August 17, 2017

As the summer comes to a close for the Office of Vocations from the many activities and events, this quote from the French educator Jean Baptiste Massieu comes to mind, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” The summer’s activities began when I attended training week at Broom Tree Retreat Center with our two Duc In Altum teams.  They then spent June and July crisscrossing the diocese teaching our children and youth in 13 parishes.  I launched into Girls and Boys Totus Tuus Camps with 39 High School leaders, 105 middle school campers, 25 religious Sisters from 13 different communities (Girls Camp) and 10 of our own priests (Boys Camp) participating in the weeklong camps, plus the 40+ disciples (volunteers) needed for a successful camp. Between camps, there were the two Steubenville High School Conferences in Denver, CO and Rochester, MN with over 100 youth and 25 Adult leaders participating from our diocese.  When I think of all of these things, my heart is overflowing with gratitude. The more I recall and relive these memories, the more my heart is filled with the abundant love that God has showered upon our children, youth and families this summer.

Watching Michael Craven, who has a prosthetic leg, which he didn’t use when he climbed 2 of the three courses at Nora’s Wall at Sylvan Lake during Boys Totus Tuus, was an inspiration to everyone who watched and cheered Michael on— Amazing Grace. To see a young freshman from Lemmon, Kole Reede, a junior leader, lead his small group of middle schoolers in faith sharing and an Examen at the end of the night was a blessing. To see 8 of our young men and women come forward during the altar call at the Steubenville Conferences expressing a desire in their own heart to be open to the possibility that Jesus might be calling them to priesthood and religious life made this spiritual father proud.

As your summer comes to a close and our children, youth, young adults, families and parishes prepare for another school year, take some time this week to recall and relive some of the graces you have received from this past summer. Let this grace flow from a grateful heart. As Meister Eckhart, the 14th century Dominican mystic, wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘thank you,’ that will suffice.”

August 11, 2017

All the parishes by this time should have received their posters and fliers for the third annual Stewardship Summit being held Friday- Saturday, September 29 – 30 at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center in Rapid City. I hope you have noticed them!

As another way to help publicize this year’s Stewardship Summit in your parishes we have produced a short, eight-minute DVD. In the DVD, several parishioners from the diocese, who have participated in the Summit in the past, share how why they went and why they would invite others to come. They have found the Summit to be a valuable experience for them in living out a life of stewardship through generous hospitality and lively faith. I also invite those watching to attend and give a short synopsis of what the Summit offers.

The theme for this year Stewardship Summit is “Learning to Drop the Net” with Casting Nets Ministries, which will focus on the third lens of our Stewardship initiative:  Dedicated Discipleship.  Our keynote speakers are Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart of Casting Nets Ministries. “Tony and Chris have been speaking all over the country for more than a decade proclaiming the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and equipping Catholics to become Missionary Disciples,”  according to their website.

Both are former teachers who bring warmth, humor and wisdom to their presentations. They have great stories to tell about their own experiences living as dedicated disciples in the Diocese of Wichita, which has a rich and successful tradition of stewardship. They will give three addresses during the summit and will share with us their Seven Pillars of Effective Evangelization.

In addition to these talks, eight workshops will be offered. Bishop Robert Gruss has generously agreed to lead three workshops. Fr. Jonathan Dillon, who is the pastor of the parish clusters in Gregory County, will be back with three more stories of great saints and I will share wisdom from Brandon Vogt’s book, Return, which outlines proven steps for drawing your adult child back to the church.

An addition to our conference this year is a youth track – meaningful play and age appropriate stewardship lessons for toddlers through 9th grade.

I would really like to encourage all stewardship committees to take an active role in reaching out to members of your parish communities and your families, to personally invite them to the Summit.  Do not take the week easy way out and simply put up the posters and fliers in the narthex gathering areas of your parishes, but instead take a few fliers and personally invite a parishioner, a family to the summit. Hand them a flier yourself. I would also encourage the parish stewardship committees to help promote the Summit by organizing different parish groups and organizations to view the DVD*.  Personal invitations are always the best and produce the best type of fruit.

In the past, stewardship committees have not been well represented at the summit themselves.  If stewardship committees could take a more active role by participating in the summit, it could go a long ways re-energize your stewardship committees in your parishes.

This Summit is for you!

*We have copies of the DVD in our office which we will be mailing out next week.  However, if you would prefer to view it from YouTube or from our website (available next week as well) that is also an option.  You may also embed the video on your parish’s website if you wish.  Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/NZwlJXRUgqg

August 4, 2017

Today we celebrate both the Feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests and the funeral liturgy for Fr. Jerry Scherer.  As we remember him in a special way today, I would like to offer this memory of Fr. Jerry which I shared last August with all of you.

“May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Father Gerald Nicholas Joseph Scherer
February 17, 1919 – August 1, 2017

From August 24, 2016:

If you read my Musing last week, you will remember that I made a promise to go see Fr. Jerry Scherer after golfing in the Bishop’s Golf Classic with the Ping Golf Clubs Fr. Jerry gave me 25 years ago. There is great joy and new life that springs forth when we are able to keep our promises. I went to visit Fr. Jerry in the Alzheimer unit at Bella Vista Nursing home last Friday. I tracked Fr. Jerry down at a table in the dining room.  I introduced myself and he was delighted to see me. I walked Fr. Jerry back to his room so we could visit. He must have asked me 100 times what my assignment was and where I was living.  I responded 100 times back with all the patience I had within me. “My assignment is the Director of Stewardship and Vocations for the diocese and I live in residence at St. Therese the Little Flower with Fr. Kerry Prendiville.”

I decided to change up the conversation a little bit.  I asked him, “How is the food at Bella Vista?”  His response surprised me, “That is minor stuff.” I said “Fr. Jerry, what would be the major stuff then?” His response surprised me even more, “You visiting me.” His response echoed in the silence — you visiting me.

At the end of my visit, I prayed with Fr. Jerry and we ended with a Hail Mary. Fr. Jerry said, “Let me walk you out.” As we were walking out of his room there were 6 or 7 other residents following us to the front door. Fr. Jerry looked at them and then looked at me and said “I don’t think any of us have assignments.” I responded back “perhaps your assignment is R & R, rest and relaxation.” Fr. Jerry said, “Sounds like a good assignment.”

In the end, my friends, when it comes right down to it, it is all about relationships. The personal relationship we have with Jesus and the relationships we have with one another. In the end, what else matters?

Do you have some “major stuff” to attend to this week?  Make an intentional effort to do so.

Photo of Fr. Jerry with Fr. Ed Vanorny courtesy of WRC

Fr. Scherer’s obituary can be found at: http://rapidcitydiocese.org/obituary-father-gerald-nicholas-joseph-scherer

July 21, 2017

The last several years I have heard Patrick Lencioni, who is an active and practicing Catholic, speak several times on the five dysfunctions of a team. The first time was at the Amazing Parish conference in Denver, in which I even bought his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Parable.” However, the book ended up on my bookshelf after the conference, where it remained for over two years until this past July. The second time I heard Lencioni speak was in July at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders on the Joy of the Gospel.

After the convocation, I decided it was time to get the book off the bookshelf, dust it off and actually read it. I was also encouraged by Susan Safford, who is the new Director of Pastoral Ministries for our diocese, who has asked that her team, those ministering in the Offices of Native Ministries, Faith Formation, Family Life, Youth and Young Adults and Stewardship and Vocations, read the book as well.

I have enjoyed reading the book. It had some great insights on how to be more collaborative and tips on avoiding a “silo mentality” in ministry. He also cautions against the temptation to settle for maintenance rather than striving for mission. As summer draws to a close, and our children, youth and young adults head back to school, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we do ministry in our parishes and diocese. We can then use this information as we gear up for the coming fall with its many activities and programs.

I would like to give you a summary of the five dysfunctions of a team as outlined by Lencioni.  He begins by telling the story of a former client of the million dollar company who said, “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

=I think one of the hopes of Bishop Gruss is to get all of his pastors and all the parishes rowing in the same direction and his pastoral letter is a great help in this endeavor. But my perception is that these 5 dysfunctions are present in every parish and every diocesan office to a greater or lesser degree and they keep us in maintenance mode, and hinder our ability to truly be missionary disciples.

The Dysfunctions

Dysfunction # 1: Absence of Trust
This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

For more information on the five dysfunctions of a team see: https://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions

July 11, 2017

Sr. Florence McManamen OSB, a Sister of St. Martin’s Monastery for the past 71 years died on Monday, July 10. I have been blessed in getting to know Sr. Florence the last several years, primary through celebrating daily Mass with the Sisters at St. Martin’s. Without fail, Sr. Florence would always invite me after Mass for coffee and conversation. Often she would ask if I wanted egg or two for breakfast. Sr. Florence had a great sense of Benedictine hospitality and I will sure miss her invitations after Mass for breakfast.

She was so hopeful when it came to praying and inviting other women to consider the possibility of a vocation to religious life, in particular to her community at St. Martin’s Monastery.  The morning after Sr. Florence’s death several of us were sitting around the dining room table having coffee and telling Sr. Florence stories. I would like to share one of the stories with all of you.

Seabelo Montvedi, who graduated from St. Ambrose College in Dubuque, Iowa last year, is  taking a year off of school to do some volunteer (missionary disciple ministry) at St. Martin’s before entering graduate studies in Social Work at Boston College. As you might know, Sr. Florence had a real gift of taking care of plants and flowers and she would be frequently seen at Terra Sancta wandering the hallways with her cart filled with water pictures and plants loving the plants, which seem to always be in bloom. Seabelo often helped Sr. Florence in looking after the many plants at Terra Sancta.

Seabelo recounted this beautiful memory she had with Sr. Florence.

“Sr. Florence has been visiting with me about joining the St. Martin’s Monastery from time to time.  One day I was helping her with the plants and I told her how much I love flowers and plants. Sr. Florence said, ‘Well, let’s go shopping at the nursery and check out some plants and flowers.” And off we went.  On the way to the nursery I said to Sr. Florence, “I want to marry a rich man and grow flowers and plants all day long.” Sr. Florence without missing a beat, said, ‘You know, Seabelo, Jesus is the richest of all men and he makes all the flowers and plants grow.’”

What a great story of invitation, faith, hope and discipleship! Even at the age of 88, she still was praying, hoping and actively inviting young women to consider being part of her community. Such great faith!

July 7, 2017

In this time of transition, as pastors move and get settled and all are looking for ways to get to know one another, here are 10 practical ways in welcoming your new pastor or priest:

  1. Be patient with him. The stress of moving, the grief of leaving a familiar parish and the newness of it all might be a bit much for him. Be patient.
  2. Don’t beat a path to his door. Give him some time to unpack, get settled, finding all the bathrooms and getting the secretary’s names straight. This might take a month or two, or longer…see #1.
  3. Tell him your name and what you are involved with. Don’t do this once or twice, but a number of times. Don’t be offended if in six months or a year later he doesn’t remember your name. He wants to. Really! So don’t embarrass him, tell him again!
  4. Make sure he has help moving in if he wants it. The parish secretary can help knowing if he needs help. Some priests would welcome help, others desire privacy. We are all different. A nice welcome basket from the Altar Society or Knights of Columbus is always thoughtful.
  5. Let him change his mind! Sometimes a decision made early is rushed or made without fully understanding the situation. It might be necessary for him to change his mind. Give him some wiggle room.
  6. Try not to compare him to your former pastor. This will not be fully possible of course, and he will struggle in comparing his previous parish to the present. Comparisons will only impede a relationship.
  7. Tell him your story, the story of the parish, the traditions, and the important values of the parish. Every parish and tradition in a parish has a story behind it. These stories are important for him to know.
  8. When he asks how something is done in the past or what the protocol is, refrain from telling him “Whatever you would like Father!” We generally want to keep things the way they are and not fix something that is not broken, so don’t be afraid to tell him how things operate in the parish. Sometimes a new pastor makes changes without even knowing they have changed anything because no one told him.
  9. Let him get to know you and the parish. Be sure to invite him to different parish events. Yes, he sees the bulletin and should know when something is happening but he might not know if he is really wanted. Consider creating a “coupon book” with invitations to spend time with families in the parish.  Redeeming a coupon paves the way for a new Pastor to “invite himself” over to meet you.
  10. Pray for him and let him know you are praying for him!

June 28, 2017

This weekend pastoral changes take place and some parish comminutes in our diocese will receive a new pastor. Let us remember our priests and our parishes in this time of transition, may it be one of great gratitude, hope and promise in the Lord.

I wanted to share a reflection, I came across by Fr. Kenneth VanHaverbeke, who is the Director of Stewardship in the diocese of Wichita:

“Summer is a time of transition for priests, too . ..  A view from the rectory window”

He was waiting for me. I was sure of it. People waiting for the new pastor have a certain look. Often times it’s a look of: “Who are you replacing our beloved pastor?” Or it can be a look of: “Finally, now maybe this new priest will ….” Amid the chaos of people moving boxes, introducing themselves, and cleaning out space for more boxes, a little man sat in the corner of the rectory office watching it all. But most of all, he was eyeing me. I was new to the parish. That morning I woke up in the bedroom that I had woke up in for many years; celebrated Mass with a community that I had served for many years; and handed over a familiar set of keys to the secretary knowing I would never use them again. It all seemed like a blur.

Arriving at the new parish, I was welcomed by a group of parishioners waiting for me. What a pleasant surprise! My former parishioners (“former” by about one hour) who were helping me move, introduced themselves and then they all got to work. It took all of five minutes. Without furniture, household goods, or bulky possessions and with many hands, moving a priest is fairly easy. Books and clothes make up most of our possessions. After the initial rush of boxes, the stacking in the corner of the bedroom, my former and new parishioners (“new” by about ten minutes) take their leave for me to unpack in privacy. I am alone…except for the little man in the corner of the office still watching me. I know I need to see what I can do for him, but I am hesitant to begin. The first surge of parishioners in a new parish can often be challenging because often they have “beaten a path” to my door either wanting something the former pastor would not give them, or with a suggestion. The stability of the Church is a gift from God. When one parish priest leaves, another comes. (Please pray for vocations, encourage your young men to become priests so this gift continues! What a wonderful life it is!) Coming to a new parish for a priest is barraged with newness: new parish, new family community, new surroundings, new church building, new faces, new names, and in many ways, a new job. No wonder one of my seminary professors said with all that newness get your priorities straight: know where all the bathrooms are! Even those are new to you!

Taking the place of a brother priest is daunting. You want to be yourself, but you can’t help but compare yourself to what you perceive the other pastor to be. Sometimes you replace a brother priest who seemed to walk on water in your eyes, only not to give you a map detailing where the rocks are beneath the surface. Or you replace a brother priest who had to make some difficult and unpopular decisions. Then you can catch yourself trying to be everyone’s friend, not wanting to offend anyone and wanting to be known as “the nice guy.” Compare, competition, and complaining are the three cancers for a priest. We sometimes find ourselves comparing our ministry or parish with that of another priest, competing for popularity, and complaining about our assignment, authority, or brother priest. A deadly disease these three “C’s.”  A disease that deadens a priestly heart. I decided to get my priorities straight. I first go to the church for a prayer (subsequent to finding the restroom!). After a short prayer of thanksgiving before the Eucharist, “wondering thoughts” begin to distract me. Thoughts such as: “I wonder why it is so cold in this church. I wonder who is responsible for setting the temperature. I wonder who trains the altar servers. I wonder what the story is behind that beautiful statue. How in the world do you get a casket down this aisle?

Giving up on any real deep prayer experience, I wander back to the rectory. “What’s this?” I think. On the kitchen table is a candy bouquet (much more practical than flowers!) and a basket of food. The candy bouquet was sent by some former parishioners wishing me well in my new assignment. I’ll put it with a ‘care package’ of comfort food munchies my former staff gave me when I was leaving.

The basket was from the new parish’s Altar Society and was filled with some easy to prepare food items and homemade chicken and noodles. Perfect for dinner tonight! Now I won’t have to go the grocery story immediately and replace all the rice cakes and low salt (read no-taste) soups in the pantry left by the former heart healthy conscious pastor. Returning back to the rectory office I suddenly remember the little man in the corner. He was busily talking to my new secretary, whose name I keep getting confused with the school secretary. Not a good start!
When he sees me, he gets up and walks across the room. “I didn’t want to disturb you before Father, knowing this was your first day here, and I know you are busy getting settled. I was here getting a Mass said for my wife who passed away this time last year.” Then he went on to say, “ Father ‘Former Pastor’ was such a gift to me during that time….” Oh, here it comes, I thought…. ‘You got pretty big shoes to fill” or “I think you should consider…” I’ve heard them both on my first day at a new parish. But how little faith I have…for he went on to say,… “and I look forward to the gifts you bring to our parish too. Welcome! We are glad you are here!”
Suddenly, I was glad that I was there too!

June 23, 2017

Last week, I had an amazing time at Girls Totus Tuus. This year’s theme is Fearless: Perfect Love Casts out All Fear (1 John 4:18). We were blessed this year with the most religious sisters we have ever had at summer camp—25 sisters from 13 communities, including Srs. Yvette and Samantha from St. Martin’s and Srs. Jacque, Brigitte and Mathilde who are currently working on the Standing Rock Indian reservation in McLaughlin.

I received this beautiful note from one of the “disciples”[i] that gave generously and sacrificially of their time to make this camp possible: “The sisters were all like a silent cloud of witnesses as they radiated love, joy, freedom, humility, gentleness, and the zeal for God that runs deep into the core of who they are. Without chastising or preaching, they taught modesty, abandonment to Divine Providence, and perhaps the most important lesson for girls at this age, that there is lots of room for fun, silliness,  laughter, friendship and much joy in a life of faith.”

One of the young adult women serving on one of our Duc In Altum[ii] teams said of her time working behind the scenes at camp, “I have never worked so hard in my life!” Another disciple/volunteer of the Lord thanked our Totus Tuus team for all of our hard work and commitment to teaching our young girls about God’s call for each of them in their life.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of tenacity and commitment on our parts. We are called to let Jesus work in and through us, through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we also called to give it our all.  St. Ignatius said, “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.” If we choose to give it our all, despite our weaknesses, failures and shortcomings, the Lord is able to do amazing things and will constantly surprise us with abundant fruit. This reminds me of the feeding story of the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel (John 6:1-14). Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” Andrew offers the five loaves and two fish belonging to a young boy, but adds, “what good are these for so many?” Jesus gives thanks and blesses the five loaves and two fish and then feeds over 5000 people with the small gift.

As St. John Paul, Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis all have reminded us, we are not made for mediocrity; we are made for excellence. Jesus is simply asking us to give all that we have and he will take care of the rest. I am amazed at what Jesus did this past week in the hearts of our middle school campers, high school junior leaders, Sisters, and myself. When you work hard and truly give of yourself, without holding back because it’s too difficult, too much work, or thinking I do not have the skill set, Jesus blesses and fruit abounds abundantly.

_______________

[i] As Bishop Gruss reminds us, in the Church there are no “volunteers”.  Rather, there are disciples who give generously of their time and talent to serve in the name of Christ.

[ii] The Vocations Office provides two teams of seminarians and other young adults each summer who travel throughout the parishes in our diocese offering a week long catechetical program for children, middle school and high school youth.  This program is called Duc In Altum.

June 15, 2017

The wedding season is upon us and I am sure a lot of us have been invited to a wedding to share in the joy and the beauty of the groom and bride becoming one in Christ. The wedding reception can be a challenge at times, especially as the night rolls along. I remember several years ago, right before the toast, one of my parishioners said, “We will see you later Fr. Mark!”

I said, “You’re leaving so soon?” And his response was, “Yes, I am leaving before the debauchery begins!” However, I think the wedding reception offers us a chance to bring the light of Christ, our lively faith and our missionary zeal for the Lord to the dinner table.

Several weeks ago Shawna Hanson, who works with me in the Office of Stewardship and Vocations, was sharing with me a great dinner conversation she had at a wedding reception recently. I asked Shawna to share her story. It shows that even those sometimes awkward and difficult times can turn into a blessing if one is open to lively faith and godly conversations.

“My husband and I were invited to a wedding of a lovely young couple from our parish, but we don’t know their families very well and so we walked into a room full of strangers at the reception. As the room filled up, so did our table and we found ourselves seated next to a young couple living in Brookings.  We exchanged introductions and polite conversation and when it came out that I worked for the Diocese, the young man said very boldly, “So, may I ask – why is it that you take your faith seriously?”  I briefly shared with him some of the major people and events that have touched my heart and enlivened my faith and then turned the question back to him, “And how is it that you came to take your faith seriously?”  He shared this beautiful story with me.  The summer before his senior year in high school he was very disillusioned.  He was a successful athlete, a good student and popular with his classmates.  But life had become for him a series of boxes to check – got that, did that and he found himself thinking, “If this is all there is, life isn’t really that great.”  His mom had encouraged him to attend one of the Discipleship Camps sponsored by the Sioux Falls Diocese for years, but he had never been interested.  On a whim, he decided to go.  He encountered people there who were not the most talented athletes, not the best students, not the most popular, but who had a deep sense of joy.  A joy he didn’t have.  And he thought to himself, “I want what these people have.”  He entered fully into all of the activities of camp, made “my most sincere confession ever, next to a pool table”, and most importantly, went to Eucharistic Adoration with an open heart.  As he sat in Adoration, he heard Jesus say clearly, “You are my son and I love you.”  In his words, “After that, nothing was the same.  After you have truly encountered Jesus, your life is different.  From then on, I was all in!  Jesus, whatever you want me to do, I am all in.”  He seriously considered priesthood, but eventually discerned that he was called to marriage.  He just graduated from college, is newly married and he and his wife will welcome their first child in October.

“Always be ready to give an account for the hope that lies within you.”  (1 Peter 3:15)  This young man was inspired by other young people at D-Camp that shared a sense of joy and in turn he inspired me by sharing the joy he has found in Christ.  Fr. Tyler Dennis encourages students at the Veritatis Splendor Institute to prepare an “elevator testimony”, a short account of how the Lord has led you to a deeper faith.  I would encourage you, if you haven’t already, to think about this.  How would you have answered the young man, ‘How is that you take your faith seriously?  What ‘great things’ has the Lord done for you?’”

June 6, 2017

I wanted to share some good news with you!  After many months of work, the Office of Stewardship sent out a document called, “The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish” to every pastor in our Diocese.  This document outlines characteristics that an ideal parish, who is committed to living Stewardship as a Way of Life, would have and is the first step in meeting one of the goals outlined in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan (“To increase by 5-10 the number of parishes who have met the criteria to be recognized as stewardship parishes.”) This document strives to paint a picture of the ideal parish, a vision of what a parish could be.  As Tom Corcoran shared recently at Pastoral Ministry Days, a vision is often seen as unrealistic and hardly attainable, but worth pursuing as it can impel us to live more fully the life Christ is calling us to.  I think all parishes in our diocese will find characteristics contained in it that they are already doing well and also many that challenge them.  It is our hope that parishes will look at these characteristics as providing helpful assistance in long-term planning.  When Bishop Gruss approved this document, he said again something that I have heard him say many times.  Namely, that it is his greatest desire that our people fall deeply in love with our Lord.  He is hopeful that this document is looked at as a means to that end.  If it serves to help parishes more effectively bring people into a deep encounter with Jesus, then it will prove its usefulness, whether or not in the end we have five or fifty “Stewardship Parishes”.

In my letter to pastors, I suggested the document be used in this way:

  1. Meet with the leaders in your parish and ask them to read it, pray over it and then begin by using these characteristics to form an honest and realistic picture of your parish.  This becomes baseline for where your parish is at today.  Basically, what are the parish’s strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Know that these characteristics build on one another and that if there are weaknesses in the foundational structures, these should be addressed first.  In the areas of Hospitality, Lively Faith and Dedicated Discipleship, there are both simple and complex criteria expressed.
  3. Then, use this baseline to set some realistic goals for growth and development, remembering that stewardship is a way of life, not a program and that it is always an ongoing process of growth. Some questions to think about:
  4. How do these goals align with our mission statement?
  5. What are going to be the markers that we can point to in meeting these goals?
  6. What does success look like – in particulars?
  7. Commit to an annual assessment of these goals.
  8. Choose to pursue formal designation through the Office of Stewardship.

The Office of Stewardship is here to serve the Diocese and we are happy to assist in this process in any way we can.  I will be working to develop a way to assess parishes and a system for designating parishes as Stewardship Parishes.  I believe that a tiered system best encourages us to keep working towards achieving this lofty vision as well as conveys the reality of stewardship as a Way of Life.  The first step in achieving the designation of Stewardship Parish will be to be designated as a Foundational Parish, indicating that your parish has in place all of the foundational structures necessary to begin fostering Stewardship in your parish.  After this, there will be three additional benchmarks, each of them more challenging than the previous, requiring a greater number of criterion be met.  Those parishes meeting these benchmarks will be designated as Hospitable Parishes, Lively Parishes and then, finally, Stewardship Parishes.

If you would like to see this document, please ask your pastor for a copy or call my Office and I can send you one.

May 24, 2017

One of my favorite events at Clergy Convocation Days is celebrating Mass together honoring the Jubilarians. This year we had three Jubilarian; Fr. Bob Baden and Fr. Arnie Kari, both celebrating 40 years of priesthood, and Fr. Leo Hausmann celebrating 25 years of priesthood. Father Leo was the homilist and I know the Lord was speaking through him in his great humility and desire to be a good and holy priest.

Father Leo shared with us his experience this past Lent when a number of the priests in the diocese read together Thirty Three Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC. Fr. Leo said: “I have found the book to be very helpful in finding a deeper understanding of God’s mercy in my personal life, as well as a deeper understanding of how living merciful love is essential to my vocation as priest.”

Father Leo also shared with us that in the last 25 years, he has never thought about giving up his vocation as a priest. I would like to share the last part of Fr. Leo’s homily with all of you because it speaks so powerfully about the call to “lively faith” and “dedicated discipleship” in which were all called live in great humility and trust in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and also to the reality of how the evil one works to draw the faithful away from the Lord.

“I have fallen too much in love with what God has called me to. I have come to love too much the joy and satisfaction of doing all the special things that a priest is called to do and be, and the special place a priest has in the life of the people he serves.” No, I would never willingly give up my vocation as priest. It is branded on my soul and has come to be my identity. If I were no longer priest I would no longer know who I am.

Still, I say that always lurking in the background is the temptation to go back to that empty place I once escaped from. That is, not to go back in a leap, but to go back by small increments. A little selfishness here, a little self-centeredness there, a little self-serving somewhere else.

It is the temptation to let in a little materialism in here and there to erode my focus on the Kingdom of God and to focus instead on building a kingdom of Leo. It is, to let the temptation of the lure of worldly pleasures to draw me away from reveling in the delights of God’s beauty. It is to let the temptation of human praise to weaken my commitment to please God in all things. It is to let the temptation of making excuses for myself not to pray or do my spiritual reading because I am too tired or busy or whatever else, weakening my friendship with Jesus.

That is how the tempter works in my life, tempting me away, not from priesthood per se, but away from a fruitful priesthood. The devil is a big liar who, when he knows we won’t fall for the big lie, tells little lies tempting us through increments away from a whole hearted commitment to our vocation.

If he is successful at refocusing us inward to self-centeredness and self-serving, he knows that then he has spiritually damaged not only the personal life of the priest who had grown lukewarm in his vocation, but he has brought spiritual damage to all the souls that that priest will not help because his fruitful priesthood had at some point died on the vine.

By increments the big liar has changed the fervent priest to have little awareness and little heart for the spiritual suffering and sickness around him, and not much enthusiasm for partnering with the Advocate to bring God’s merciful love to the lost souls God intended the priest to minister to and save.

I think the Tempter has the goal of taking every fervent priest back to that empty place so he can work unimpeded in his work as tempter and accuser.

Mary played a big part in my life to pull me out of that empty place to serve her son as priest. May she intercede to keep all of us fervent in our vocation and co-advocates with the Holy Spirit defending souls by pleading God’s merciful love for them.”

Thank you Fr. Leo for preaching from your heart!