Home Parish: St. Mary, Milesville
Parents: Steve and Nina Pekron
Education: Minor seminary Immaculate Heart of Mary, Winona, Minn.; major seminary St. Paul School of Divinity, St. Paul, Minn.
Pastoral Learning: Duc in Altum, Institute for Priestly formation, worked on the Pine Ridge Reservation with Jesuits, and hospital ministry program through the seminary
Summer Learning Experience: St. Joseph, Spearfish; St. Paul, Belle Fourche
Hobbies: I grew up on a cattle ranch so I like working with horses — roping and riding. I also enjoy playing different sports.
Favorite Book: Lone Cowboy by Will James
On May 24, Zane Pekron will be ordained a transitional deacon at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City, at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend. He recently spoke to the West River Catholic about his experiences.
WRC: When was the first time you thought about the priesthood?
The first time the priesthood was brought up to me was around my sophomore year in high school. Our parish priest at the time, Father Ron Garry, encouraged me to attend the Totus Tuus Boys Camp put on by the diocese. I remember being at camp and around the seminarians who kept saying, ‘You are not here by chance. You are where God wants you to be.’ That stuck with me, but I shelved it until I was a senior in high school. After camp, I noticed that the priesthood was something that came up, but I didn’t want to think about it a lot. In the time between camp and my senior year in high school, people mentioned in passing that I would make a really good priest. This kept the thought in the back of my mind. I started thinking about it more seriously the summer before my senior year in high school. Our new parish priest, Father Kevin Achbach, started visiting with me. My mom had brought up the priesthood too. That’s what got the ball rolling. They convinced me to go on a seminary visit in November. I went and had a good experience. So much so, I went back in March for the second visit of the academic year. I was debating either priesthood or taking over the family ranch — there were some challenges with that. It was towards the end of the senior year that I really felt the Lord working in my life. I wasn’t sure what I was going to study, but I thought I would go to seminary for a year, and see where the Lord would lead me. Each year I felt the Lord calling me back.
WRC: What has been your seminary experience?
Being in seminary in both Winona and St. Paul have been some of the best years of my life — coming to know the Lord and drawing closer to him, the lifelong friendships I have made — I wouldn’t do it differently. It was by far the best decision I could have made.
WRC: How would you describe your prayer life?
Consistent and slow growing. There have been some really high moments, but a lot of times there is a steady consistency of coming to greater knowledge and trust in the Lord and how he’s leading me and where he’s asking me to go.
WRC: What are you most excited for during your last year of formation?
I’m really just excited to be drawing closer to becoming a priest. I want to live that life of service that the Lord is calling me to. I have a joy and excitement to be in that ministry of sharing the love of Christ and the Gospel with those that I meet.
In an West River Catholic article, the Diocesan Priority Plan and Stewardship Initiative are actually two sides of same coin.
“The Diocesan Priority Plan and the Stewardship Initiative are two ways of expressing the same mission. First of all both are grounded in a relationship with Jesus. A relationship with Jesus is what drives us and shapes the rest of our life. At the heart of being a disciple is meeting Jesus. Once this happens, everything in life flows from and leads to that relationship. We encounter Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments and in those who have already encountered him.”
The important questions we must constantly ask ourselves are these:
- How are we encountering the person of Christ and what difference is our relationship with Jesus making in our lives?
- Are we more loving, more forgiving, more joyful, more truthful, in our actions and in our words?
- Do people see Jesus in us?
- Are they attracted to Jesus because of the way we live out our lives in love?
- Have we truly trusted our lives to Christ?
These are the questions that the Stewardship Initiative and the Diocesan Priority Plan continue to lay before our eyes and our hearts. Do we know Jesus and have we given our total life to him?
There are some alarming statistics that say we do not know Jesus as we should personally know him as our Lord, Savior and friend. For instance, Sherry Weddell in her book “Forming Intentional
Disciples” writes: “The majority of adult Catholics are not even certain that a personal relationship with God is possible.”
Pope St. John Paul II in “Catechesi Treadendae” (On Catechesis in Our Time) writes: “It is possible for baptized Catholics to be still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
Brandon Vogt in his book, “Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church,” reports that 79 percent of former Catholics leave the church before age 23 (Pew Research) and 50 percent of millennials raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic today, i.e., half of the babies you’ve seen baptized in the last 30 years, half of the kids you’ve seen confirmed, half of the Catholic young people you’ve seen get married.
The Office of Stewardship is fighting back against these alarming statistics that hinder and plague our families, our parishes and our diocese when it comes to knowing and living Christ in our lives. By lifting up the Diocesan Priority Plan and the Stewardship Initiative, the Office of Stewardship is working to help form the Catholic imagination in Western South Dakota.
Bishop Robert Morneau, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, remarked: “Whoever forms the imagination forms a culture.” At this point, it seems that the secular media is doing a much more effective job of forming our imagination than Christ and his Church are doing. This seriously impedes people’s ability to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
As a way to support families, parishioners and parishes in our diocese living Christ more intentionally, we will be
hosting a Stewardship Leadership Training, Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16, at Terra Sancta with Chris Stewart and Tony Brandt of Casting Nets Ministries. You might recall that Chris and Tony were here for last year’s Summit and their presentations were very well received.
Chris and Tony have generously agreed to develop this training specifically for us as a way to help all of us understand and implement the Stewardship Initiative and the Bishop’s Priority Plan, and through them help our parishes become more vibrant and meet more fully the needs of the people in our communities.
In addition to giving participants practical tools to help them in their role as parish leaders, this training will be directly tied to the Summit Conference to be held Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21-22. Participants will be asked — and trained — to personally invite other parishioners to the Summit.
The Summit is being re-designed to focus on encouraging a personal encounter with Christ. It will include inspirational talks, adoration, Mass and generous times for confession, as well as a healing service.
Those leaders who participate in the training in June will be encouraged to accompany parishioners to the Summit and also to provide follow-up afterward by inviting participants to become more involved in the parish — to attend a Bible study, prayer group or class in the parish which will help them to deepen their discipleship.
At the State Knights of Columbus Convention a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching at the Mass celebrated on Friday evening at St. Joseph Church in Spearfish. During the homily I asked the congregation the question, “How many think you are holy?” I have asked this question before in other settings and the response is always the same — not more than a very few people raise their hands. The reason for this is either they are very humble, or they do not understand what holiness really looks like. Isn’t this the call of all Christians?
Seeking holiness is first and foremost the call of a disciple of Jesus. Chapter Five of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) takes up this idea that all who believe in Jesus Christ regardless of their vocation in life are called to holiness. The Core Values outlined in the Diocesan Priority Plan stem from this very call — the call we must accept if we are to be living witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world.
I bring this up as a way to encourage people of God across the diocese to read Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – The Call to Holiness in Today’s World. This short document was released on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. It was not meant to be a treatise on holiness, defining it in some way. Instead, the Holy Father is re-proposing for all of us “the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love.’ (Eph 1:4).” (#2)
It is easy, with all of the distractions and noise in our world today, to forget or even dismiss this call as unattainable. So often people relate holiness as perfection, thinking that this is the reality of the saints and not the average Christian. How far from the truth! Pope Francis relates, “We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable … We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” (#11)
In this apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis relates a story about Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân’s witness to holiness during his 9 ½ years of imprisonment in North Vietnam, which began in 1976. If you are interested in his story, read “The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison.” I would also recommend a short spiritual memoir entitled “Five Loaves and Two Fish.” that shares a bit about his life during his time under house arrest.
During his imprisonment, Cardinal Nguyên van Thuân refused to waste time waiting for the day he would be released. Instead, he chose “to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.” He decided to live his life in prison in this way: “I will seize the occasions that present themselves every day; I will accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way.” (#17)
If we do this, led by God’s grace, then the holiness of God becomes the heart of our every action. There are a couple of other points that I would like to highlight from Gaudete et Exsultate in reference to the call of every disciple of Jesus. The first regards our mission. In my Confirmation homily this year I share with the students who are being confirmed that the Spirit defines our life and leads us to our own personal mission for Christ. This is at the heart of this Sacrament of Confirmation.
Pope Francis reiterates this, “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for ‘this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thes 4:3). Each saint (each of us) is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” (#19) I wonder how often we see ourselves as a mission in our moment in history.
The second point that caught my attention is the call of each of us to be a message to the world. “Every saint (every one of us who seeks to live a life of holiness) is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people.” (#21) Since this is the case, what is the message of our life that is being given to his people?
Yes, holiness is for each of us. We must not be afraid of holiness. “It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” (#32)
The Holy Father expounds on two enemies which present false paths to holiness that are present in our culture today — Gnosticism and Pelagianism. These will be countered by a genuine understanding of holiness, which he presents through an interpretation of the Beatitudes. These instruct us in how to be holy and are at the heart of this exhortation.
Seeking holiness is not easy. Pope Francis describes how holiness comes through the daily struggles each disciple of Jesus faces. He notes that this spiritual combat is not only with worldly values and our own weaknesses, but is also with a very real enemy, the devil. To aid in that fight, the Holy Father concludes his exhortation by addressing discernment and “recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism.” (#174) And this mission, of course, is to be holy. And, yes, this mission is attainable.
“In the end, it is Christ who loves in us, for holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full. As a result, the measure of our holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on his.” (#21)
To access the document: http://w2.vat ican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhor tations/documents/papa-francesco_esor tazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsul tate.html.