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.

 

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.

 

Serra Club common ground for vocation promotion

In the January West River Catholic, Bishop Robert Gruss wrote an article titled, “Praying for more priests.” He highlighted the severity of the priest shortage we are facing together as the body of Christ in our diocese. The bishop concluded, “While I wanted you to be aware of the situation, I am asking each of you to take seriously the call to pray daily for vocations to priesthood in our diocese. But I am also asking that each of you pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our diocese and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor to find more priests to serve here, so that there will not be a shortage in the coming year and the years to follow.”

In Through Him, with Him, and in Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, Bishop Gruss notes that “promoting vocations is the responsibility of all of us. It must involve everyone.”

The Code of Canon Law reminds us: “The duty of fostering vocation rests with the entire community so that the needs of the sacred ministry in the universal church are provided for sufficiently … This duty especially binds Christian families, educators, and, in a special way, priests, particularly pastors.”

As part of the diocesan pastoral plan, each parish or parish grouping has been asked to form a vocation committee in order to encourage and promote a culture of vocations. This was to have been established by this past Jan. 1.

Formation of this committee emphasizes the fact that promoting vocations, in particular those to the priesthood, is the responsibility of all of us. This encouragement begins in our homes, where “married couples live their vocation in the Spirit of Christ so that their families may become a domestic church reflecting the life of the Trinity,” as we pray in our new diocesan vocation prayer: http://rapidcitydiocese.org/ new-prayer-vocations/.

As a way to help promote and raise the awareness of creating a culture of vocations in our families, in our parishes, in our Catholic schools and in our diocese, Bishop Gruss is starting a Serra Club in the Diocese of Rapid City. The Serra Club is a named for the Franciscan Missionary, Junipero Serra, now St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized on September 23, 2015, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C., by Pope Francis.

Father Serra originally founded nine missions; this expanded to 21 missions established along the El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma, where he ministered. Despite his struggle with asthma and a chronic sore on his leg, St. Junipero Serra did amazing work with the Lord by bringing the Gospel of Christ to life. He was a true evangelizer and heeded the call from Jesus, which we hear at the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

The Serra Club is recognized by the Holy See as a lay apostolate dedicated to fostering vocations in the Catholic Church. It is a voluntary association of some 20,000 Catholic laymen and laywomen called Serrans. They are Catholics of all ages and from all walks of life — lawyers, carpenters, doctors, accountants, businesspeople, nurses, engineers, mechanics, salespeople, clerks, retirees, etc. They share a passion for promoting and fostering vocations.

Serrans define their vision as:

To foster and promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood in the Catholic Church as a particular vocation to service, and to support priests in their sacred ministry;

To encourage and affirm vocations to consecrated religious life in the Catholic Church;

To assist its members to recognize and respond in their own lives to God’s call to holiness in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

In September 2000, Pope John Paul II addressed the Serrans with these words:

“Dear Serrans, you are committed in a special way to promoting vocations. Never forget that yours must be above all a commitment to prayer, prayer which is constant, unwavering and full of trust. Prayer moves the heart of God. It is the powerful key to resolving the vocations question. But at the same time prayer for vocations is also a school of life, as I had occasion recently to point out: ‘By praying for vocations we learn to look with Gospel wisdom at the world and at each person’s need for life and salvation; it is a way of sharing in Christ’s love and compassion for all mankind…’” (Message for the 38th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, September 14, 2000, No.6).

 

 

New Serra Club

If you are interested in being part of founding a Serra Club in the

Diocese of Rapid City, please contact Fr. Mark

McCormick at the Office of Vocations and Stewardship,

(605) 716-5214, ext. 233 or MMcCormick@diorc.org

Young pilgrims witness for life

Persistence pays. For the last two years our diocese has tried to organize a pilgrimage for the March for Life in Washington, D.C. However, we could never quite pull it together. Instead of giving up, we decided to team up with the Diocese of Sioux Falls and march together for life. It was great to see our dioceses collaborating, bringing our youth and young adults together to speak and act on behalf of the unborn and to call forth a culture of life.

As part of our stewardship initiative, we have been sending lay witness speakers to give their testimony about how they are living a Catholic way of life through generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship. As part of this month’s column, I want to share the testimony of six high school students and two young adults from our diocese who were part of the March for Life pilgrimage, taking the words of St. John Paul II to heart:

“Young pilgrims, Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the ‘path to life’ (Ps 16:11). Do not be afraid to go out onto streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. ‘This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel’ (Cfr. Rom 1:16) … Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: ‘Woe to me if I do not evangelize’ (1 Cor 9:16).  Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life’ (World Youth Day, Denver, 1993).

Mary Kinyon, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
This was the first time I had ever been on the March for Life, and my experience was amazing. I did not know exactly what to expect, but I did know that I was going to be truly touched by my experiences, and this expectation did not disappoint.
I was overwhelmed by the number of people who attended the march. Everywhere I looked I saw hundreds of thousands of people just like me who wanted to make a difference. Everybody was filled with joy.

Isaac Rangel, Immaculate Conception, Rapid City 
The March for Life pilgrimage was by far one of my most memorable experiences. The night we arrived we went to a youth rally to get us fired up and ready for the march and it was great! There was good music, some speakers and Eucharistic adoration, which was my favorite part of the rally.
The following day was the march; it was amazing! Thousands of people attended, including some nuns and priests! After the march we were able to go see the monuments on the Washington Mall and to visit the Holocaust Museum.
This was my first pilgrimage and afterward I felt as if God wants me to continue going on these sort of trips; it has helped me to grow closer to him and it encouraged me to keep on fighting for life. Altogether, the pilgrimage was a life changing experience. I made many friends, received a lot of graces and I look forward to next year’s march!

Paige and Isaac Gehlson, Our Lady of the Black Hills, Piedmont
The March for Life was a pilgrimage filled to the brim with inspirational messages and experiences; my brother Isaac and I were lucky enough to witness them firsthand. The most powerful of these experiences was seeing that we are not alone in the pro-life movement, but rather, a part of a fast-growing generation of pro-life supporters. Alongside this realization was the massive gift of patience granted to us during the trip. Specifically in the following movements: a 36-hour bus trip, standing at the rally prior to the march (stood in the D.C. chill from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the march finished), and especially when nine of us were crammed into a minivan and were driven to a restaurant called “China Town,” which was half an hour away from the downtown China Town we were trying to reach.
The most important message taken from this event was that we are one body, one voice (“One Voice” was this year’s theme), whether there are thousands of us joined together in a street, or one of us standing up in a classroom.
We must use our one voice for the child who has none. We all have key roles in this movement, but if we fail to be participants in those roles, the change we so dearly desire will never occur and our voices and the children on whose behalf we raise them will be forgotten.
So we ask: join a march, promote life everywhere you go, reach out to not just our future children, but to guard their future.

Emma Raposa, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
Going to the March for Life was an amazing experience. It was so empowering to see hundreds of thousands of young people just like me marching to protect life. It was definitely not what I was expecting; it was better.
It was so peaceful. At times when we were marching, it was almost silent. That is because we were marching out of love. I hope to attend this event in the years to come, and I encourage you to do the same because it truly is life changing.

Liam Yantes, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
This year I was blessed with an opportunity to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. This was something I could have only dreamed about, but thanks to the hard work of my fellow students attending and all the support from family and friends, I was able to go.
One of the things that I was thankful for was the chance to meet so many people fighting for the just cause of ending abortion. We were also blessed to travel with the Diocese of Sioux Falls and make new friends. Thanks again to all that made this possible.

Jordan Miller, Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City
The March for Life was such a positive experience for me. Even though we began with some delays and bad weather, it was comforting to be able to get to Sioux Falls and join the other pilgrims as we boarded our bus and headed for D.C.
The bus ride, although crowded and long, was a time for us Rapid City kids to get to know those from Sioux Falls, play games, watch movies, and spend time in prayer and reflection as we prepared to go on the march.
During our times of prayer, I began to reflect on the question, “Why did I even want to come?” I answered, “I have always wanted to go, and this year I was able to get the chance,” and that answer seemed to be sufficient.
These questions left my thoughts until I returned to Rapid. I now think that my desire for the pilgrimage was just to “be there.” I wanted the experience, and to be able to witness to the pro-life movement. What a gift it was for me to be able to “be there” in those moments of the trip where God showed me just how universal the Catholic Church really is.
I was able to “be there” when I ran into two of my friends from college. I was able to “be there” when I got to spend some time talking to my friends from the University of Mary. I was able to “be there” when our group ran into Sr. Audree Blankartz, who is a good friend of mine from our diocese, and I was able to “be there,” in Washington, D.C., as an advocate for the unborn.
I later realized that I have to be aware and attentive to God’s grace at work so that, in opportunities like the March for Life, I am able to “be there” and not miss out on what God wants me to receive.

Bridget Decker, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City
Having attended the March for Life in college, my desire for this pilgrimage was to share in the joy of my students. My hopes were realized as they experienced the larger church and the rallying support of thousands united in the cause to support life.
Particularly moving for me was visiting the National Holocaust Museum. Reflecting on the cruel death of so many during that historic event, I considered the roles of those who attempted to defend the defenseless and those who stood by silently. I then considered what I am doing during the genocide of our age to stand against evil and subsequently what future generations will remember about the people of my time — did we speak for truth and dignity or were we silent?
The witness by these youth and young adults on behalf of the unborn should fill us with pride in how well they represented the Catholic Church of western South Dakota. Their words and actions should serve as a reminder and an inspiration for each of us that we are to be fearless and intentional in being witnesses of the Gospel, whether it is among thousands of people on the Washington Mall, amid our coworkers in the office, or within our parishes.
As St. Paul reminds us, and St. John Paul II reiterates: This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel.

 

Pray for vocations with your children in mind

Last month Bishop Robert Gruss shared with the people of God in the Diocese of Rapid City some good news and some not-so-good news about the priest situation in our diocese. The bishop affirmed how grateful he was for the many wonderful and dedicated priests he has and the work they are doing. They are clearly striving to be true witnesses of the love and mercy of the Lord.

Bishop Gruss also mentioned the challenging reality of covering our current places for ministry in the coming years. Priest retirements coupled with not having another ordination until the summer of 2019, this news can leave us in a spirit of desolation.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his work with “discernment of spirits,” says in the sixth rule: “It is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself, as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance.”

This is exactly what Bishop Gruss is asking of each of us — as individuals, families, parishioners and parishes. He is “insisting more upon prayer” and pleading with us to seriously take to heart the call to pray daily for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. He is also asking that we pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our diocese and for his guidance so that there will not be a priest shortage this year and in the coming years.

Wow, what a challenge! I hope you are up for it. It will require you to be more intentional and more sacrificial in your prayer life, to fervently beg the Lord as we hear in the Gospel of Luke: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Lk 10:2).

Every time we go to prayer our Heavenly Father, through his Son, Jesus, invites us and asks us, as he asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” In the Gospel, the blind man replied, “Master, I want to see” (Mk 10:51). Our response, too, is clear and simple: “Jesus, send us more seminarians and priests for our diocese — we beg you Lord!”

This past month, Bishop Gruss also introduced a new prayer for vocations, which was written collaboratively with the help of several clergy and laity. The bishop has invited our entire diocese to pray this new prayer with its new words with a lively faith. His invitation reminds of the scripture passage “that new wine is put into fresh wineskins” (Mt 9:17).

As a diocese we have been praying the old vocation prayer in our parishes for more than 40 years, and we know it by heart. We know it so well that perhaps it has become too rote for us. Have we lost our fervor to pray the vocation prayer with a beggar’s heart?

Begin to pray the new vocation prayer using the method of Lectio Divina, a Latin term for divine reading. We can do this individually, and in families and small group settings. Lectio Divina helps us let go of our own agenda and to open ourselves to what God wants to say to us.

When praying through the new vocations prayer using this method, pay attention to which word, words, or phrases tug at your heart or get your attention. How do these words or phrases connect to your life, to your family, to your parish, and to our diocese?

Talk to God about these words and phrases that tugged at your heart and share everything with him — share your thoughts, feelings and desires. Then simply listen and God will speak to you. At that point, think about what you can do to act upon what God has revealed to you. In the end, thank the Lord and let your heart be filled with gratitude for what he is doing in your life and in the life of your family, parish and diocese.

Parents, as you begin to pray this new vocational prayer with your children, think of them as possible recipients of a vocational call to priesthood and/or religious life. It is so easy to think of Jesus calling other parents’ children, but your own children? This can be more challenging.

It is my hope that as families start praying this new vocation prayer together, parents will begin to share with their children — in very intentional ways — the possibility that they, whether in elementary school, middle school, high school or young adulthood, may be receiving a call to priesthood or religious life.

I thought a lot about Bishop Gruss’ invitation to pray seriously for vocations to priesthood and for a fresh, daily outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our diocese. In light of St. Ignatius’ advice “extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance,” I am going to fast every Thursday as a reminder of the Last Supper.

In a letter to priests on Holy Thursday in 2004, Saint John Paul II said “We were born from the Eucharist. If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist … we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit ‘de Eucharistia.’ There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.”

If you are interested in joining me in fasting on Thursdays as we fervently beg the Lord to send us more seminarians and priests, please send me your name, address, email and phone number. Together we will pray that more priests are fostered and nurtured in families as married couples live their vocation in the Spirit of Christ.

‘Mercy Night’ effective form of evangelization

Pope Francis called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016 with the theme Misericordiae Vultus — Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. In Misericordiae Vultus, our Holy Father writes of mercy as being the very foundation of the church’s life. The very mission of the church, he noted, should be caught up in extending mercy through tender and compassionate love, not only to its own members, but also to all of God’s children. One of the great graces that sprung up in the Year of Mercy in a number of dioceses across the country, including our own, is “Mercy Night.” It is a candlelit evening of eucharistic adoration, prayerful music, healing prayers with the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Mercy Night is a call to rest in the heart of God’s mercy and to experience his peace. Mercy Night is open to people of faith from all denominations.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help held the first Mercy Night in our diocese on Dec. 6. More than 500 hundred people participated in some way. There were 16 priests hearing confessions and most of them heard confessions for at least three hours. Four prayer teams prayed over people, asking the Lord for healing, for close to four hours. It was truly an amazing night of God’s mercy flowing through his son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to his people. Those who organized the Mercy Night at Cathedral have taken the message of stewardship to heart. The event speaks of both generous hospitality and lively faith. The parish reached out with an invitation to seek Jesus Christ in a very intentional way and to encounter the face of the Father’s mercy.

Father Steve Biegler, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral, sent out postcards to every household — Catholic and non-Catholic — within a two mile radius of the cathedral parish. With an investment of $2,400, that mailing reached 9,728 households.

It is amazing to see this type of invitation and evangelization happening in our diocese. It seems we invite people to a deeper relationship with Christ and his church by making a pulpit announcement, putting a blurb in the bulletin, and then we call it good.

Yet, here is a parish that stood up and stepped out in faith, taking to heart the call to be part of the new evangelization. In 1990, Pope John Paul II wrote in Mission of the Redeemer: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization…No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” The Mercy Night at the Cathedral embraced these words of St. John Paul II.

In Through Him, With Him and In Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, Bishop Gruss writes, “If we are true to our mission statement and living the ‘mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life,’ then we must find ways to reach out to them (individual or groups of people who feel disconnected from the church), we must find ways to reach out to them because we care for their souls.”

One of the goals in the Priority Plan is that each parish or group of parishes will create a reconciliation plan. Perhaps a Mercy Night quarterly in parishes and deaneries would be one way to fulfill this goal of reconciliation.

People have shared many wonderful stories about Mercy Night. Mary Daniel, Cathedral Liturgy director, said, “So far I’ve run into about 10 people, including my doctor, and they all had wonderful things to say about Mercy Night at the cathedral. These are everyday folks in the pew who found it a very peaceful and comforting experience.”

I also visited with Jennifer Mayforth, who grew up Baptist and lives in the neighborhood around the cathedral. She said “I was so appreciative of the invitation, it was fantastic to receive the postcard inviting the whole neighborhood to Mercy Night. I knew there would be quiet and beauty, where I could just sit and be still and feel the Lord’s presence with other Christians. We don’t take enough time in our lives to be quiet with Jesus.”

Bridget Decker, a religion teacher at St. Thomas More High School, Rapid City, shared this reflection: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:28). These words from Matthew’s Gospel come to mind when I reflect upon my recent experiences of prayer ministry in the Diocese of Rapid City. On different occasions, I have prayed with others offering to intercede for them.

“The reality that has struck me most during these prayer opportunities is the amount of suffering present in the world: sickness, loss, death, and disappointment. Yet, despite the pain many people carry, those that approached us made their requests for healing, reconciliation, and strength in great faith. Each individual that came forward suffered in some way and they brought their particular burden to the Lord to find rest.

“Maybe that rest was in the form of physical healing, tears, or laughter, but more often than not, I think people experienced rest in the peace they received as they entrusted their cares to the good Father, believing in faith that he would take care of them according to his will. Being able to stand privy to that dialogue of vulnerability has been a gift and has strengthened my own faith.”

While the Jubilee Year of Mercy is “officially” over, it continues to bear the fruit of many graces such as Mercy Night. If you, or someone you know, had a powerful encounter in the Year of Mercy, I would love to hear the story.

Father Mark McCormick
Director of Stewardship and Vocations
605-716-5214 Ext. 235 or MMcCormick@diorc.org