Preserving a Catholic Community
By Kathy Cordes, Diocesan Archivist
Has your prayer life strengthened? Has your family bonded like never before? Have you watched Mass at your parish on social media? A few of our greatest blessings during our quarantine time — priests on social media, Mass and being able to watch multiple homilies on any given day, talks concerning discernment and other areas of prayer-life, the Quarantine Quiz by the Office of Faith Formation, walking with the saints, learning how Star Wars relates to my faith and watching a priest humbly ironing altar linens!
These memories we create now in this 2020 pandemic are of great significance for our future history and for our archives.
The diocesan archives move has been completed and renamed the St. Anthony of Padua diocesan archives. St. Anthony is an archival patron saint, definitely mine! For example, while trying to locate a letter from the era of the 1960’s, I often say the little prayer my grandmother taught me …. “Tony, Tony come around, somethings lost and can’t be found.” Do you do this, too? St. Anthony does come around, many times. This quarantine has been a boon to the archives as I am able to put, dare I say organize, the archives in working order after the Chancery merge and move.
Did you see the recently released “Walking the Good Red Road: Nicholas Black Elk’s Journey to Sainthood?” This docu-drama has been very well received. I have had many, many calls from all over the United States and Canada.
After talking with these Black Elk enthusiasts from all over the country, it has really come to light how blessed we are during this pandemic time to have internet and social media to connect with each other. While we pray daily for those suffering or those who have lost a loved one, we must remember past pandemics, when people were without the privileges of modern technology. The influenza pandemic in 1918 or the polio epidemic in which schools closed in South Dakota circa late 1940s … we must preserve the history that belongs with these events.
We must write our stories, photograph and share our stories so that future generations will be able to garner knowledge and valuable information. Future archivists and genealogists will be able to research and find answers to their questions, because of us.
Our parishes were recently asked to send in their pandemic plans to promote the gospel during these trying times. So, please, send YOUR story along with your parish story to the archives. Preserve your family and our church history. The archives are the foundation of our Catholic Church history. Just like 1948, 2020 will be a year to remember.
It felt good to get out into my flower beds this weekend. As I was pulling up weeds, doing a little pruning and planting pots of annuals, I thought about all of the spiritual lessons I have learned over the years in the garden. Weeds have taught me a lot.
When my children were little and we lived in an area with better water and soil, we grew a small vegetable garden. When the vegetables would first sprout, they were small and delicate. Often, they would need to be thinned. And even more often, the weeds would be sprouting right alongside the lettuce, spinach, and other plants. As I would carefully pull those plants we did not want, while carefully trying to protect the little seedlings we did, it occurred to me that there was an analogy to parenting in this task.
As parents we do many things to give our children the rich soil and water they need to thrive. We provide them with our unconditional love and support, food, shelter, education and a variety of activities to help them learn and grow. But we also have the great task of guiding them to a life of virtue; of weeding out the vices that are part of every person because of our fallen human nature. It occurred to me, while crouched down in the midst of a row of new lettuce, that this weeding must be done gently and carefully. If we are rushed; if we are impatient; if we are inattentive, we may very well damage the small shoot we are working so hard to protect. Also, sometimes it is difficult to sort the weeds from the vegetables when they are both so small. Therefore, all of this pruning has to be done with care. It was an image that would come back to me repeatedly as my children grew and it encouraged me to pray for discernment and wisdom to see the “weeds” for what they were and to know the best way to gently remove them.
Another memory I have comes from long hours weeding the 1000-tree shelter belt we have behind and next to our house. After twenty years of care and growth, it provides us some very good protection against the wind and the snow, but initially it was a large swath of bare ground with A LOT of little twigs we hoped would grow into trees and bushes one day. The first year they were in, we were also busy building the house we now live in and the trees did not get all the attention they deserved. I remember heading into them one day after a particularly rainy stretch and the trees in some places had completely disappeared under a canopy of bindweed. We crawled down the rows on hands and knees pulling the weeds away and unraveling them from the little saplings. If weeds in my musings represent vice, the lesson here is do not turn your back on them! If you ignore them they can soon overwhelm much that is good in your life. In fact, they have the power to choke the life out of you.
In general, all of my tree hoeing taught me that weeds come up much easier the quicker you attack them. The lesson I see is: don’t wait and allow them to take root! The same is true of vice in our lives. Tackling them early on is a much easier task than waiting until they are ingrained habits.
Similarly, St. Ignatius in his Rules of Discernment advises us to resist the temptations of the Enemy quickly and boldly, for when we do, he flees. However, if we do not resist initially, we allow him a stronghold which is harder to dislodge later. This image reminds me often that in our battle to live virtuously, little things matter. Discipline in small things, brings strength to tackle greater challenges. And rooting out bad habits at their beginning prove easier than battling them after they have a hold on our lives. Which brings me to another memory of something I read that touched me so much I printed it and had it on my refrigerator for years: “Discipline is remembering what you really want.”
Today most of my weeding is confined to the area surrounding our front porch where we have a variety of bushes and perennials among the rocks. I spend a bit of most Saturdays out there, doing what I often call “perpetual battle with bindweed.” It seems you cannot ever rid yourself of it entirely. I think the root systems go halfway to China. And it is tenacious in how it works its way around the best landscaping fabric. I find a lesson for the spiritual life here too. Life is a battle.
The pursuit of Christian perfection is a lifetime adventure. And it is done best when we are attentive, persistent, hard-working, diligent and allow ourselves space and time to be quiet and listen. Sometimes my time is spent on the equally reoccurring skirmish with misplaced grass. We struggle to keep some semblance of a lawn in our south facing front yard given the clay soil and limited (and very hard) well water. But that never seems to stop it from cropping up where you don’t want it. My lesson here? Sometimes our biggest struggles come out of the right thing in the wrong place. For instance, sometimes we have developed coping mechanisms that served us well in a time of great pain or protected us when life’s hurts assail us. But then we have trouble not taking those behaviors into the new day. The Magnificat reflections during Morning Prayer sometimes
remind us not to let “yesterdays demons spoil today.” Pulling up grass reminds me to seek healing from the Lord for past hurts; to let go of resentments and grudges so that I am free to meet each new day ready to receive all that the Lord desires to give and to generously and lovingly meet those he sends my way.
God is indeed in all things. Go out and find him in the weeds.
“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but, most of all because I have offended you, My God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Your grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
I have been praying this Act of Contrition daily since March as part of a Prayer to Stem the Spread of the COVID-19 virus. This experience has led me to a new appreciation of this old prayer.
It begins with a heartfelt “I’m sorry.” The focus of this deep sorrow is not the shame of our sins. It is not the kind of sorrow that is expressed when we say, “I can’t believe I did that.” The sorrow is not focused on our wretchedness. Rather it is focused on the fact that our choices have offended God. I wonder how often we reflect on that. God loves us. Jesus revealed that central truth. In our sins we offend the one who loves us very much. In my own life, the deepest sorrow I have encountered wells up from the awareness that I have hurt someone who loves me. Likewise, this prayer calls us to explore the sorrow that comes from offending the God who loves us.
The resolution of this prayer is our firm rejection of sin. This is crucial. We must want to not sin again. Another way of saying that is we must be detached from our sin. Quite often I find that I dislike the sin I have engaged in, but at the same time, I really do not want to change my behavior.
I want to hold on to what I think I am gaining from my sin. Truth be told, attachment to sin contradicts our expression of sorrow. It speaks to our failure to accept the depth of God’s love for us.
We are then given two reasons if you will, to detest our sins. The first is called imperfect contrition. I am sorry and reject my sins because if I don’t, I can be separated from God for all eternity. Simply said, if we persist in our sins, we will lose the “prize” of life in heaven. In other words, this prayer reminds us that we are not playing a game here. We are in a pitched battle for our salvation. God offers us that gift in his great love, but we have to respond, and our response is critical to our receiving what God offers. This contrition is imperfect because it focuses on us and what we might lose. Imperfect does not mean it is bad and, thankfully, God loves us so much that imperfect contrition is sufficient to forgive sins.
The second reason given for our sorrow and detesting of our sin takes us back to the beginning of the prayer. I hate my sin because I know it offends the God who loves me and who deserves all my love in return. We are brought back to the essence of the prayer and the essence of our confession of sin. We want to love the God who first loved us. This is called perfect contrition. This prayer invites us to strive for this more perfect contrition with our hearts focused on God and his love for us.
At the end then, we make a clear and firm resolution. We are not just going through the moments. We stand up to be counted. Yet we know that apart from the help of God, none of this is possible. We can quite easily sin by our own power and that power is strong. God’s love is stronger, and we need that love of God poured into our lives. We need God’s grace to do what it is that we firmly resolve to do.
True resolution requires confession. It is essential that we say out loud how we have sinned. We make our sin real by speaking the truth to another who can hear both our sin and our sorrow, the priest who is the human face of the merciful and loving Jesus. We also must do penance and amend our lives. We do something concrete by offering a prayer or kind action that moves us away from the sin we detest and toward the love God has brought us to in this prayer.
The Act of Contrition is a beautiful and rich prayer that clearly expresses our understanding of contrition and confession.
All good things must come to an end, so the saying goes, and it is true. When you read the next issue of the West River Catholic our new bishop will have an article for you to read. At least, I hope that is what will happen. Come to think about it, he will be very busy with an ordination, hosting his family and unpacking his life. Well, whether you read an article from me or not next month, this is the last Sede Vacante column, because we will have a new bishop. I am excited for him and for our whole diocese. I know we have been blessed once again.
Almost a year has passed since Bishop Robert Gruss left us and the Consultors elected me as administrator. The challenges have been many but the blessings more. One of the gifts that I have received in this journey is the privilege of connecting once again with my brother priests. We minister together but are not always good about staying in touch. Being the administrator has invited more communication, and I have enjoyed that. I truly love these men that I share ministry with in our diocese and am grateful to God for the privilege of leading them this last year. Their support has been a great gift.
I am also grateful for the opportunity that I was given to meet and interact with the bishops of Minnesota and North and South Dakota. I have also met bishops from around the country. I am amazed, on the one hand, of how ordinary they are and how easy it has been to spend time with them. On the other hand, I have been touched by their deep faith and hard work. Their love for the Lord and their desire to serve him is so clear to me. I have been blessed in my priesthood to work with good and holy bishops from our diocese. Now I have widened that circle. My deepest respect is extended to these brothers in the ministry who carry an enormous burden with grace and dignity.
Another of the highlights of this year was the Ad Limina visit to Rome. Meeting the Holy Father was an experience of a lifetime. Sitting with him and the bishops for a two-hour conversation was something I assumed would never happen to me. Pope Francis’ compassion and kindness were so evident. So, too, were his intellectual acumen and quick wit. His joy in the Holy Spirit shone through, and I will always thank God for that time with him. In addition, I enjoyed learning all about the various offices of the Vatican. I came away knowing that the people who work in the office of the Vatican truly care for us and are there to serve even our little diocese.
Yet another gift to me as been working with the Chancery staff. It has not all been easy, especially in the difficult decisions that had to be made in balancing the diocesan budget for this coming year. The support from the staff has been evident. I have often said, “they make me look good,” and that is the truth. As a whole, the diocese has a dedicated diocesan staff. I have always known that, but now I have a more personal awareness.
As I reflect on all these experiences and so many more, I also have to offer gratitude for all the people of God in our diocese. So many of you have offered your support, your prayers, and your heartfelt gratitude for the administration I have done over this past year. Your care and concern have bolstered me many times over, especially in those moments when I have been most burdened. You probably are not aware of how important your presence is in the lives of all of us priests. We serve God by serving his people and knowing that you appreciate that effort is so important.
On a personal level, these last months have been a journey of spiritual exploration. I have prayed more, asking God to fill my heart with confidence in his love for me. I have asked for an openness to the Holy Spirit that will lead me to seek and follow God’s will. This is not easy due to my self-sufficient and controlling nature. God is so good, and he has gently chipped away at these faults. Mind you, there is a lot more hammering needed, but these months of leading the diocese have been a hidden, if at times challenging, exploration of who I am before the Lord and his desire to form me into a disciple of his own making. I hope and pray that I come to the end of this journey more conformed to God’s will than when I began.
No, I have no sense of relief. I will continue at the chancery in whatever capacity the new bishop wants me to serve, or I will find my way to a parish to serve the people of the diocese. I am not finished, not by a long way. I have been blessed with a love for my priestly ministry and, please God, that will continue. Besides, there is another “show” fermenting in my mind. Stand by for further details.
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