West River Catholic: November 2015

Enjoy the November edition of the West River Catholic

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What it means to be a ‘person of communion’

In September I attended the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors in St. Louis, Mo. One of the breakout sessions was led by Father James Mason, a priest from the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

He shared this wonderful story about being a newly ordained priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Gettysburg. He was an associate for Msgr. Marvin McPhee. After daily Mass, the two of them would head to the local hardware store where they would sit outside on lawn chairs drinking coffee and visiting with the local townspeople — Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Father Mason thought this was a waste of time because it seemed like he wasn’t doing anything important. He wanted to see some “real action” in his priestly ministry and sitting in lawn chairs was not fitting the bill for him.

Several weeks into this routine, Msgr. McPhee pulled Father Mason aside and said to him, “Father Jim, small talk is not small.”

In the end, the younger priest came to realize that those lawn chair conversations were not only a great way for him, as a new priest, to meet the townspeople, but they often led to deeper conversations about Christ. This was an important lesson for Father Mason to learn during his first few months as a priest.

Father Mason’s talk was on being a “man of communion.” He shared this quote from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Program of Priestly Formation” which speaks powerfully about the importance of living a life of a faithful steward by a willingness to engage others in conversations, even if it’s about the weather or the local high school sport teams.

“A man of communion: a person who has real and deep relatio­nal capacities, someone who can enter into genuine dialogue and friendship, a person of true empathy who can understand and know other persons, a person open to others and available to them with a generosity of spirit. The man of communion is capable of making a gift of himself and of receiving the gift of others. This, in fact, requires the full possession of oneself. This life should be one of inner joy and inner peace — signs of self-possession and generosity (Program of Priestly Formation, paragraph 76).”

We are all called to be “persons of communion,” which often begins with a simple invitation, the acknowledgment of another person. We are all called to be “persons of communion,” which begins with a simple hello, a greeting and the welcoming of another person into our space, opening up the possibility for deeper communion.

This acknowledgment of another happened to me several weeks ago when I was eating lunch at St. Thomas More High School. I ran into Wayne Sullivan, the principal and head football coach. I greeted him and asked where Friday’s football game was being played, and he replied, “Sturgis.”

I said, “I think I will make this game.”

He responded: “Why don’t you join us on the sidelines, Fr. Mark? The boys would love to have you there.”

This was something I had not expected to hear; it caught me totally off guard. That invitation to be on the sidelines, up front and close to the action, was thrilling to me. Yet, I was somewhat nervous by the prospect as well. He sweetened the invitation by throwing in a free St. Thomas More baseball cap and sweatshirt. Who could turn down an invitation like that?

On Friday night, I found myself pacing the sidelines at the game in Sturgis. A number of players came up to me right away and said, “Thanks for coming, Fr. Mark.” As the players came off the field, I was able to give some of them a high five and say, “nice catch” or “great tackle.” It was an incredible night — one that I will remember for a long time.

After the game, the coaches, players, cheerleaders and fans gathered in the center of the field. The coach gave them a pep talk and went over the practices for the following week. Then we all bowed our heads and prayed the “Our Father” together, ending with a resounding, “Amen!” That was followed by hugs and high fives.

I am grateful for Wayne’s generous hospitality. His invitation reminded me that hospitality is always relational. Hospitality isn’t about a project; it’s about people — it’s about being a person of communion.

This month, try to have some of those “lawn chair conversations,” keeping in mind small talk is not small.

Make the most of opportunities to encounter mercy

A Jubilee Year is drawing near. As we all know, Pope Francis has proclaimed an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. This Jubilee Year is to begin December 8, 2015, and will close on the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 20, 2016.

He wrote in Misericordae Vultus: Bull of Indiction for the Holy Year of Mercy, “The church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person. The spouse of Christ must pattern her behavior after the Son of God, who went out to everyone without exception. It is absolutely essential for the church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and gestures must transmit mercy so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father” (#12).

In Judaism and Christianity, the concept of the Jubilee is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. In the Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. In Christianity, the tradition dates to 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII convoked a holy year, following which ordinary jubilees have generally been celebrated every 25 or 50 years. There have also been extraordinary jubilees in addition to this, depending on need. Jubilee years, in the Catholic tradition, generally involve pilgrimage to a sacred site, normally the city of Rome. The last Holy Year was celebrated in the year 2000.

A special holy door designated in each diocese will become a door of mercy “through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God, which consoles, pardons and instills hope.” In the Diocese of Rapid City I have designated two holy doors: one at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City and one at St. Charles Borromeo Church at St. Francis. Because an important part of any Jubilee Year is a pilgrimage, these are also the regular designated pilgrimage sites in the Diocese of Rapid City. Therefore, they will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary time of grace and spiritual renewal in communion with the whole church.

I will be present to open the holy door at the Cathedral at the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, December 13 and at St. Charles Borromeo Church on Sunday, December 20 at the 11 a.m. Mass. All are welcome to make a pilgrimage to these events.

In this year, it is the Holy Father’s desire that we cross the threshold of the holy door confident that the strength of the risen Christ, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us, and that the Holy Spirit lead the way and support us in contemplating the face of mercy.

The Year of Mercy in our diocese will offer many other events as well. Each month there will be a designated Day of Mercy celebrated everywhere in the diocese. In the Rapid City area, this Day will include all-day Eucharistic adoration and the opportunity for the sacrament of penance from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. at the designated site for that month. The Day of Mercy will conclude with a presentation on a topic related to mercy, followed by Benediction. Parishes in the outlying areas will provide events conducive to their particular location.

During the year, a Pilgrimage of Mercy will take place at a location in each deanery. I encourage everyone to take the time to make this pilgrimage to each of these five locations. The day will consist of a talk, an opportunity for confession, concluding with the Vigil Mass for Sunday and a healing service. Please consult pages 11-14 in this paper for dates, times and locations for all of the events during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

This is an important year for all of us in the Catholic Church, both locally and universally. It is a time in which each of us is called to live out in our daily lives the mercy the Father constantly extends to us. God never tires of pouring out his mercy upon us. Just as the church is called to be a credible witness to mercy, we too, in very particular ways, are invited to be instruments of God’s mercy to others during this Jubilee Year. In order to be instruments of mercy, we must first receive God’s mercy in our own lives. Then we seek to find ways in which to live out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

Another important part of the jubilee includes the granting of indulgences. Because God’s forgiveness knows no bounds, in Pope Francis’ mind the practice of indulgences has a very important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy. (See page 13 on the topic of indulgences.)

“To live the indulgence of the Holy Year means to approach the Father’s mercy with the certainty that his forgiveness extends to the entire life of the believer. To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in his merciful “indulgence” (#22).

It is my hope and prayer that all of us will take the Year of Mercy seriously, will make the most of the diocesan opportunities available to encounter mercy, and will enter into the depths of divine mercy so that we can become credible and convincing heralds of mercy.

“Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (Ps 25:6).