West River Catholic: June 2015

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edition of the West River Catholic

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Religious freedom rooted in the dignity of humans

Once again, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops invites every diocese and every Catholic faith community, united together, to celebrate the Fortnight for Freedom, June 21 to July 4. This year’s theme will focus on the “Freedom to Bear Witness” to the truth of the Gospel.

Why is protecting religious freedom essential today more than ever before? The very moral fiber of our country and our world depends upon people of faith being able to practice their deeply held religious beliefs in a way that promotes peace, harmony and love. As religious freedom is diminished, so goes the moral and virtuous life. People lose their way and the dignity of the human person is diminished.

In an address to Albanian religious leaders, Pope Francis said, “When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated.” (Sept. 23, 2014)

As religious freedom continues to be taken away from us by our government leaders, our human dignity is being trampled. Every person must be free to profess and live his or her faith, whatever it may be, because that man or woman is a child of God. Each of us is created in God’s image and likeness, and to take away our religious freedom is to deprive us from being who we are and from living our true identity. At the Second Vatican Council, the Council declared: “The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right” (Dignitatus Humanae, #2).

Therefore our allegiance is to God and, because of our Catholic faith, we are obliged to bear witness to the truth about marriage as the union of one man and one woman; the truth about the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death; the truth about the need to feed the hungry, comfort the sick, and welcome the migrant; and the truth about the need to protect and preserve our first freedom — religious liberty. Isn’t this precisely what the Gospel of Jesus demands of us?

It is clear today that when we publicly exercise our “Freedom to Bear Witness,” we will not only be ridiculed, but redefined. When we as Catholics speak out for what we are for, many others attempt to define for us what we are against. For example, when we promote God’s plan for marriage, it is viewed as discrimination against homosexuals. When we speak out for the rights of unborn children, it is viewed by many as discrimination against women.

In bearing witness, we must never let others define who we are and what we believe. We must continue to fight this cultural battle and speak strongly against the voices which are attempting to redefine our culture altogether and what we stand for.

When we think about the life of Jesus, he too, had his religious liberty taken from him. It cost him his life. He too, was ridiculed for being faithful to his dignity and beliefs. Let us be mindful of his words in the Gospel where he says, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20) and “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (Jn 15:18).

Another reason this fight is important is because it is a fight for humanity. We must defend religious freedom because the church loves God and humanity. When we practice our faith, we share our love for God and at the same time, take care of the most vulnerable of society. It is not about the church getting preferential treatment, but we do not truly have religious freedom without the freedom to live the Gospel, serving especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us (Mt 25:31-4).

“Only faith,” St. John Paul II once wrote in a message to the Albanian people, “reminds us that, if we have one Creator, we are therefore all brothers and sisters. Religious freedom is a safeguard against all forms of totalitarianism and contributes decisively to human fraternity.”

But as western culture becomes increasingly self-focused, human fraternity becomes increasingly challenged because the mindset turns to personal gratification instead of what is best for the common good of all. The demands of the Gospel become greater and are more likely to be rejected as the culture becomes more secular. This has resulted in people of faith experiencing religious persecution for their beliefs across the country in particular, but also around the world.

The fight for religious freedom must continue by people who keep the spirit of the Gospel and seek to build a world of peace, justice and love based upon truth as revealed by God. We must not be afraid of being marginalized nor should we hesitate to say that we are pro-life, for traditional marriage, for the poor, for the migrant and for religious liberty. We only have to think about the Christians who have been kidnapped and killed in places like Syria, Iraq and Africa. Let us stand up for them by standing up for the teachings of Jesus Christ and his church.

During this Fortnight for Freedom, may we all take the time to pray, educate ourselves on these important issues surrounding our religious freedom, and take action in bearing witness to our call to follow Christ in all things, supporting our rights to religious freedom!

Our own thoughts distract us from seeing other’s needs

Recently a married couple told me about their Memorial Day weekend. The couple’s daughter and son-in-law and their two young children came for the holiday and accompanied their parents to Mass. This young couple was quite surprised when they found themselves walking down the center aisle to find a place in one of the front pews. The couple protested as they were led with their young toddlers toward the front of the church. They worried about fussy behavior or the possibility of having to escort a child back down the aisle out the back doors. In the end, after the Mass finished, the young couple looked at their parents and said, “You were quite brave today.”

Isn’t this what church is about? Belonging to a parish community where one feels so comfortable and at home, walking to the front of the church with two young children causes no worry about what others might think or say.

We want our parishes to be such places of welcome and comfort. In the next several installments of this column, I want be take a deeper look at hospitality, the first lens of our stewardship process to promote A Catholic Way of Life. In the January issue of West River Catholic, Bishop Robert Gruss described the stewardship of hospitality as one in which, “each person in our presence is important to us. Each person is deeply valued because they, like all of us, have been created in God’s image and likeness.”

Hospitality is an attribute of God. Because we have been made in God’s image and likeness and are united to him in our baptism, we have become partakers of the divine nature and temples of the Holy Spirit (CCC1265). It is through our baptism that we are called to share in the priesthood of Christ. It is through our baptism that we begin to realize that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19).

Even with the graces received at our baptism, we still struggle to live generous hospitality. Selfishness persists within us. For the most part, we have not cultivated a habit of reaching out to one another. Often our own thoughts, needs and desires consume our time and distract us from seeing the needs of those around us. At times we simply do not want to be bothered with the difficulties of our neighbor, as we attempt to juggle our own problems. Other times we shrink from getting involved in the life of a stranger out of fear. How do we rescue this lost art of kindness?

Father Robert Rivers, CSP, in his book, “From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalizing of the Parish,” describes hospitality in these two terms. First, “the word hospitality is derived from the Latin word hospes which means host as well as guest. It has been defined as the act, practice, or quality of being friendly and solicitous towards guests or new arrivals.” Secondly, “Christian hospitality goes back to the practice of philoxenia, a Greek word that means to make the stranger a friend.”

These two definitions of hospitality give us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our baptismal call to really imitate the life of Christ not only as a host, but as a guest and to truly make the stranger among us a friend.

This month have the courage to introduce yourself to the stranger or the visitor in your parish. This month look for an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. This month invite your neighbor over for dinner and dessert.

I encourage you to spend some time this month with this passage from Matthew, as Christ calls us to hospitality:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (25:31-35).

Remember when welcoming the stranger, one welcomes Christ. As we continue to embrace A Catholic Way of Life through the lens of hospitality, let us recommit ourselves to live the grace of our baptism more fervently by being more aware of the needs of our neighbor and the stranger in our midst.

The Summit: Let us reach for a vibrant faith together

This past summer I was invited to go rock climbing with Anders family. This was the first time I’d ever been rock climbing and honestly, I was quite nervous, especially when Cameo turned to me, “Okay, Father Mark, it’s your turn.” Shortly after her invitation, I was harnessed and ready to begin the climb, an ascent up the face of a 50-foot granite wall. This was a bad idea.

Climbing to the summit was a challenging experience. Several times I thought that I’d climbed far enough, but upon looking down the Anders’ children kept cheering me on, “You can do it Father Mark, you can do it!” I finally reached the summit and the panoramic view of the beautiful Black Hills was an incredible sight. Although my body was tired and fatigued, my heart was filled with joy. The arduous ascent was well worth the final prize.

We all need encouragement as we move through life, particularly as we walk this Christian journey. Likewise in life we are met with granite walls that seem insurmountable. However, those painstaking climbs often reap the greatest reward. So too, as a diocese we look forward with desire to grow as disciples, deeper in love with the Lord. Christ’s first disciples labored tirelessly for his kingdom, some to the point of death. We are called to this same mission of love.

Our hope with this new Stewardship plan is very simple — to promote the Catholic Way of Life through hospitality, faith and discipleship. Perhaps your parish has begun to pray our diocesan stewardship prayer, “The Prayer of a Faithful Steward.” For me, the prayer stirs my heart to ask for the grace to live life more abundantly and it invites me to fully participate in building the kingdom of God. The prayer also reminds me to model the “yes” of Mary by seeking and responding to the Holy Spirit, the foundation of the life of the Christian disciple.

Bishop Robert Gruss believes that pursuing this Catholic Way of Life is the true path to discipleship, a path that will lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Who doesn’t want a more vibrant, intimate relationship with Christ? To help all of us grow in this way of life, Bishop Gruss has called for an annual conference on stewardship titled, The Summit. This first stewardship conference will be held June, 12-13 at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center. To promote the Summit, Bishop Gruss recorded a DVD segment to personally invite every person, every family and every parish in the diocese to come. To view this video, visit https://www.rapidcitydiocese.org/stew ardship/. I hope you take the time to watch it if you have not yet seen it.

As a way to help us understand this call of stewardship, this path of true discipleship, Bishop Gruss asked that we read, pray and reflect on the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship — “Stewardship: A Disciples Response. This letter on stewardship describes discipleship as such, “Discipleship requires the surrender of ourselves through grace and choice to Jesus Christ. Mature disciples make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves. A disciple is both a learner and a companion of Jesus Christ, as well as one open to the movement of the Holy Spirit towards a gracious generosity of heart. The authentic disciple regards all he or she is and possesses as gifts and blessings and realizes the need to share those gifts and blessings with others for the sake of the kingdom of God.”

The Summit is an invitation to foster a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. By participating in The Summit, individuals and entire parish communities will be given simple and concrete tools to grow in their life of discipleship. The Summit is for all of us, to encourage, to inspire and even to challenge us to reach for the heights of discipleship. In the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples “Do not be afraid.” Likewise, I encourage you, “Do not be afraid!” Come to The Summit to see what the Lord has in store for you. You do not have to be an expert or insider. You just need a simple thirst for the Lord. We are on this journey together and we need the support, prayer and friendship of one another to ascend.

What can you expect at The Summit? You can expect time to pray, to learn and to meet other people from across the diocese that have the same thirst and desire as you. The presenters at The Summit are from our local parishes. They will present on a wide variety of topics including: the Eucharist, intentional discipleship, creating strong families, writing a stewardship and parish mission statement. To see all of the sessions that will be offered or to register, click on The Summit link at http://terrasancta.org/. In the words of Bl. Pier Georgio Frassati, “Verso l’alto” — toward the heights!

Saint John Paul II encouraged the faithful to get to know Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom he called, “The Man of the Eight Beatitudes.” Pier was a normal young man who loved the outdoors.  He grew up in Turin, Italy, during the early 1900s. Pier Giorgio Frassati showed that we can all be holy by living our friendships, studies, sports, occupation and service to the poor by being in constant relationship with God. One phrase he commonly used was “verso l’alto” meaning toward the top. His life was a constant striving to reach the summit of eternal life. May we not be afraid to strive toward the summit in Christ.


Your input and vision are important to planning

Where are we going? What is the vision? How are we going to get there? These questions often surface as a company or institution looks toward the future. They are important questions upon which to reflect. Now that I have been here for almost four years and have some experience behind me, these have become important questions for me as the bishop of this diocese. But I also think they are important for all of us as the People of God in the Diocese of Rapid City.

Over twelve years ago, the Diocese of Rapid City went through a synod process that gave direction and a vision for the diocese. Since this process took place a number of years ago, I feel that perhaps it time again for the diocese to look at the future in a systematic way, but on a much smaller scale than a full-scale synod, which would take at least a couple of years.

The Diocese of Rapid City will begin a visioning process that will help set our course and priorities for the next five years. We will partner with Catholic Leadership Institute. Catholic Leadership Institute is a world-class pastoral leadership formation and consulting firm based in Philadelphia. In its 21st year of operation, CLI has reached national prominence, ministering with diocesan priests and lay leaders in over 70 dioceses in the United States. Recently, the priests of our diocese completed CLI’s Good Leaders Good Shepherds program, a year-long process in which priests are taught more efficient and effective ways to lead, inspire and motivate the people they serve. Catholic Leadership Institute also works directly with bishops and their teams to develop a tailored diocesan strategy.

The visioning process will begin in late May with a number of listening sessions across the Diocese over the course of the summer. Our plan is to have 12 listening sessions around the diocese broken down in the following way: one listening session in each deanery; one listening session on each Indian Reservation; one listening session among clergy; and one listening session with the Latino community. These sessions will be between 90 minutes to 2 hours in length.

The end result of this planning process is to create a mutually shared diocesan vision for the Diocese of Rapid City and clarify three five-year pastoral priorities with appropriate goals for each priority.

Who is invited to participate? It is our hope to receive input from as many people as possible throughout the diocese, offering multiple ways in which the laity can participate. It is my hope that the pastors and five to six members of parish leadership attend the listening sessions for their deanery or reservation. Parish leadership should include members of the parish pastoral councils, finance councils and other parish groups, as well as individual leaders who can provide vital input toward refining and shaping the priorities of the diocese as we move forward into the future. Everyone is invited to attend, but it will be most valuable to have a good representation of the leadership of each parish and its ministries.

We will also be creating an Envisioning Leadership Team later in the summer to review the input from the listening sessions and then create the overall vision, finalize priorities and goals, and determine how best to communicate the plan. It is my hope that this whole process will be completed by the end of 2015, at which time the

Mutually Shared Vision and Three Five-Year Pastoral Priorities would be shared with the people of the Diocese of Rapid City.

More communication will take place about this process through your pastors. I encourage you to be part of the process. Your input in laying out a direction and a vision is important. The dates, times and locations of the listening sessions are listed below. But above all, please keep this diocesan endeavor in your thoughts and prayers as we move forward into the future.


Diocese of Rapid City Visioning Listening Session Schedule 2016

The Diocese of Rapid City will begin a visioning process that will help set our course and priorities for the next five years.


Lower Brule Reservation, Tuesday, Aug. 18, St. Mary Church, Lower Brule, 6:30 p.m. CT

Pine Ridge Reservation, Sunday, August 16, Sacred Heart Church, Pine Ridge, 1-3 p.m. MT

Spanish-speaking Members of the Diocese, Sunday, Aug. 23, Blessed Sacrament Church, Rapid City, 2:45-4:45 p.m. MT


West River Catholic: May 2015

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Was that the best you could do?

“I Was a Stranger … Welcoming the Stranger Through Hospitality,” was the theme for Pastoral Ministry Days, held at the end of March. During this time together we looked at how our parishes and we as individuals can reach out to others and invite all into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Bishop Robert Gruss began by sharing a biblical understanding of hospitality and he encouraged us to see hospitality as a virtue.

In an article titled, “The Virtue of Hospitality: An Attitude of the Heart,” the author describes hospitality as the simple art of paying attention. “When we pay attention, we divest ourselves of self-preoccupation. To be hospitable we have to get out of ourselves and become interested in the other.” From personal experience, we all know this is easier said than done.

The night of Father Peter Kovarik’s funeral, I was in the cathedral hall vesting for the Mass when a couple approached me. They explained that they were good friends with Father Peter’s parents and were invited to sit with the family for the Mass. This couple asked where the family was gathering. I said, “Do you see the lady dressed in red? She is standing right in front of the kitchen. Go past her and past the kitchen, the first door on the right is the food pantry, the next door on the right is a large meeting room. That’s where you will find the family.” Instead of walking with the couple, I pointed and sent them off with a set of confusing directions to search on their own. After the funeral, as I prayed my nightly examination of consciousness at Casa Maria, I retraced the steps of my day and reflected upon where I encountered Christ with a grateful heart and where I could have done better. On this night, when I remembered my meeting the couple in the cathedral hall, I felt the jolt of the Holy Spirit probing my heart, “Now Father Mark was that generous hospitality — was that the best you could do?” It called me to ask for Our Lord’s mercy for this negligence.

This experience was a needed wake-up call for me. It reminded me that hospitality must be deliberate if I am to truly welcome the stranger in my midst. The heart of one striving to live this generous hospitality sees each person as Christ, each encounter as an opportunity to care for, serve, and love him. The challenge arises, however, as we battle with our selfishness and self-centered focus on our problems and our difficulties. This examination at the end of the day focuses our sight of those in our midst and seeing those in need.

Hospitality invites us to create space, to make room in our hearts to welcome another, to invite another, or simply to be with another, even when it is as simple as saying hello, sharing a hymnal, or inviting a visitor to bring up the gifts at Mass. All of these very simple gestures become far-reaching signs of welcome.

Hospitality happens in the here and now. It demands a directed attentiveness and an immediate response. As I reflected back on the experience at Father Peter’s funeral, I realized I would never get that opportunity again. I failed to act in the now moment of time that God had offered.

We must see hospitality as a holy event. Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche Community in France — a community of peoples with and without disabilities who share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. Vanier writes, “Welcome is one of the signs that says a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share … The community which refuses to welcome — whether through fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it’s fed up with visitors — is dying spiritually.” Vanier’s words certainly challenge us!

Is our parish community alive or dying? How do we welcome one another as the body of Christ? Does our parish offer a generous hospitality to those whose faith has become lukewarm? Do we welcome and acknowledge the visitor or stranger in our midst? Is hospitality a holy virtue in our parish?

Pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Happy Easter to all of you!

I hope and pray that the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter were inspiring and life-giving. We would be remiss though if we left this great celebration of resurrected life in the past as just another Sunday in the church year. The Easter season, this time of grace, spans fifty days, concluding on the great feast of Pentecost where we relive the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles gathered in prayer in the Cenacle.

Throughout this Easter season each of us are invited to pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives enabling us to grow in our relationship with Christ and our dedication of our call to discipleship. We all need this whether we are the bishop, a priest, deacon, religious, or layperson.

The Lord has so much more for each of us, but we are limited by our own lack of desire for more. The Lord Jesus has already given the Spirit to us, but he is waiting for us to let him ignite the fire — which means we must want this fire to be ignited and pray each day that it is ignited. But it also takes letting go of what I want and seeking what the Lord wants for me.

“In effect, Jesus’ whole mission was aimed at giving the Spirit of God to men and baptizing them in the ‘bath’ of regeneration. This was realized through his glorification, that is, through his death and resurrection: Then the Spirit of God was poured out in a super-

abundant way, like a waterfall able to purify every heart, to extinguish the flames of evil and ignite the fire of divine love in the world.” (Benedict XVI, “Let Baptism of the Holy Spirit purify every heart,” L’Osservatore Romano, May 14, 2008)

What a great image Pope Benedict gave us — “like a waterfall able to purify every heart, to extinguish the flames of evil, and IGNITE the fire of divine love in the world.” Has this been your experience of the Holy Spirit in your life? I invite all of us to pray for this these remaining days of the Easter season. Jesus wants to lead us to drink from the “streams of living water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:10, 14; Jn 7:37-39).

The Holy Spirit renews all things in our lives and helps us to live in a different way. Pope Francis speaks of how we cannot be a part time Christian because it doesn’t work. We have to be “all in,” so to speak. Being a disciple of Jesus ultimately means, not doing things, but allowing oneself to be renewed daily by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts to Jesus and prepares us for this renewed daily encounter which the Holy Father has spoken of so many times.

In a General Audience message, he shared: “This is the precious gift that the Holy Spirit places in our hearts: the very life of God, life as true sons, a relationship of confidence, freedom and trust in the love and mercy of God, which has as an effect, also a new gaze toward others, near and far, always seen as brothers and sisters in Jesus to be respected and loved. The Holy Spirit teaches us to look with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived it, to understand life as Christ understood it. That’s why the living water that is the Holy Spirit quenches the thirst of our lives, because it tells us that we are loved by God as children, that we can love God as His children, and by His grace we can live as children of God, like Jesus.” (May 26, 2013)

A renewed encounter with the Holy Spirit will not only bring new life to our lives, but also to our parishes and to our diocese. I am praying for this tremendous gift. Therefore, I am asking every person and every parish across our diocese to join with me in praying a “Novena to the Holy Spirit” in preparation for Pentecost. We all need a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our culture, our families, our parishes. An authentic and renewed conversion to our Lord Jesus Christ can only happen through the power of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that transformed the lives of those disciples in the upper room at Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit radically changed the early disciples from fearful, scared, lost men and women into courageous witnesses to Christ and enlightened heralds of his word. It was the Spirit who guided them along the difficult and new paths of mission, that same mission that has been given to every baptized person. We ask the Holy Spirit to bring about an amazing renewal among us.

Let us all join together for nine consecutive days beginning on Friday, May 15, for prayer and reflection on the gifts the Spirit brings, inviting the power of the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon each of us, our parishes, and our diocese. The “Novena to the Holy Spirit” will be provided by your parishes or can be found on this website: www.spiritans.com. Watch your parish bulletins for more details regarding how this will be celebrated in your particular parish.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!


West River Catholic: April 2015

Enjoy the April edition of the West River Catholic

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