Don’t let the devil’s lies separate you from God’s love

By Laurie Hallstrom

“You are not alive by chance, God could create you to be alive at any point in history, but he chooses you be alive right now. (You belong) in this moment, in this place, with all that is going on,” said Fr. John Riccardo, from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Father Riccardo calls his ministry “Acts XXIX” referring to the continuing story of the church from where it ends with the Bible book, Acts 28.

In his first presentation, “Created,” he explained the world is crying. For the first time since 1918 there has been a consistent drop in life expectancy for three years in a row. He attributed that to deaths of despair — rising rates of suicide, cirrhosis of the liver in 20 and 30-year-olds and the opioid crisis.

“The beauty of the Gospel is the message itself can change lives,” said Father Riccardo citing the healing, freedom, wholeness and salvation it brings.

“These are great days to be alive — not boring. God has equipped you with anything you need to be instruments in his hands so as to share the Gospel.

“You want happiness and God has a monopoly on happiness,” he said.

According to Father Riccardo, the two accounts of Genesis, which are not literal, they teach us there is just one God and he created us effortlessly. “We are made in his likeness which means we are made for friendship, to be loved and to love. People are made to be divinized,” he said.

After listening to Father Riccardo and then spending time in prayer, a young adult  participant said, “I became aware of the fact that I have many people that I hang out with, but no one that I would call a close friend. I felt a loneliness that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel and now I feel God encouraging me to seek out more authentic friendships.”

In his second presentation, “Captured,” Father Riccardo explained the origin of the devil and his mission on earth. Satan is a fallen angel cast out of heaven because rebelled against God. The priest explained the “fall of man” in the Garden of Eden and its consequences. Quoting from the book of Wisdom 2:24, he said, “through the devil’s envy death entered the world.”

He said Satan’s tactics include accusing, lying and dividing with the ultimate goal of separating people from God’s love. He went on to name several of the devil’s lies:

“I don’t matter.”

“I’m not loveable.”

“I’m not worth anything.”

“No one cares.”

“God’s not your father —he’s not even

real — be done with him.”

Father Riccardo said, “God wants to expose the lies, expose what Satan is doing in your life.”

Participants were given time for adoration and reconciliation. They were asked to pray and reflect on Satan’s lies in their lives.

More than 50 volunteer ambassadors helped guide people through the day. One of them told Shawna Hanson, director of the Office of Stewardship, as Father Mark McCormick walked past her carrying the monstrance “I felt Jesus say to me ‘I love you so much.’ Those words came into my heart with such tenderness, that tears filled my eyes. It was several minutes before I regained my composure.

“How did that encounter change me? I desire more than ever before to spend time with him in prayer, and to sit before him in the Blessed Sacrament — what a beautiful gift!”

A participant explained how she was touched during the reflection period, “Five years ago, I lost a daughter to suicide. The last conversation we had was an argument. We were both so angry and I have carried so much grief, sorrow, regret and guilt since then. 

“I woke up on Saturday and didn’t want to come to the Summit, but a gentle voice came to me saying, ‘when you don’t want to go, that’s when you really need to go.’ All day the Lord was gently nudging me, ‘don’t take notes, just listen’ and ‘go get in the line for confession.’

“Once in the confessional I shared that I had this grief, this guilt that I just couldn’t shake.

“‘Unnatural death is hard,’ the priest said.  I don’t remember what else he said but it was so peaceful, warm and loving — it was the voice of Jesus.  ‘Your daughter loves you, Momma. She forgives and she is with Jesus.’ I left feeling surrounded in warmth and love as if I were wrapped in a cozy blanket.” She said she intends to share the love she felt from Jesus that day.

In his third presentation, “Rescued,” Father Riccardo asked the question, “What, if anything, has God done about our situation? This is God’s shocking unexpected response to sin. We take for granted maybe, that our situation is not hopeless. Your life would be utterly meaningless, stuck in frustration, if God had not done something.”

Explaining God entered into his creation through the incarnation of Jesus, Father Riccardo said, “God became a man to fight, to go to war, to rescue the creature that means the most to him — you,” he said. He came to destroy the works of devil.

Father Riccardo had an insight into the crucifixion during a time of prayer. He came to understand Christ as an “ambush predator” — a creature that lies still, camouflaged, and pounces on its prey.

According to Father Riccardo, Jesus sweats blood, he is arrested, chained, slapped, judged, stripped, scourged to the point of death, and nailed to a cross — all for the purpose of attracting his prey.

“He is trying to entice death to himself. This is how the early church understood the passion. God wants his creation back, that’s us. The enemy comes close to mock and taunt him,” he said.

Father Riccardo pointed out that through the passion Christ shows us how much he loves us. Jesus absorbed every human sin making the atonement for us. Beaten, scourged and stripped before being nailed to the cross, He paid the price to make us right with God.

“What are the results of the passion?”

asked Father Riccardo. “He has destroyed death, transferred us, recreated us, rendered sin impotent, humiliated the enemy, gave us authority over the enemy and sent us on a mission to get his world back.”

Father Riccardo said, “Whatever hell you’re in, take his hand, he is utterly unconquerable, and he can deliver you.”

A Mass and a healing service followed the presentations. “The Summit  was amazing. I loved the message and healing Mass.  I have never been to that before and it just rocked me. Amazing!” said a participant.

(Shawna Hanson contributed to this story.)

Beata Oszwaldowska, Najeelah Rodriguez and Mary Rahela Pelayic wear little sheep headbands and learn to follow the Good Shepherd. One catechist said, “Thanks so much for letting me help with the Youth Track this weekend. I had so much fun! Those little ones are so funny!” (WRC photo by Laurie Hallstrom)

Deacon John Osnes of Piedmont, led the children in adoration. A catechist explained, “During Adoration with the children we shared the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. We asked them to think of someone they knew who needed healing and to ask Jesus to bring healing to them. We also told them that the woman’s illness made her an outsider, no one would be her friend or talk to her. Then they thought of someone they knew who didn’t have friends. After some quiet time, they came up close to the monstrance, one-by-one and prayed for these people. They gently touched the Jewish prayer shawl we had wrapped around the monstrance. The reverence and sincerity that these children showed touched my heart deeply. It brought tears to my eyes.” (Photo by Shawna Hanson)

 

Silver anniversary of Totus Tuus vocation camps coming next summer

This WRC archive photo was taken in 2009. It shows the Boys Totus Tuus Camp held at Storm Mountain. Zane Pekron of Milesville throws a frisbee past Vocations Director Fr. Brian
Christensen during a game of ultimate frisbee. Adam Hofer in the yellow bandana and David Cordes, both of Rapid City, and Joseph Syman, from Spearfish, are also on the field. Today,
Fr. Adam Hofer is a parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Church, Rapid City, and Deacon Zane Pekron is a Theology IV student at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
(WRC photo by Becky Berreth)

 

Fr. Mark: Next summer, the Diocese of Rapid City’s Totus Tuus (“All yours”) Vocation Camps will be celebrating 25 years of bringing together middle school and high school youth from across the diocese. This is a way to help our young people hear the voice of Jesus and to encourage them not to be afraid to ask this question of the Lord: “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

Totus Tuus has been a great blessing for our diocese in building and promoting a culture of vocations, and it has borne much fruit — not only in the number of priestly and religious vocations, but simply by helping our young people to seek a living and personal relationship with the Lord.

As we begin to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Totus Tuus, I asked Father Tim Hoag, founder of the camp as we know it, to share a bit of the history of this remarkable gift.

Fr. Tim: Totus Tuus Vocations Camps developed mostly through trial and error. Bishop Steven Biegler and I, while we were in seminary, recognized a need to develop a community of young men who were interested in priesthood.

We held our first vocations camp in 1989 at Camp Rimrock. Fifty-six middle school boys and girls attended. It was a great retreat. However, we took a four-year hiatus as both of us went off to theology school.

The summer of my diaconate year I sought permission from and the support of Fr. Arnie Kari, who was the vocation director at the time, to put on a vocations retreat. He gave us his blessing. Bishop Steven Biegler and Father Peter Kovarik, who were newly ordained, other diocesan seminarians and I put on a retreat at St. Martin Monastery.

It was a weekend retreat (Friday through Sunday) and was offered for high school and college-aged men. Father Tony Grossenburg attended this retreat and has shared that it was instrumental in his decision to go to the seminary the following year.

We learned from this retreat that the age spread of high school through college was too big, plus we thought a camp atmosphere would work much better than a retreat format. Also, the research provided by the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors highlighted that the first time a young boy begins to think about being a priest is in his middle school years. So, we decided to start with middle school boys with the hope of building the camp by later adding high school boys and young men as leaders.

From 1996 – 2011 it was held at various Protestant camps throughout the Hills because, at the time, we did not have our own retreat center. Camp was held at Camp Rimrock, the Wesleyan Camp, Atlantic Mountain Ranch and Camp Bob Marshall. Eventually, we settled on a permanent place in the schedule at Storm Mountain Camp. In 2012, we moved to our diocesan retreat center at Terra Sancta Retreat Center in Rapid City.

In those early years we had to prepare our meals and snacks for the camp. These were largely put together through volunteers from the cathedral parish where I was assigned as an associate pastor.

When the first sixth grade group had attended Totus Tuus for three years and were moving into high school we realized we needed to have a leadership camp to continue to build a community for these young men who were interested in seminary. We developed the high school leadership camp which was held two days prior to the middle school camp. Alongside diocesan seminarians, the boys from the leadership camp helped run the middle school camp.

When Father Brian Christensen became vocation director in 2002, we realized there was a need to encourage young girls to consider religious life. Thus, we developed Totus Tuus Girls. Father Brian and I really did not know how to put a camp like this together. Therefore, we turned to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious to find young women religious who were willing to assist us.

Not knowing any better, we set the schedule for the first girls camp exactly as we had run the boys’ camp. About a half a day into the first camp, the sisters who had come to assist us met with Father Brian and me to revise the schedule. They wanted to add things we would never have dreamed of adding with boys.

For instance, they suggested an hour of preparation time to get ready for breakfast and an hour for lunch, allowing the girls to have time to visit. They also wanted to give the girls time for crafts. We would never have included crafts with the boys. Putting things like sharp objects (scissors), glue and the like into the hands of the boys didn’t seem wise.

In time, the sisters, in coordination with the vocations office, were designing the schedule and the talks for the girls’ camp During this time, the first fruit of Totus Tuus was received. Father Grossenburg, who attended that first retreat, was ordained.

Under the direction of Father Brian and Susan Safford, at that time a newly consecrated virgin, as well as Father Kevin Achbach who succeeded Father Brian as vocations director, the camp’s numbers increased. We also began to see more fruit from the camps.

Men who had attended the camp as middle school and high school boys were beginning to be ordained including Father Tyler Dennis, Father Jonathan Dillon and Father John Paul Trask. We have also seen the fruit of the girls’ camp with Rachel Wilhelmi (Sister Familiae) and Giovanna Julian (Sister Poveri) with the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, and Audrey Blankartz (Sister Lucia Christi) with the Nashville Dominicans. We also have three seminarians who were Totus Tuus campers: Deacon Zane Pekron, Andrew Sullivan and Robert Kinyon.

This trend continues under vocation director Father Mark McCormick. Last year, the camps served 95 middle school and 38 high school young people.

Fr. Mark: If you or your children have any stories to share about the blessings of Totus Tuus in their lives, I would love to hear them. We can see the fruits of those who have chosen priesthood or religious life and have shared with us the impact Totus Tuus had on their decision, but it is harder for us to see how the camps have assisted young people in general to draw closer to the Lord and to listen to his call.

We are planning several events this summer to celebrate the gift that Totus Tuus has been to our young people, families, parishes and diocese. Help us to celebrate and live Totus Tuus in our lives.Back in the Day

 

Summit speaks to share powerful stories

Matt Loboda and his family from Phoenix, Ariz. He will speak at the Summit. (Courtesy photo)

By Shawna Hanson
Director of Stewardship

 

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.” — Flannery O’Connor

“A lost coin is found by means of a candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story.” — Anthony De Mello

As a third-grader, my son was really struggling to memorize his multiplication facts. We tried everything from flash cards to math games to incentives, all to no avail. He just could not remember them for more than about a day, particularly those involving the numbers greater than five. Finally, I discovered a program developed by a mom who had assigned names to the numbers 6-9 and then developed simple one-sentence stories that contained the math fact. For instance, 7 x 8 = 56 became, “Mrs. Weeks (7) and Mrs. Snowman (8) drove down the highway at 56 mph. (complete with a simple illustration).” In just a matter of days, my son, who had struggled for months, had memorized all the math facts associated with these number “stories.”  There is power in a story. For one thing, we remember them.  Stories stick with us.

In addition, stories have a power that the mere recitation of facts do not. They draw us in and arouse emotions in us.  They bring to the forefront of our minds our own experiences, our own stories.

Recently, I attended a reception for parishioners at the cathedral given to share information with us about the parish’s renovation plans.  Much good information was shared and all present seemed to enjoy the conversation and fellowship. But several parishioners shared with me later that the best part of the evening was Fr. Brian’s spontaneous

recounting of attending Mass at the cathedral for the first time as an Air Force officer newly assigned at Ellsworth. All of us delighted in the warm welcome he received from a fellow parishioner and in a real way, shared his gratitude and joy.

Stories often generate conversation and help foster friendship. In late July, I attended the Regional Stewardship Conference in Sioux Falls. There were many fine speakers and good information shared over the course of two days. But, in all honesty, what I enjoyed most was dinner on Thursday evening. Will Wisner, the director of our capital campaign, generously invited those of us from Rapid City to dinner. He also delighted us all with many of his adventures traveling across our diocese gathering information for our campaign. Thanks to his (and others)

talent for storytelling and his generosity in sharing it, all who were at our table had a delightful time.

Lastly, some stories have the power, as Anthony de Mello notes in the quote above, to convey deep truths. We know this is true of the stories Jesus told. In his parables, deep truths are conveyed through these stories which often use experiences and events drawn from the everyday lives of those he spoke to. Despite the apparent simplicity of these stories, books have been written unpacking the meaning of some of them.

My great respect for the power of a story well-told is one of the reasons I am so excited about the upcoming Summit to be held on Saturday, September 22 from 10: a.m.–8 p.m. at Terra Sancta. The speakers we have coming for this year’s Summit are master storytellers. They have some powerful stories to share. Matt Loboda is a father of five and works in landscaping in Phoenix, Arizona. In many ways, he is just like the fathers and husbands you know. But Matt has a very powerful story to share with us. In December of 2016, while visiting her grandparents, 19-month old Joy Loboda, was found floating face down in the swimming pool. She was not breathing.  Matt pulled her from the pool and began performing CPR. “As I breathed into Joy, I prayed that my breath would be the breath of God into her …,” says Matt. Thus, begins Matt story of a long, very difficult and faith-filled journey for Matt, his wife Kristen and Joy. A story of a modern-day miracle which, like all good stories, touches the lives and hearts of those who hear it; a story which allows Matt to share with us the sure and certain knowledge of God’s great mercy and love.

Jim Beckman is also a husband and father. He has a great gift for sharing stories from his own life. He was privileged to witness the miraculous healing of his father, and as a Youth Minister for a Denver-area church to minister, to students who experienced the Columbine shooting. Jim was the keynote speaker at the Summit two years ago, and here are a few things people said about him then: “Jim Beckman was excellent!”  “Speaker was Exceptional!” “I would love to hear him again.”

Finally, Chris Stewart and Tony Brandt will be there as well, sharing once again their inspirational stories and experiences from their many years of teaching and ministering as they did so well at last year’s Summit.

Bishop Gruss will be joining us, leading us in Mass and sharing his wisdom with us as well. I am looking forward to the event. I pray that you, too, are inspired to make every effort to clear your calendar and come. There are many ways we can choose to spend our time; many demands put upon us. But this is worth sacrificing for!

Come. Be inspired. Be renewed.

Join us, success can come through prayers

By Fr. Mark McCormick, Director of Vocations

& Shawna Hanson, Director of Stewardship

 

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:7

 

“Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

 

Sometimes we think we read over these words of Jesus without really allowing them to sink into our minds and hearts. Do we truly believe that this is true?  And if so, do we act out of that truth? Fr. Mark shared with me recently, “Sometimes I just don’t think we take this seriously and become a beggar in prayer before the Lord.” Over the next couple of months, we are encouraging everyone to practice being a beggar before the Lord in a very particular way. In mid-June, 60 people from around the diocese joined the Office of Stewardship for a day-and-a-half training conducted by Chris Stewart and Tony Brandt of Casting Nets Ministries. At that training, we explored the diocesan Core Value of Prayer as well as the power of Invitation (one of the aspects of Generous Hospitality). And we were inspired to use what we were learning to help work and pray for the success of the 2018 Stewardship Summit. This year’s Summit is an evangelistic event designed to help and foster an encounter with the living person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a new way in people’s lives. We are committed to praying as many Memorares as possible between now and September for the success of this event. In Tony’s words, “a plethora.”

Why the Memorare? As we bring our desires before the Lord, who better than Mary to stand beside us and add her own intercession? The Memorare also has a long history in the church, dating back to the 15th century. St. Francis DeSales, a saint from the 16th century, prayed it daily and credited the Blessed Virgin with saving him from falling into despair or heresy during a very difficult time in the church. Another priest from about the same time, Fr. Claude Bernard, is well known for his promotion of the prayer. He credited his miraculous healing to the prayer and then printed over 200,000 leaflets containing the Memorare and distributed them widely. In more recent times, St. Teresa of Calcutta was an advocate of the prayer, often using it when she faced an emergency situation and most needed a miracle. Steven Minnis, President of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., is convinced Our Lady has blessed the school many times through this prayer. In 2007, when enrollment was dropping, he employed the Memorare Army to pray that more students be given the experience of a Benedictine College education. After the 30 members prayed over 1200 Memorares apiece, 1232 full-time undergraduate students enrolled for the fall. He also credits the school’s Memorare Army with assisting with many of the building projects undertaken in recent years.

Will you join us in praying 10 Memorares each day for the intentions of:

Bringing those the Lord desires to this year’s Summit
The successful planning of all of elements of the Summit
The speakers who will share their inspirational stories
An outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all who will come

 

New director continues ‘creating a culture of stewardship’

“My favorite part of the job is going into the parishes and meeting with the people,” said Shawna Hanson, recently appointed director of the Office of Stewardship. “You get to know so many wonderful people and see the good things they are doing. It’s a great grace to see how hard they work and how much they love Jesus.”

Effective July 1, the combined Offices of Vocations and Stewardship will be separated, with Fr. Mark McCormick retaining the Vocation Director duties, and his administrative assistant, Hanson, becoming the Director of Stewardship. “My role is to be of service to the churches,” said Hanson.

The Diocese of Rapid City is currently advertising for an assistant to work with both offices.

Hanson has worked in the Vocations and Stewardship Office for the past three years. She is a graduate of the University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyo., with a degree in personnel administration (human resources). Her prior work has included a number of part-time positions. In addition to working in personnel administration, she has done bookkeeping for homebased businesses, medical billing and tutoring of students in reading and spelling. She also ran a child care business. “Most of my energy and my primary focus have been on my family,” she said.

During her work in the Stewardship Office she has assisted with the Summit, an annual workshop to inspire people in applying the stewardship ideals to all aspects of their lives so it becomes “a Catholic Way of Life.”

The second part of the department’s agenda according to Hanson is a component of Bishop Robert Gruss’ Diocesan Priority Plan, Through Him, With Him and In Him. It calls for identifying Stewardship Parishes. To do that the Stewardship Office members assembled a group of parishioners from urban and rural churches to define “Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish.” The ideas became a booklet which outlines the attributes of a Stewardship Parish as well as self-assessment tools for parishes to use to help ascertain their strengths and weaknesses in the area of stewardship. Churches are enlivened beginning with the first phase — Foundational Parishes. “It means looking through our three lenses of stewardship — Hospitality, Faith and Discipleship,” she said.

Currently, Our Lady of the Black Hills Church, Piedmont, has been designated a Foundational Parish. It is now working through the second phase, looking at Generous Hospitality. Council members are finding their strengths in this area and the ways they would like to grow. St. Patrick Church, Lead, and St. Ambrose Church, Deadwood, as well as St. John Church, Ft. Pierre, are close to becoming Foundational Parishes and three others are looking in to it.

Foundational Parishes have active Finance, Pastoral and Stewardship Councils. They have clear mission and vision statements with goals for all areas of parish life; and they have an up-to-date census. These parishes follow the norms outlined by the diocese for financial record keeping and reporting. They have effective means of communication and parishioners take responsibility for parish programs.

Once Parish Finance and Stewardship Councils review the assessments and determine their church’s strengths and weakness, they talk to the Diocesan Stewardship Office staff. “We help them set goals,” she said.

At the diocesan-wide level, “our next step will be going deeper into the three lenses. This is not a program you go through, get your degree and move on,” she said. “If you listened to the speakers at last year’s Summit, Chris Stewart and Tony Brandt, their lives are peppered with stewardship — it’s the lens they look at life through, raise their children by, do their work, and interact with the church. Its everything.”

She will be continuing the goal of creating a culture of stewardship. “It’s a long journey to develop that,” said Hanson. In June the office sponsored “Ambassadors for Christ, A Stewardship Leadership Training.”

Live a life of holiness, live a life of happiness

At the end of February, Adam Johnson, a first-year theologian at St. Paul Seminary, was

Adam Johnson

installed as a lector. As reader and bearer of God’s Word, Adam will proclaim God’s Word in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith, and bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it. (From the Rite of Institution of Lector)

Andrew Sullivan, who also is a first-year theologian, at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, will be installed as a lector in April with our Bishop Robert Gruss presiding.

Adam’s pastor, Father Brian Lane from Blessed Sacrament Church in Rapid City, along with Adam’s parents, Mike and Kathy, were

Andrew Sullivan

able to attend this celebration of the Ministry of Lector. After the celebration, I sent a text to Adam, his parents and Father Lane congratulating Adam and asking them to send pictures from the installation, which they did.

Father Lane also texted a picture of the seminarian poster for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul — 59 in all! A true vocation boom. I smiled as I read Father Lane’s text: “Why is our poster so small?”

“More work to be done. More invitations to be extended,” I replied.

One of the goals in our diocesan Priority Plan calls for the formation of a vocation committee in each parish or parish grouping to encourage and promote a culture of vocations.

Father Varghese Srambickal, a Vincentian priest from Kerala, India, describes a culture of vocation in this way: “God’s first call for every person is to simply follow him. You were created to be in relationship with God, and that is his greatest desire for you. As your relationship with God grows, he will continue to draw you deeper into this relationship, and call you to become more like Christ, to love him more, and to love others through service. In all these things, you will experience God calling you to a particular vocation.”

Building a culture of vocations, as we hear and pray our diocesan vocation prayer every Sunday in our parishes, begins by creating an environment where all disciples will seek the will of Christ. This is what the church means by the universal call to holiness. Fostering a culture of vocations in our lives, families and parishes begins with the call to holiness — a deep, personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord, Savior, and friend.

Father Brett Brennan, author of “Save a Thousand Souls,” echoes this as well when he says that our primary vocation in life is holiness, and holiness is simply doing the will of God. When we live a life of holiness, we truly live a life of happiness. He goes on to say that “the primary and universal vocation of every person in the world is to be holy — to become like Jesus Christ. Christ-likeness is the only success recognized by God.”

As Pope Francis said: “to be a saint is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.” He continued: “We must remember that holiness is a gift from God — it is not something we can achieve on our own.” Holiness, he continued, is living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints… “Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness” (General Audience, September 2014).

The key to encouraging and promoting a culture of vocations begins in the family and is nourished and supported in our parish communities. We know the family is the primary community for the transmission of the Christian faith.

Our primary vocation, and the heart of building a culture of vocations in the parishes of our diocese is by living our faith with courage and joy. St. John Paul II said, “Our Christian communities must become genuine schools of prayer where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just as an imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion until the heart truly falls in love” (Novo Millennio Ineunte).

Our first step in encouraging and promoting a culture of vocations in our lives, families, parishes and diocese is helping our people to fall in love with Jesus. We must live our faith with courage and joy and be willing to share with others our personal friendship with Christ.

A powerful witness when thousands stand for life

January 17-21, I had the chance to make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. to March for Life with our diocese. Thirty young people and eight adult leaders made the pilgrimage together. We spent five days, drove 3,330 miles round-trip, and spent more than 56 hours riding a bus in order to proclaim — and to be living witnesses to our nation and to our world — that we stand for life.

We arrived late Thursday afternoon in time for a quick shower, Mass and dinner. That evening we attended the “Life is Very Good Youth Rally,” sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. It was an amazing evening of praise and worship music, confessions, Eucharistic adoration, and an inspirational keynote address by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, a Sister of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. (To hear just how inspirational Sr. Miriam is, go to YouTube, type in her name, and you will have an opportunity to hear for yourself.) Her talk prepared our hearts to March for Life on Friday morning.

As we piled back onto the bus, our driver asked me, “How many people were at the rally?”

I told him, “I wasn’t sure, but it was pretty full.”

He replied, “It is quite a sight to see over 200 charter buses in a parking lot from all over the county. I bet there were over 10,000 people at that rally tonight given the number of buses we counted.”

There were more than 7,500, but it certainly looked and sounded like more than 10,000. It was amazing to see and witness this new generation of young people stepping up to defend a culture of life.

The call to promote a culture of life and not death is central to who we are as disciples of Christ. In Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), St. John Paul II said: “… we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only faced with but necessarily in the midst of this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”

For me, the March for Life was a surprising experience of prayer, joy and hope. Throughout the march there seemed to be moments of great silence where we pondered the reality of over 58 million infants who have been aborted since the Roe vs Wade decision on January 22, 1973 and yet, at the same time, there were groups carrying signs and banners, praying the rosary, singing and chanting about a culture of life, filling the parade route with sights and sounds of joy and hope — echoes of the “Life is VERY Good” youth rally, the night before. As we marched, I felt there was a cloud of witnesses overshadowing us with the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life, encouraging us to be bold witnesses to a culture of life.

Here are some of the ways others on the trip experienced the March for Life:

“This was my second year attending the March for Life, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to go! What brought me back again to this year’s march was the joy that I had experienced the previous year. The speakers who shared their stories all relating to the overall theme for the march touched me: Love Saves Lives. It was truly empowering to be around hundreds of thousands of people who have the same pro-life beliefs as myself.”
— Mary Kinyon, Cathedral of Our Lady Perpetual Help

“My experience on the March for Life was incredible. I met some amazing people and got to see what can happen when such a great number of great people come together to fight for the end of abortion. It was amazing to be a witness to the love and support that these people showed to others. I am proud to have been a part of this amazing experience and to have the opportunity to march for the lives of those who aren’t given the opportunity to live.”
—Kiah Trainor, Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

“A few years ago, my life was transformed by the birth of our third daughter, Blakely Anne. Diagnosed in pregnancy with numerous health issues, we continued to trust in God and his plan for her life. Although her life was short, it was not without meaning. It meant so much for me to be able to march in solidarity, with thousands of others from across the country, sharing love for the dignity of all human life.
“I was struck especially by the youth in our diocese who said ‘yes’ to participate in a pro-life pilgrimage. During our journey, we had the opportunity to pray, laugh, and share life together. I am filled with hope because we stand together supporting the beauty of all life and God’s unique plan for each one of us.”
— Jenny Scherr, adult leader/youth minister, Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

“When I got to the march, I realized that I wasn’t just standing up for the unborn; I was also standing up for the pregnant women who don’t know how they are going to have the child. They are scared and don’t always have the support they need. So being there showed that there are people out there that care for her well-being, even if we don’t personally know her.”
— Jadyn Zentner, St. Mary, Lemmon

“My March for Life experience was definitely one that I will never forget. I not only marched with some of my best friends, but I made new best friends along the way. My outlook toward life changed in so many ways for the better. About 500,000 people came to Washington, DC, to march for the same cause. Thousands of people held up signs to protest for not only the lives of unborn, but for the lives of every human being. God blessed me that weekend by making me witness the true beauty of all lives, and what our lives can do to impact others.”
— Jordan Miller, Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City

“One of the many things I took away from this trip was that, truly, all life is precious. Whenever abortion is brought up in conversation it’s easy to get wrapped up in ‘saving the babies’ (which is very important), but we often forget about the parents and how they are affected by abortion.

“During the march, people spoke about how abortion affected them. Their testimonies were heart breaking and impactful and really gave you a different view on things. It’s easy to blame and condemn the parent for the choice they made, but this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. We must be kind, compassionate and caring toward all who are affected by such a tragedy because more times than not they are suffering from a choice they made and they must live with that. I wish I could personally thank those who had the courage to stand up for the pro-life movement and share their story because they were so inspirational.”
—Thérèse Wilhelmi, Our Lady of Black Hills, Piedmont

“My experience in D.C. attending the March for Life rallies and the march itself was an incredible experience! We went to save lives but the Lord taught us to open our hearts to him so he can give us the graces to march strongly to save our brothers and sisters!”
— Taylor Murphy, Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City

“Attending the March for Life this year was definitely an unforgettable experience. Marching with hundreds of people from age 70 to even babies, all praying and standing up for something much bigger and so important leaves one feeling content with pure joy from God.”
—Hannah Dillion, St. John the Baptist, Custer

The March for Life is not just another “march.” For 45 years, it has been a powerful witness to the sanctity of life, to the culture of life. It will continue to be that witness so long as a culture of death grips our country. May we continue to pray for the strength to loosen that grip so all may enjoy their right to life.

 

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.