Jesus or Satan: With whom will you stand this year?

Jesus or Satan: With whom will you stand this year?

As we begin this new year, we would be remiss if we did not take the opportunity to reflect and examine our relationships and how they influence the way we live out our lives as followers of Christ.

“Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response” states, “Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ leads naturally to the practice of stewardship. These linked realities, discipleship and stewardship, then make up the fabric of the Christian life in which each day is lived in an intimate personal relationship with the Lord.”

Let us begin 2018 first by praying for a greater desire within our own hearts to truly live a life in union with Christ. Every time we celebrate the Mass, as we prepare to receive the Real Presence of Jesus, we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

At the heart of who we are, there is a real thirst and hunger to open wide the door of our hearts and have our Lord Jesus Christ enter and completely heal us. Yet, at the same time, we struggle to do so because of temptation and the pattern of sin that continues to plague our lives leaving us empty, unfilled and unhappy.

This struggle is actually a spiritual battle that is being waged within each us, whether we want to believe it or not. At the center of this spiritual battle is the battle for our very souls.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, a former soldier, offers a powerful reflection of this reality in his Spiritual Exercises. In his “Meditation of the Two Standards,” he compares our spiritual lives with that of a soldier who must decide which standard (flag) to stand with, to be loyal to, to fight for.

The two standards are that of Jesus and of Satan. Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Lk 11:23). He invites us to place ourselves firmly under his standard.

Both because of the temptations of the Evil One and our own fallen nature, we have a tendency within ourselves to get stuck somewhere in between Christ and the world (Satan, our own ideas and plans and all that is not of God), wanting to have both. In the end, this prevents us from truly having to make a decision to follow Jesus, to give testimony and witness to his life within us.

The Greek word for testimony is martyria, meaning martyr, implying that at the heart of testimony there is not only a personal and first-hand knowledge of Jesus, but also a willingness on our part to risk it all for Christ — to be true light to the world.

We hear these challenging and uncomfortable words in the Book of Revelation: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, will I spew you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:15). This is the indecision that leaves us in the gap between standing under the flag of Jesus and coming under the flag of the world.

The question we are called to ponder and wrestle with in our lives is, “Who are you with? Team Jesus or Team Satan? Whose flag are you waving? Are you firmly in one camp or the other, or are you wavering somewhere between the two?”

Knowing the reality of living under these two standards is helpful in answering these questions. Under the standard of Jesus, we are ALWAYS drawn to the Advocate, the Good Father, the perfecter of human nature. We experience unity.

Where is the unity in your heart today? In John 17, Jesus calls us to oneness of heart: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:22-23).

On the flip side, the evil one always brings division and darkness. When we are tempted to keep hidden our fears, doubts, anger and sorrows and when our hearts are divided and restless, we are not standing under Jesus’ standard.

Likewise, when we come under the standard of Jesus we are all about courage and communion. However, when we follow the standard of Satan we are filled with inadequacies and have the tendency to isolate ourselves from family, friends and one another.

When we come under the standard of Jesus, we are filled with humility, happiness and hope. We experience a deep sense of joy being held by God the Father who loves, delights and rejoices in us. When we fall into the trap of coming under the flag of Satan, we are filled with disappointment, discouragement, doubt and despair. Despair is a dangerous place in which to be because we lose our sense of direction completely, of being called by God, who does indeed have a mission and purpose for our lives.

Lastly, when we come under the standard of Jesus, we experience belief and forgiveness rather than unbelief and unforgiveness, which are the marks of Satan’s standard. The enemy wants to keep hidden our fears, doubts, angers and sorrows. The enemy wants us to keep these to ourselves, rather than relating and bringing them to the heart of Jesus — the way, the truth and the life.

It is in our fears, doubts, angers and sorrows that the enemy plays around with us and begins to bind us, taking us down dead-end streets that only lead to emptiness, darkness and sadness within us. But when we are able to relate our fears, doubts, angers and sorrows to Christ, bringing them out of darkness and into the Light, he leads us to freedom, joy and happiness.

In this New Year, may you take some time to examine the movements your heart experiences and ponder more deeply what that says about who you stand with and which flag you are waving.

 

Put down your cell phone; become friends with our Lord

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.

For Advent, focus on reconciliation

At the end of October, Jesuit Father Jim Kubicki, president of St. Francis Mission, led the chancery staff retreat. In the talks he shared with us, he focused on the diocesan vision statement: Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission. These six words are the foundation stones, the building blocks that will help to move our diocese in a new direction, helping us to reorient our lives to be reconciling disciples.

Father Kubicki said “the heart of the Gospel is reconciliation itself.” In 2 Corinthians 5:18, we hear that Christ was sent by the Father to reconcile us to him, and so now Christ gives us the ministry of reconciliation.

We are called to be a reconciling people, to not only extend forgiveness to one another, but also to receive forgiveness from others and to learn to forgive ourselves in and through Christ.

In 2006, speaking in Australia, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness — two indispensable elements for peace.”

In our Pastoral Priority Plan, we hear this: “As God has reconciled us through Jesus Christ, so we will promote forgiveness and healing within families; within and between communities; among racial groups; with the Church. We will invite others to experience the good news of God’s love through encounter with Jesus Christ.”

To help us live out this vision of reconciliation in our parishes and diocese, we are called as parish communities to identify areas where reconciliation and unity are strong and areas where reconciliation is needed. Also, each parish or group of parishes were asked to submit to Bishop Gruss a plan which engages and promotes reconciliation and includes an implementation process that will help us live intentionally in the heart of the Gospel as Jesus did.

In October, the priests of our diocese were on retreat at Terra Sancta. Our director was Jesuit Father John Horn. He is the co-founder of the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, and currently serves as professor of spiritual theology and spiritual director at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida.

Father Horn, like Father Kubicki, focused the priest retreat on the theme of reconciliation. One of the things Father Horn shared with us was a new guide for confession and receiving God’s mercy. As we approach Advent, we will have a number of opportunities in our parishes to ask, to receive, to grant forgiveness in and through Christ and to be those reconciling disciples that we hear about in Second Corinthians.

This new reconciliation guide bases our examination of conscience on the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, anger and sloth.  Father Horn reminded us that these sins always lead us to isolation from Christ and one another. Living in isolation then leads to “bad fruit” — immorality, impurity … idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, fractions, occasions of envy … and the like” (Gal 5:19-21).

The guide suggests possible penances that focus on heavenly virtues which lead us out of isolation and into communion with Christ: humility/loving obedience, kindness/admiration, charity/generosity, temperament/self-control, chastity/purity, patience/forgiveness and diligence/zeal.

When we are living in communion with Christ, the good “fruit of the Spirit” is born in our midst, namely “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 4:22-23).

This Advent could be a good time to use this new guide for penitents and priests, titled “Confession and Receiving God’s Mercy.” It would be a good addition to your parish’s reconciliation plan and one more resource for helping to fulfill the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

This guide is put out by the Institute for Ongoing Clergy Formation at St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. I have ordered 5,000 of these guides. I know a number of parishes have already ordered them as well through the Office of Stewardship and Vocations, but if you or your parishes are interested, but have not already ordered some, please let me know and I would be happy to get them out to you.

I wanted to leave you with the Act of Contrition contained in this new guide. It speaks beautifully of this desire to live a life focused on reconciliation and mercy.

An Act of Contrition

Lord Jesus, to know You is eternal life. I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. I love You and I place my trust in You.

I am sorry for all my sins and for withholding myself in any way from you. Please forgive me and heal any pain I have caused others. I forgive anyone who has hurt me, and I ask You to bless them. In Your name, Jesus, I renounce anything in my life that is not of You that I have welcomed into my mind or heart. Wash me in mercy and fill me with Your Precious Blood and the Holy Spirit.

Father, of all my need for love and affection is found in Your embrace. May I never leave my home in Your heart again. By Your grace, I resolve to remain in Your shelter and abide in Your shade, where You restore to me the joy of Your salvation (Ps. 91, Ps.51). Amen.

 

Emulate Nicholas Black Elk as a model of faith

There are a lot of great things happening in our diocese. I see many ways that we are moving from having simply a culture of maintenance to developing a culture of mission in our parishes. The more we embrace our diocesan priority plan together, the more we will see the abundant fruit of living as missionary disciples.

To lay it before us again, our Sacred Mission as a diocese is: “We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ leading to eternal life.” We are called to keep before us our vision statement as well: “Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission.”

As I reflect on our mission and vision statements for the diocese, I cannot help but think about Nicholas William Black Elk Sr., who was a Lakota catechist in our diocese. I was excited to read in last month’s West River Catholic that Bishop Robert Gruss will be offering a Mass as he opens the cause for sainthood of Nicholas Black Elk, on at Saturday, Oct. 21, 4 p.m., in Holy Rosary Church, Pine Ridge, on the campus of the Red Cloud Indian School.

This Mass is for everyone in our diocese and not just for the Native American community. As the cause for Black Elk’s sainthood is being formally opened, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

This is great news for all the people of our diocese. We should be inspired by the story of Nicolas Black Elk who, after converting to Catholicism, spent his time building up the local church. As I read the story of Black Elk, I see our diocesan mission statement and vision statement come to life. I also see Black Elk as a faithful steward who lived stewardship as a way of life.

They say Black Elk watched and studied the Christian faith which grew out of his curiosity for Christianity. The life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict the XIV, on Oct. 21, 2012, was a particular inspiration to him. In 1885, he signed the petition supporting her cause for canonization.

In 1904, he met a Jesuit priest who invited him to study Christianity at Holy Rosary Mission near Pine Ridge. I see in this the first lens of our stewardship initiative — generous hospitality: invitation, welcome and fellowship. There is nothing like a personal invitation. This personal invitation by this priest opened the door for Nicholas Black Elk to begin to understand the way of Christ, and on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6, 1904, he was baptized.

In 1907, he was appointed as a catechist because of his love for Christ, his enthusiasm and an excellent memory for learning Scripture and Catholic teachings. Deacon Marlon Leneaugh describes Nicholas Black Elk as one might describe St. Paul: “He traveled widely to various reservations; preaching, sharing stories and teaching the Catholic faith with his ‘Two Roads Model’ of the catechism (the black road and the red road — the black road representing evil and the red road representing good).”

Black Elk’s two roads reminds me of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s teaching in the Spiritual Exercises on the meditation of the two standards (flags). As disciples, we are called to choose where we are going to stand — with Jesus or with the world. No matter what life the Spirit has drawn us to, once we are baptized and confirmed, we are called to stand in Jesus’ company under his flag, under his standard.

Deacon Marlon continues: “Black Elk’s mission was to build the faith among his people and to strengthen the relationships between native and non-native people. He did this by promoting his culture as he worked in the Black Hills and by promoting the message of Jesus Christ as love, peace and harmony that was revealed to him at an early age in the vision.”

His mission reminds me of our mission: to Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission. Today we continue his legacy when we call forth the power of the Holy Spirit to bring a new Pentecost among us as God’s people, native and non-native, working together as the Body of Christ.

Nicholas Black Elk also came to mind as I read the book “Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church” by Brandon Vogt. In chapter six, Vogt talks about the importance of learning to equip ourselves in the faith. That was very much part of Black Elk’s conversion as he watched and studied the Catholic faith.

This, too, is at the heart of our stewardship initiative (lively faith: prayer, study and formation). Vogt contends that it is important that we equip ourselves, learning our faith through the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible, but we also need to know our testimony and be willing to give it.

Nicholas Black Elk equipped himself to know the Catholic faith and to live it in the context of being Lakota. He also inspired others to live Christ by his own story.

This opening of the cause for sainthood inspires us to continue to equip ourselves with a solid understanding of the teachings of our faith and in the giving of our testimony to what Christ is doing in our lives.

After Oct. 21 Nicholas Black Elk will be called Servant of God. His consistent faith as a catechist and his teaching in joyfully living the Catholic way of life has become a beacon for all of us in our diocese and for the church as a whole. May he model for us a way of walking on the road with Christ, leading us to reconciliation and peace among all God’s people.

 

Young Black Elk photo from Marquette University Archives

Why being a Stewardship Parish is important

Over the last several months I have written about your parish becoming a Stewardship Parish. Much of what I have written has been about how to become a Stewardship Parish. In referring to our diocesan priority plan, Through Him, With Him and In Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan,” I have spelled out the process for becoming a Stewardship Parish in “The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish.” Some readers – and maybe you’re one of them – are asking, “Why is being a Stewardship Parish so important? Our parish is fine.” I am glad people are asking that question.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” lists six crucial questions that need to be addressed for organizational health. They are:

Why do we exist?

How do we behave?

What do we do?

How will we succeed?

What is most important right now?

Who must do what?

It is important to note that Lencioni begins with the why question first — Why do we exist?

Simon Sinek, author, Columbia University professor and motivational speaker, says “very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief — WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Sinek’s thoughts remind me of the prayer by the late Jesuit Father General, Fr. Pedro Arrupé, who answers his why question in finding and falling in love with God:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

The why is the fulfillment of our true desire and happiness which can only be found in finding and falling in love with God in an absolute way.

Our sacred mission statement for the Diocese of Rapid City addresses the why question as well. “We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.”

The why is eternal life!

In Paul’s letter to the Romans we hear: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28).

Jesus tells us what his purpose is — to love and serve God, and to love and serve others. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31).

In the 19th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, a young man approaches Jesus and asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus, himself, asks him the why question, “Why do you ask me about the good?”

The rich young man kept all the commandments and desired to do good, yet Jesus has more in store for him than simply keeping the commandments. Jesus wants him to go further and deeper not only with his relationship with God, but with his brothers and sisters: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Why is being a Stewardship Parish so important? It is important because it helps us to focus our lives on Christ as the center of everything we say and do. It takes the focus off ourselves and puts the focus on the needs of our brothers and sisters, who come first, even before our own needs and desires.

Remember, stewardship is not a program; it is a way of life. Stewardship begins with a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, who reminds us of our own identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Father, and then sends us forth as missionary disciples who proclaim joyfully, boldly and lovingly the living Christ that leads us to eternal life.

In linking discipleship to stewardship, we are following Jesus’ examples. In Matthew 25:14-30 he describes a disciple in the terms of stewardship. The steward is the one to whom the owner of the household turns over responsibility for caring for the property, managing affairs, making resources yield as much as possible, and sharing the resources with others. The position involves trust and accountability.

The characteristics of a Stewardship Parish are meant to help us to be accountable not only to one another as missionary disciples, but also to our parishes and our diocese. The characteristics of a Stewardship Parish are meant to be a guide, a blueprint helping us to fall more in love with Jesus Christ by living a Catholic way of life through generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship.

I welcome your questions and comments regarding stewardship in your life and that of your parish. Feel free to contact me at (605) 716-5214 x235 or mmccormick@diorc.org.

 

This summit is for you

On Friday evening Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30, the Office of Stewardship will host the Third Annual Stewardship Summit. This year our conference will focus on the third lens of our Stewardship initiative:  Dedicated Discipleship.

We understand that dedicated discipleship is rooted in the first or greatest commandment. In the Gospel, one of the scribes approaches Jesus with this question: “Which commandment is the first of all?”

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:28-31).

Dedicated discipleship, then, encompasses both intentional love of God and intentional love of neighbor.

Sherry Weddell, in her book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” would call this dropping the net. We need to learn how to drop the nets of our own lives, just as the apostles dropped their nets, leaving behind the way of life they knew and with which they were so comfortable, to embrace a life with Jesus — a life of surrender that allowed Jesus to take control of their lives and hearts.

Echoing the words of a young seventh grader at Boys Totus Tuus camp this summer when praying the Stations of the Cross, “Easier said than done, Lord.”

To be a dedicated disciple of Jesus is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work with a lot of starts and stops along the way. However, God is patient and works gradually in our lives, bringing us to a point in which we hopefully can truly drop the nets of our own lives in order to follow Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life; there is no one other than he.

Weddell writes: “All of us must learn to drop our nets as the first disciples did and make an intentional choice to follow the Lord.”

After we have made this choice for ourselves, we are encouraged to begin assisting others. This can begin with a simple, two-part conversation with a friend, neighbor, family member or even a stranger. It begins with two simple questions:

Can you describe your relationship with God to this point in your life?

Can you tell me the story of your relationship with God so far?

Pope Francis says: “In the virtue of our baptism, all members of the people of God have become missionary disciples (Mt 28:19), every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are disciples and missionaries, but rather we are always missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium paragraph 119).

Are you intimidated when you are encouraged to be a missionary disciple? If so, you are not alone. After last year’s conference, we surveyed parishioners from around the diocese and the most common reason for not coming to the summit was, “I didn’t think it was for me.” The reality is that this conference is for you!

We have worked hard to ensure that it offers inspiring talks and workshops for all Catholics — from those who have already dropped their nets and are looking for ways to help others, to those who don’t even know they have a net, and everyone in between. Come and see just how easy it can be to first drop your own net and then share with others why you have done so.

Our keynote speakers are Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart of Casting Nets Ministries. “Tony and Chris have been speaking all over the country for more than a decade proclaiming the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and equipping Catholics to become Missionary Disciples,”  according to their website.

Both are former teachers who bring warmth, humor and wisdom to their presentations. They have great stories to tell about their own experiences living as dedicated disciples in the Diocese of Wichita, which has a rich and successful tradition of stewardship. They will give three addresses during the summit and will share with us their “Seven Pillars of Effective Evangelization.”

In addition to these talks, eight workshops will be offered. Bishop Robert Gruss has generously agreed to lead three workshops, Fr. Jonathan Dillon, who is the pastor of the parish clusters in Gregory County, will be back with three more stories of great saints and I will share wisdom from Brandon Vogt’s book, “Return,” which outlines proven steps for drawing your adult child back to the church.

Lastly, I am looking forward to welcoming many more families to the conference this year. An addition to our conference this year is a youth track – meaningful play and age appropriate stewardship lessons for toddlers through 9th grade.  I look forward to seeing families from across the diocese at Terra Sancta in September.

 

Summit 2017

Where: Terra Sancta

Cost: $50 per individual/

$75 per couple/$90 per Family/

$10 per College-aged student

— if registered before

September 15.

Register at: 

terrasancta.org/Summit2017

If you have any questions about the Stewardship Summit, or if you’re not sure whether or not it is for you, please contact me at (605) 716-5214 x235 or mmccormick@diorc.org.

Plan to become a Stewardship Parish

I wanted to share some good news with you! After many months of work, the Office of Stewardship has finalized “The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish,” which is called for in our diocesan priority plan, Through Him, With Him and In Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan.

If you have not taken the time to read and pray over our diocesan priority plan, I encourage you to do so because it lays out the mission and the vision for our diocese for the next three to five years. Just think if all of us took the time to read and pray over our diocesan priority plan and worked with our pastors, finance councils, parish councils, stewardship committees and vocation committees — to name a few — what an impact it would have in the way we live our Catholic way of life. We would truly “attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ leading us to eternal life.”

“The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish” was sent to every pastor in our diocese. This document outlines the characteristics that an ideal parish, one that is committed to living Stewardship as a way of life, would have. It is the first step in meeting one of the goals outlined in the diocesan pastoral plan — to increase by five to ten the number of parishes who have met the criteria to be recognized as stewardship parishes.

This document strives to paint a picture of the ideal parish, a vision of what a parish could be. As Tom Corcoran shared recently at Pastoral Ministry Days, a vision is often seen as unrealistic and hardly attainable, but one worth pursuing as it can impel us to live more fully the life to which Christ is calling us.

All parishes in our diocese will find outlined in this document characteristics they are already doing well; they will also find many that challenge them. It is our hope that parishes will look at these characteristics as providing helpful assistance in long-term planning.

When Bishop Robert Gruss approved this document, he said something I have heard him say many times. Namely, it is his greatest desire that our people fall deeply in love with our Lord. He is hopeful that this document is seen as a means to that end. If it serves to help parishes more effectively bring people into a deep encounter with Jesus, then it will prove its usefulness, whether or not in the end we have five or 50 “Stewardship Parishes.”

In my letter to pastors, I suggested the document be used in this way:

1) Meet with the leaders in your parish and ask them to read it, pray over it and then begin by using these characteristics to form an honest and realistic picture of your parish. This becomes the baseline for where your parish is today. Basically, what are the parish’s strengths and weaknesses?

2) Know that these characteristics build upon one another and that if there are weaknesses in the foundational structures, these should be addressed first. In the areas of Hospitality, Lively Faith and Dedicated Discipleship, simple and complex criteria are expressed.

3) Use the strengths and weaknesses identified by parish leaders as a baseline for setting some realistic goals for growth and development, remembering that stewardship is a way of life, not a program; it is always an ongoing process of growth.

Some questions to think about:

How do these goals align with our mission statement?

What are going to be the markers we can point to in meeting these goals?

What does success look like in particulars?

Commit to an annual assessment of these goals. Choose to pursue formal designation as a stewardship parish through the Office of Stewardship.

The Office of Stewardship is here to serve the diocese and we are happy to assist in this process in any way we can. I will be working to develop a way to assess parishes and a system for designating parishes as stewardship parishes. A tiered system best encourages us to keep working toward achieving this lofty vision as well as conveys the reality of stewardship as a way of life.

The first step in achieving the designation of stewardship parish will be to be designated as a foundational parish, indicating that your parish has in place all of the foundational structures necessary to begin fostering stewardship in your parish. After this, there will be three additional benchmarks, each more challenging than the previous one, requiring a greater number of criteria be met. Parishes meeting these benchmarks will be designated as hospitable parishes, lively parishes and then, finally, stewardship parishes.

If you would like to see this document, please ask your pastor for a copy or download one on our webpage at www.rapidcitydiocese.org/stewardship.

I also want to point out the dates for this year’s Stewardship Summit: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30 at Terra Sancta. Our keynote speakers for this year’s conference will be Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart from Casting Nets Ministries: http://castingnetsministries.com.

This year we are providing childcare and stewardship tracks for children at the Summit. If we want stewardship to really become a Catholic Way of Life, then we need to help our families to embrace stewardship. Thus, I encourage you to bring your children to the Summit.

Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, a pastoral letter on stewardship from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlights that stewardship “above all requires that parents themselves be models of stewardship, especially by their selfless service to one another, to their children and to the church and community needs.” I look forward to seeing your whole family there.

 

For more information about the Summit or our other stewardship initiatives, please contact me at (605) 716-5214 x235 or mmccormick@diorc.org.

How to let Jesus, the Living Word, speak to you

 

At times, people say to me, “Fr. Mark, I just don’t hear Jesus speak to me. I do not hear his voice.”

When I hear this, I ask them to describe their life of prayer to me and often they are saying prayers but not praying. They are not sharing their feelings, thoughts and desires with Jesus and allowing Jesus to speak to them in the silence of their hearts.

And more often than not they are not reading the Scriptures either. It is in silence and in the Scriptures — the word of God — that Jesus speaks to our hearts.

Pope Francis says about the word of God, “Take it, carry it with you, and read it every day, it is Jesus himself who is speaking to you…. The important thing is to read the word of God, by any means, but read the word of God. It is Jesus who speaks to us there. Welcome it with an open heart. Then the good seed will bear fruit!”

At Pastoral Ministry Days in 2016, Msgr. Thomas Richter, rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, gave us a simple guide to help us spend time every day in prayer, reading, listening and hearing Jesus speak to us through His life-giving Word.

We read in Hebrews, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Heb 4:12-13).

The best way I know how to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to me in the depths of my heart is to spend time with him every day, in silence, reading and listening to his words in the Scriptures. The problem is that most of us are not faithful and consistent to a regular pattern of daily prayer, and then we wonder why we never hear Jesus speak to our hearts.

In his book “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: How Engaging 1% of Catholics Could Change the World,” Matthew Kelly says that Dynamic Catholics, which are about 7 percent of all Catholics, have a regular routine time for prayer. What does this mean? Kelly says, “They tend to pray the same time every day and they tend to pray in the same place every day.”

Kelly goes on to say that “most people when they pray sit down and see what happens, and of course very often nothing happens. So they get frustrated and stop praying. When Dynamic Catholics sit down to pray they don’t just see what happens; they have a plan, they have a routine and routine within the routine.”

I challenge you to pray for a half hour every day, at the same time every day, and in the same place every day, for the next month. Be not afraid! Give it a try! Use the simple format that Msgr. Richter laid out for us as the plan for your 30 minutes of prayer every day.

I am also asking that you find a person, maybe it’s your spouse, a friend, a coworker, a parishioner or your pastor, to help keep you accountable to this new routine of prayer in your life. Are you willing to accept this challenge?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website provides the daily readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/. While the site provides both readings and the Psalm, you can use any one of the Scriptures for the day in this prayer time. The site also offers an audio version for each of the day’s readings, which offers you an opportunity to share this prayer practice with someone who is visually impaired. See the guide below for other ideas.

 

Msgr. Richter’s Prayer Guide

“If I want to spend time with Jesus in daily prayer, what would it look like?”

This is what it would looks like … Below is a general outline of what personal prayer looks like in the hearts of prayerful people throughout the centuries. Follow the suggestions for committing to daily prayer.

Begin by meditating on the following quote “God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2567).

What do you want?

Look in your heart; look at your life. What do you want? What do you really want from God? Tell God right now what you need from him during this time of prayer.

Now read a passage from the Bible Maybe it’s the day’s Psalm; maybe it’s one of the readings from the daily Mass; maybe it’s one of the readings for the upcoming Sunday Mass. Simply find a passage from Scripture. Read the passage slowly. Get familiar with the text. Read the passage a second time, this time reading even more slowly. Very, very slowly read the passage a third time. Pay attention to which word, words or phrases “tug” at your heart or get your attention.

Take some time now to think about your life Think about the reality of your life. What word, words, or phrases from the Scripture passage speak to you? How does the Scripture passage connect to your life? Look deep within.

Next, talk to God

Share everything with Him. Talk to Him as you would talk to your most trusted friend. Talk to God like Moses did: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, as one man speaks to another” (Ex 33:11).

Then listen — God will speak to you

Maybe God will speak to you through a thought in your head … or a song in your heart … or a memory … or a desire in your body. Listen with all your senses.

Return to the Scripture passage

Read it slowly one more time. What word, words, or phrases speak to you again?

What can you do?

Think about what you can do today, this week, to act upon what God has revealed to you. Practically speaking, in your real life, what can you do?

Thank the Lord

Finally, thank the Lord. Blessings are specific and so should be your gratitude. Tell God specifically what you’re thankful for.

Please do not become discouraged if what you had hoped for didn’t happen

during a time of prayer. Don’t give up. This is about having a friendship with Jesus. Continue to practice the steps as you

cultivate your daily prayer life.

 

Let me know how this approach to prayer works for you. Contact me at (605) 716-5214 ext. 233 or MMcCormick @diorc.org.

 

Wake up, fall asleep with Scripture

As I was preparing for a men’s retreat at Holy Cross in Timber Lake, I came across this phrase: “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed” by Fr. Larry Richards. He has breathed and lived this saying for over 25 years.

He tells this story of making his priest retreat before his ordination and Msgr. Peterson (then Father

Peterson) asked him to sit before the Blessed Sacrament. He told him, “Just go before the Blessed Sacrament, ask God to reveal his word to you. Open the word of God and whatever comes is God’s word to you.”

Since this time, Father Richards has made this practice a part of his life. Every morning he opens the Bible and reads, and when a word, phrase or verse tugs at his heart, he stops and prays with it. He writes it down, puts it in his pocket and throughout the day he pulls it out and re-reads it. Pondering and reflecting in his heart and connecting the word of God to his life.

This pondering and reflecting upon God’s word in one’s heart, we learn from our Blessed Mother Mary, who models for us so beautifully and powerfully the need and the desire of meditating and contemplating on what God is doing in her life. Bringing forth the Incarnate word of God, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

Father Richards encourages others to pray this way. He suggests that before one picks up their Bible, they should pray a fervent prayer to the Holy Spirit asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s word to them. Then open the Bible randomly, letting your finger point to a passage. Then simply read the Scriptures until the word of God tugs at your heart.

When something grabs you, stop and pray with God’s word. Realize that you might read a few verses, or perhaps even several chapters, before the Lord tugs at your heart. The key is to read until the Lord tugs at your heart with a word, words or phrase from Scripture.

Since the men’s retreat, I have been using this prayer method outlined by Father Richards when I wake up in the morning and before I go to bed, remembering — “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed.” Sometimes a word tugs at my heart right away and sometimes I read three or four chapters before the Lord really tugs at my heart revealing his words of mercy, love, forgiveness and truth to me.

It has been a lot of fun reading and praying the Scriptures this way. It is amazing that I find myself in parts of the Bible I’ve never read before, usually coming away with one of those “wow moments” of encountering the living God.

In March, I taught this method of “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible no bed” to students participating in the Veritatis Splendor Institute (VSI), sponsored by the Office of Faith Formation in the diocese.

Shortly after that, Angela Weber the music teacher, at St. Thomas More High School, was diagnosed with cancer. The morning after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she was restless, troubled, and filled with anxiety. Angela thought of that simple phrase of “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible no bed.” So Angela opened her Bible and asked the Holy Spirit to show her what the Lord wanted to say to her. Her Bible fell open to 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful and he will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide you a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”

Since then, Angela has shared with me several times the words that the Lord is revealing to her as she journeys through her battle with cancer. Reading God’s word before breakfast and before bed has truly been her daily bread. One of my favorites — one that made me laugh — was when Angela lost her hair.

The word that Angela received was from Luke 12:6-7: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

The very next day Angela wrote to me: “Sorry to bother you again so soon. Okay. You’re not going to believe this; this morning my Bible fell open to Matthew 10:30, ‘But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.’ I am so spoiled by God!’”

I love the way Angela talks about this practice. She says, “The word is alive,” and then continues:

“The experience of Scripture as the word actually and truly alive has come to me in a strong way through the practice of asking the Holy Spirit in the morning and in the evening what the Lord has to say to me today, and then letting the Bible fall open where it may.

“As I read I am taken in immediately by whatever is going on in the Scriptures at that point in the Bible, and I read until there are words that strike me to the heart telling me this is what the Lord wants to say to me today. Sometimes, as Father Mark says, it comes right away, and sometimes I have to read for a bit before my heart hears the word the Lord wants to say to me.

“It is so striking how easy it is to sit and read in anticipation of what the Lord will say actively to me for the day! In this way the word is ‘alive’ for me in a new and exciting way.

“Just recently, I received the word from Jeremiah 29:11-14: ‘For I know well the plans I have in mind for you — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a

future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.  When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, and I will change your lot…’”

“Since then, that Scripture has come to me three-fold in cards and notes of encouragement. The Lord really, really wants me to know this!

“In my sickness these days, I feel like I barely give enough to make a difference in the classes I teach, the concerts for which we are preparing, etc. Just yesterday, I was reminded of this from Luke 21:3-4: ‘I tell you truly, the poor widow put in more than all the rest, for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’”

“I have never gone as far as to give away my whole livelihood to the church, but I have given all I have that’s in me so that my students succeed. This spring it has felt like I am giving from a great poverty. God reassures me he is multiplying my poor offering.”

This month give “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible no bed” a try.