‘Black Elk’s hunger and thirst for holiness can inspire us’

Bishop Peter Muhich stands at the grave of Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk. A memorial Mass for Black Elk was held at St. Agnes Church, Manderson, Aug. 17. It has been four years since the diocese opened the cause for canonization. (Courtesy photo)

Homily August 17 for
Black Elk Memorial Mass
+August 17, 1950


“Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

These words of Our Lord from the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel are a fitting Scripture passage for our Memorial Mass today because they describe this holy man, this holy soul.

Black Elk, baptized “Nicholas’” as you know perhaps better than I, is an authentic witness to the spiritual depth of Lakota culture and an authentic witness to Jesus Christ. He bridges both the Lakota and the Catholic in a beautiful and inspiring way that helps up appreciate how God is present in Lakota culture and how Lakota culture can enrich the church.

St. John’s vision in our first reading from the Book of Revelation is of “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue” standing before the throne and the Lamb in company with all the angels singing “salvation comes from our God/Ancient One and from the Lamb.” With the elders the multitude exclaims, “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power and might to God forever and ever.” I can say that we hear these words with a distinctly Lakota voice today as we remember the remarkable life of Nicholas Black Elk in this celebration of the Eucharist — the church’s most sublime act of prayer that joins us to that worship of the Ancient One and the Lamb around the throne in heaven in John’s vision.

The church needs Black Elk’s witness and indigenous voice now more than ever, in a world where suspicion and polarization are on the increase. In his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti our Holy Father, Pope Francis, invites us to “dream as a single human family, as fellow travelers, as children of the same earth which is our common home, for we are all brothers and sisters.” I echo his words today: let us dream with Nicholas Black Elk, the great Lakota mystic, of a way beyond the sins of our past (which we must be accountable for) and the prejudices which we still carry with us; let us dream of a time of purification and healing that can free us to walk the good red road hand in hand.

For, as our second reading from the first Letter of John says so simply and profoundly, “we are God’s children” destined to “be like him who is goodness, truth and beauty itself.”

Nicholas Black Elk’s poverty of spirit reminds us that every breath we take, and every moment of our lives is a gift and that we should not only be grateful but generous, imitating the Giver of every good gift. Black Elk’s hunger and thirst for holiness can inspire us to yearn for a closer friendship with God, that always brings with it a closer friendship with each other.

As you know, Nicholas Black Elk’s cause is making progress in Rome. We have heard through the good auspices of the Jesuit Fathers and Brothers that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has received all the necessary materials put together by our diocesan committee and that they are now being examined and studied. We have heard that Pope Francis is aware of this cause which is consoling as we continue to pray for Nicholas’ beatification and ultimate canonization.

Please join me in not only praying for Black Elk’s cause but in letting him and his unique life-story touch our hearts and enlighten our minds.


Let me close by using the last section of Pope Francis’ prayer at the end of Fratelli Tutti (We Are All Brothers and Sisters):

“Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty, reflected in all the peoples of the earth, so that we may discover anew that all are important, and all are necessary, different faces of the one humanity that God so loves.” Amen

Nicholas Black Elk, Pray or us!

+ Bishop Peter


Black Elk Canonization