Bob Rice (Courtesy photo)
By Becky Berreth
“If we are enthusiastic and excited about what the Lord is doing in our lives, then the faith becomes contagious to others,” said Bob Rice. “That is when faith becomes a joyful activity for everyone.
“One of my favorite lines from Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium is when he wrote that an evangelizer should not look like he just came out of a funeral! The church has said many times that the first way we evangelize others is through the joyful witness of our lives. I think sometimes we who do ministry within the church can get so caught up in the ‘what of what’ we say that we forget to also give attention to how we say it.”
Rice is this year’s featured speaker at the annual “Refuel — Diocesan Religious Educators Conference” held January 19-20 at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center. He is a professor of catechetics at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and will speak to this year’s theme, “Sharing the Joy of the Gospel,” while connecting the theme to the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment as well as Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
“This year, in anticipation of the upcoming synod, we wanted to bring in a speaker who could help us prepare and make the most of it,” explained Susan Safford, diocesan director of faith formation. “At the same time, we wanted the topic to be broad enough to be relevant for those who work in all variety of ministries.”
According to Safford, the conference is based on a long ago youth ministers rally the diocese had sponsored. She wanted something where the presentations were encouraging, informative, and engaging and came at a time during the year when people needed a boost. When she began her work in the Office of Faith Formation and Youth & Young Adult Ministry in 2012, she surveyed the dioceses and found a need to revive the event, but open it to all who minister in the church — in faith formation, youth ministry, music ministry, liturgy, marriage and family, business and administration.
“There was need to bring people together for prayer, support and helpful presentations — to be with the Lord and receive him,” she said. “Everyone who serves the mission of the church, in whatever capacity — anyone who wants to learn more about “Sharing the Joy of the Gospel” — sign up. This is a great opportunity to be re-energized for the call that the Lord has for us, to learn more and grow in our work for the church. It is a chance to be with people from around the diocese for fellowship and sharing of ideas, and especially to be with the Lord in prayer and receive what he wants to give us.”
Safford hopes the conference will give participants an opportunity to draw near to Christ and allow him to rejuvenate and reinvigorate those in attendance for future work in their church.
Rice agreed saying, “My prayer is that everyone who comes will feel energized, educated, and empowered to grow deeper in their faith and be able to joyfully share that with others.
“Plus, I am incredibly good looking. I mean … dang. Just wait until you see me,” he added jokingly.
The conference begins with Mass at 5:30 p.m. on January 19, followed by dinner and the opening presentation. There will be time for adoration and confessions to end the night. Saturday sessions begin at 8:30 a.m. and will end at 4 p.m. The day will include presentations, prayer, and daily Mass.
Register before December 24 and receive $10 off the $65 registration fee. For more information contact Susan Safford or Susan Thompson at 605-716-5214 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the December edition of the West River Catholic
Greg Schwietz, President of Serra USA, from Omaha, Neb., discusses the possibility of forming a Serra Club in the Diocese of Rapid City, on Nov. 30, at Terra Sancta Retreat Center. (WRC photos by Laurie Hallstrom)
By Laurie Hallstrom
Vocations Director Fr. Mark McCormick first heard of the Serra Club 34 years ago when he was a seminarian in St. John Vianney College Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. “They would have dinners at restaurants and invite us to tell our stories. I always wondered why our diocese never had a Serra Club.”
Last year, Al Wolf, from the Bismarck, N.D. chapter of the Serra Club, met with Bishop Robert Gruss and Father McCormick about chartering a Serra Club in the Diocese of Rapid City.
On November 30, an introductory meeting was held at Terra Sancta Retreat Center. About 60 people came to hear about the club: members of parish vocations committees, parents of seminarians and religious, and others who would like to help foster vocations in the diocese.
Opening the program, Father McCormick said, “Vocations are booming in our diocese, we want to create a culture where it’s normal for young men and women to think about a deeper relationship with Christ in their lives.”
The Serra Club was founded by four Catholic men in Seattle who met in 1934 to discuss ways they could share their faith. They selected supporting seminarians and priests in their diocese. Later they chose Padre Junipero Serra, a Spanish Missionary, as their patron. He was canonized September 23, 2015. They modeled their new club after the service clubs which were popular in the United States. Today the Serra Club has more than 20,000 members in 30 countries.
Speakers included Greg Schwietz, President of Serra USA, from the Diocese of Omaha. “Junipero Serra was known for his zeal, an undying amount of love for his faith and fellow humans, dynamic energy, and drive. His motto was ‘Always forward, never back,’” said Schwietz.
“We walk as friends with young men and women as they discern their calling,” he continued. “We walk through the joy of ministry and the fatigue of ministry.”
Schwietz said the clubs meet bi-weekly and members grow spiritually together. Schwietz said Serrans are known for prayer and action. They pray for vocations and they sponsor dinners and send cards and letters to build relationships with seminarians, priests and religious.
Dianne Breen, from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, said, “We start every meeting with Mass, we have a book of those we want to pray for, and this year we have 24 seminarians.” She said in Sioux Falls they host a spring meeting and luncheon with the bishop to meet the seminarians and religious who are in formation as well as parents, priests, sisters, and deacons and their wives.
Fr. Marvin Klemmer was a chaplain for the Bismarck Club in the early 70s and is now retired. He said the Serrans are good positive people. “At the meetings, I make a point to go to every table and say thank you to them. It’s nice to get that birthday card and one on Priesthood Sunday.” He said the Diocese of Bismark has 28 seminarians.
Al Wolf was glad to see a Catholic high school in Rapid City. “This is where a lot of vocations should be coming from. St. Mary High School in Bismarck has a wall of names of priests and religious who came from that school,” he said.
According to Wolf, St. Junipero Serra was the first person on American soil who sought out from the Mexican government a bill of rights on behalf of the Indian people in Mexico and southern California. “I have great admiration for this man who was a great theologian. He was the head of a large seminary, but he wanted to be a missionary.” said Wolf.
“If you live the life of a Serran, you are living a whole different life, you are living a life of experience, culture, and service. We need a better life for people, a more spiritual life. How would you feel if there was a young man who might be a priest, but he was never asked, no one talked to him about that possibility? What if no one was around to encourage him?” asked Wolf.
Region 8 Director Bill Olmstead, Diocese of Duluth, said the Serra Club’s mission is to foster and promote priestly vocations and encourage and affirm vocations to consecrated religious life. It also assists members in their call to holiness.
“Be confident, the Lord of harvest will never turn away,” said Olmstead.
In the middle of November, I took five young men to a live-in weekend at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota. Our young discerners were able to enter into seminary life and spend time with our seminarians, as well as with those from other dioceses. They were able to get a first-hand experience of seminary life by participating in the life of prayer, study and formation; plus they were able to enjoy several games of Ultimate Frisbee and attend several college classes while they were there. It was a great weekend!
Winona is about 620 miles straight east of Rapid City on Interstate 90. It can be a long and boring drive. As a way to prepare them for the road trip, I drew their attention to this year’s theme for the Office of Vocations, “I Call You Friends” from John 15:15.
Jesus made it abundantly clear to the Apostles that they were to be his friends. Jesus showed his chosen friends that he was willing to lay down his life for them by sharing with them the life he had with the Father. The Apostles were privy to the thoughts and actions of Jesus, making them his true friends.
Because of our theme of friendship, I asked the five men to limit their use of cell phones, video games and watching movies on the long ride to the seminary. I encouraged them to use this time of grace and discernment to interact and get to know one another and the other students at the seminary.
Franciscan Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the pontifical household preacher, says that the essence of friendship is founded on a common search for the good and the true. Our drive there and back was really grounded in this common search for the good news in our lives.
We all shared with one another something about ourselves, the desires of our hearts, the things we wanted the Lord to do for us on this weekend and what the Lord wanted to do for us. The Lord does amazing things when we are able to be even the least vulnerable with him and one another, especially as men.
One of my favorite parts of the trip home was the praise and worship music to which we listened. The young men spent a lot of time creating their own beat box versions of the songs. Listening to the different rhythms and sounds they were coming up with made the hours and the miles go by quickly.
I was thankful that I encouraged them to limit their use of social media on the trip. It would have been easy for them to put their earbuds in and to get lost in their own worlds, forgetting about the person sitting next to them, who has much to offer them in friendship, and who can assist them in finding the good and the true.
By asking them to limit their time on their cell phones, I actually freed them up to enjoy each other, with time for turning out toward one another rather than the turning in on themselves.
Henry Wadsworth Long-fellow said, “Time is the life of the soul.” In the prayer after Communion on Thanksgiving Day we hear, “Help us, we pray, to reach out in love to all your people, so that we may share with them the good things of time and eternity.”
Time becomes a true gift and a blessing, especially when we use it to build our relationship with Christ, the Church and one another. The Psalmist reminds us, “So you teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (90:12). The gift of wisdom, which we receive at Confirmation, strengthens our faith, deepens our hope, and helps us focus our life on Christ — to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. This, in turn, affects the way we relate to one another and the world.
Since this trip, I have been reflecting on the way we use our time. The time we spend in prayer, time with our family and friends, time at work, and time at play. Do we make the connection to use the time we are given to prepare for eternal life or do we waste our time, using it for our own selfish desires, without even thinking about life eternal?
Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, a pastoral letter of the U.S. bishops on stewardship, states: “A true understanding of stewardship begins with taking care of and sharing the gift of time. Stewardship of time involves the realization that none of us ‘owns’ time. Each of us is given only so much of it, and planning a careful schedule in order to have the time to work, to rest, to play, and to pray is vital in the stewardship of our physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives. How we spend our time is perhaps the clearest indication of our progress in the life of Christian discipleship.”
In this season of Advent and as we anticipate the Christmas season, with plenty of opportunities to be connected with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and parish communities, look for opportunities to search out the good and true in one another. Make it a priority to become friends with one another in the Lord.
Be attentive to each other. Learn to put the cell phone down and to limit your consumption of media so you can focus on the things that matter the most — time and friendship in the Lord.
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!