound up in this mystery of Christmas. But this birth is only a moment in the unfolding of God’s plan for both Christ and us.

For Christ, God’s plan was taking on your sins and mine, and the sins of all humanity in an ultimate act of love. The manger became the cross where eternal love was born into the world. For each of us God’s plan will continue to unfold as we continue to accept the grace and the gift of Christmas. A continuous reflection on this beautiful event will never cease to move us into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Christmas is so often diminished to a one-day celebration, like a holy day or a Sunday which has a birthday party included with it. For many, Christmas ends when the decorations are taken down shortly after Christmas Day and life returns to its wintry normal. As the world moves into “ordinary time,” the birth of our Savior – the greatest expression of the Father’s love – will be just a memory. If we allow the Christmas reality to settle deeply into our hearts, we recognize more fully the power of this gift of incarnation and how it calls from us a response.

In the words of Pope Francis, “The power of this Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power which created the heavens and the earth, which gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants and animals; it is the force which attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence; it is the power which gives new birth, pardons faults, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God. This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.”

In other words, this love and its power awaits each of us. In fact, it comes looking for us. In the birth of Jesus, God is truly close to each one of us, and he wants to meet us, wherever we are in this relationship. He desires to lead us to himself. There is always more for him to share with us. He is that shining star, that true light, which dispels the darkness that envelops our lives and the whole world.

The following Christmas card verse says it well: “Love has a name – Jesus; Love has a place – Our hearts; Love has a story. And it is not finished yet.” As we contemplate this mystery of love, the Lord draws us deeper into this relationship, and yes, it will shake the very foundation of our lives again and again, but in this way: we will come to know LOVE in a deeper way; we will come to love in a deeper way; the world will then be transformed by our love in a new way. Christmas is a timeless story, a story without end to be carried and lived through the ages.

As we celebrate this gift of Christmas, let us gaze upon this baby born into poverty with humility and trust. With the wise men and shepherds, let us enter into the real Christmas, bringing to Jesus all that we are and hope to be. Then we will enjoy the true experience of Christmas – the beauty and gift of being loved by a God who chose to enter into our world. Our response to this gift can only be: Thank you. Thank you, because I can never repay you!

Merry Christmas to all!

 

All gifts large or small make difference in touching someone

Mission driven or maintenance driven? This is an important question for all of us. In other words, do we keep doing what we have always done and in the way we have always done it? Or do we step out in faith allowing Jesus to stretch us as we embrace life as his disciple, his living witness in the world?

Let us return to the Diocesan Priority Plan as a reminder of our sacred mission described in this way. “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 mission should drive everything we do — all pastoral ministry, all parish

ministry, and all sacramental ministry. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes similarly outlined this same mission: “Inspired by no earthly

ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give

witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.”

Our Diocesan Priority Plan points our way as we “carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit.” As we all know, essential resources are needed to allow the Diocese of Rapid City to be mission driven rather than maintenance driven. Some of these resources come from the Annual Diocesan Appeal.

In my pastoral letter for the Diocesan Priority Plan, Through Him, With Him and In Him, I shared these words. “Funding the mission of Jesus Christ means that we are a community of believers who seek to live our lives for the Gospel and for others. We therefore embrace this mutually shared vision for the sake of building Christ’s kingdom.”

The 2018 Annual Diocesan Appeal took place the weekend of November 18-19 with an in-pew solicitation, asking you to give generously. This year’s theme is “ … who else will give? . . .The people rejoiced … for they had given to the Lord wholeheartedly” (1 Chronicles 29:5,9).

This is an invitation for every Catholic family across the diocese to prayerfully consider what the Lord is asking of them. When we reflect upon what the Lord has done for us, we realize that he will never be outdone in generosity. And when we give to the Lord wholeheartedly, we imitate his generosity to us.

This year’s annual appeal goal of $1,491,000 represents approximately 37.6 percent of the total diocesan budget. The remainder comes from outside granting sources and other revenues. This is why your support is invaluable for us to carry forward the mission of Jesus Christ. We really do want to live as disciples of Jesus with hearts that are “mission driven.” This is the call of the Gospel!

Over the last many years, three of ten families share a gift in the annual appeal. Imagine what could happen if more Catholic families partnered with us in the mission of Jesus! Imagine if this number increased to 40, 50, 70, 80 percent participation! All families are invited to participate. Some families may feel they are not able to give, but I believe that most all families can find a way to participate in some way. All gifts, large or small, make a difference and touch the lives of the people we serve throughout the diocese.

Generous disciples are never afraid of running out or fearful of not having enough. They live in faith, gratitude and — trusting that God will always provide. Generous disciples realize that God feels responsible for us, even though we are sinners; that God will never be outdone in generosity; that God has invited each of us into his way of life, into his way of being, into his way of generosity.

When we live God’s way of life, we live in the very image of God himself, in whom we have been created. We look and act just like God.

In other words, we view and live life through the lens of abundance instead of scarcity, a lens of provider instead of provision, a lens of gracious giving instead of fearful giving.

We experience God as giving, the moment our hearts say “yes” to Gods desire for relationship with us, giving abundantly to us, endlessly pouring out in His gifts a love greater than our hearts can fathom.

Generosity puts our lives in the proper order. Living a generous life sets us free. We are no longer possessed by what we have and therefore, are free to give it away. This fills us, not with secular happiness, but with true Christian joy — “… who else will give? … The people rejoiced … for they had given to the Lord wholeheartedly.”

Over the years, I have discovered this truth — when we step out in faith and generosity, amazing things happen. “When we accept our lives as sheer gifts, the Spirit can use us as apt instruments for spreading the Gospel. Wherever the Spirit works, there is joy.” (“Pastoral Letter on Stewardship: A Disciples Response”)

The Annual Diocesan Appeal is an important way in which every Catholic family can serve one another sacrificially, thereby helping to build up the body of Christ in western South Dakota. Your sacrificial support is important to us, deeply valued and necessary for us to love as mission driven people. The Lord has given us all different gifts, but calls each of us to the same sacrifice. This is why the heart of stewardship is spiritual.

Please prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance in this regard. Please be generous in pledging both your financial support and your prayers for the mission of our great diocese, so that together we may “rejoice, for we have given to the Lord wholeheartedly.”

May God bless you and your families!

‘Vision with action can change the world’

Our Diocesan Priority Plan was completed and implementation began over a year ago. As you recall, the process of creating a priority plan led to the development of a vision statement. Vision statements reveal the overall vision and mission of an organization. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes time, and vision with action can change the world.”

The vision of the Diocese of Rapid City reflects the vision and mission of Jesus in his public ministry: Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission. These are the foundation stones for moving the diocese forward into the future. Vision with action will tangibly make present the kingdom of God.

The vision statement of the Diocese of Rapid City became the building block for creating the three Diocesan Pastoral Priorities — Reconciliation, Forming Disciples, and Funding the Mission. These priorities serve to guide our diocesan efforts over the next few years. The Priority Plan as a whole describes the mission of the Diocese of Rapid City in many ways. But the mission goes beyond the wonderful ministry that takes place across the diocese. We also have to have sufficient resources, both in terms of facilities and finances, to fulfill our sacred mission. This is why Funding the Mission is one of our priorities.

To move this priority forward, I met with key members of the chancery staff and Rapid City Catholic School System leadership. We discussed the many needs of the chancery, the retreat center and the school. A facility master planning process was engaged over the course of several months, beginning in January and concluding this past June. The purpose of this process was to discern the needs of each entity necessary to continue to live the mission of Jesus Christ throughout the whole diocese.

To backtrack a little bit, much wonderful ministry has happened since we purchased and renovated the former St. Martin Monastery to create the wonderful retreat center and elementary school we currently enjoy. Through the generosity of people across the diocese, we had a very successful campaign in the We Walk by Faith Appeal, raising over 18.5 million dollars. This completed phase one of our diocesan plans. In that process we also helped fund the building of two Newman Centers in our diocese.

But in many ways, our needs have only increased. Our current Chancery staff is located in two places — on Cathedral Drive and at the Terra Sancta Annex. Our spaces in both locations are inadequate and overall ministry is best accomplished when we are all in one place. The retreat center has been a great gift for the diocese. Its use is far beyond what we could have imagined. But for large diocesan events, the retreat center has also become insufficient. The Rapid City Catholic School System has pressing needs as well. High school plays and the many things needed to make them successful are currently taking place in an old, dilapidated gym at St. Elizabeth Seton School. At St. Thomas More Middle School the students begin eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning because of shared space limitations at St. Thomas More High School.

These and other issues were the catalysts for the facility master planning process. This process resulted in the development of a Facility Master Plan for the Terra Sancta Campus looking out many years into the future. This plan includes a new pastoral center and a fine arts/multi-purpose events center at the Terra Sancta campus, as well as additional classrooms for St. Elizabeth Seton School. Rapid City Catholic School System leaders simultaneously engaged in a master planning process for the St. Thomas More campus. This master plan includes a new kitchen and lunch room for the middle school as well as future plans for additional classrooms and a new gymnasium. These are some needs among others identified on the facility master plans for both the Terra Sancta and St. Thomas More campuses. The basic footprint of both completed master plans are below my column.

As I wrote in Through Him, With Him and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, “While we are doing many great things in the Diocese and providing many opportunities for people to grow in their faith and step out in mission, it is important that all of our efforts are coordinated toward a more comprehensive vision for the whole diocese.” This master planning process has helped to set a more comprehensive vision aligned with the mission statement of the diocese — 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.

As we know, if we are to live the mission we must be able to fund the mission. Although this master planning process was important in looking to the future, buildings are not the complete story regarding our needs. There is a great need to fully fund our priests’ retirement. It is currently funded at around sixty percent. The Rapid City Catholic School System needs to grow its endowment to support tuition assistance and to make salaries and benefits more competitive so as to retain and attract quality educators. Finally, and no less important, as we seek to properly carry out ministry on the Native American reservations in our diocese, I would like to create an endowment to enable us to provide and expand the personnel and resources for those living on the reservations we serve. Our current outside monetary resources are decreasing each year. These are some of the basic needs as we look to the future that will help us carry out the mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The needs included in Funding the Mission have been prioritized without having a clear indication of how much money could be raised in order to make these dreams come true. To that end, we sent out Requests for Proposals to twelve fundraising consultants. We received back four responses and interviewed three companies. We have selected Community Consulting Services (CCS) to assist in conducting a feasibility study to help determine what might be possible in terms of raising the money necessary to fund the various needs outlined above. This study will take place over the course of the next three months, with completion, hopefully, by year’s end.

The details of the feasibility study are being worked out at the current time and are not yet completed. A feasibility study will help determine which projects will move forward as well as when and how to proceed with a diocesan-wide campaign aimed at funding our mission.

In conclusion, I would like each of us to remember that first among the Core Values in our Diocesan Priority Plan, which we must embrace in all of our endeavors, is Prayer. In Jesus Christ, the Father has withheld nothing from us, but has given us everything. Nothing is lacking for those who place their faith and hope in him. But without Jesus, encountered through daily prayer, we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:15). Without sustained prayer we can make no progress in carrying out Christ’s mission. Let us turn to the Holy Spirit daily, asking that he stir up the gifts in our own hearts and give us the courage and strength to step out in faith, hope, love and trust. He will “teach us everything” (Jn 14:26) and “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13).

As our Holy Father Pope Francis encourages us: “Keeping our missionary fervor alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Spirit constantly. He can heal whatever causes us to flag in the missionary endeavor. It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!” [Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2103), no. 275]