To find yourself, relate, identify, embrace mission

This past year, while I was in filling in at Our Lady of the Black Hills, Piedmont, Deacon John and Joni Osnes invited me to be part of their Sunday adult faith formation class after Mass. They were studying “The Disciple as Steward” by Sharon Hueckel, which is a six-week, small group study based on the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship titled, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.”

One of the questions that was asked was, “Who am I?” As we went around the room, the answers to that question went something like this: I am an engineer, I am a mother, I am a dad, and I am a teacher.

Jacque Osnes, a college student, surprised us all when she said, “First, I am a child of God. That is who I am, first and foremost a child of God.”

Wow, what a great answer. I wished I would have come up with that: “First, I am a child of God. That is who I am, first and foremost a child of God.”

The answer to the question of “Who am I?” is not about what we do or even what we possess or own, but the truth is found in answering another question: “Whose we are?”

Jacque was right; first and foremost we are children of God. Through our baptism in Christ we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God the Father; we

become partakers of his divine nature and we are temples of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1265). What defines us a person is the fact that we have been made in the image and likeness of God, and because of that we are called to love, know and serve him.

Fr. Paul Hoesing, in his pamphlet on prayer, Have I Been With You? Personal Prayer For Young Disciples, says, “Our relationship gives us an identity, and our identity gives us a mission. What we do (our mission) flows from our identity (who we are), and who we are begins with our hearts in communion with Jesus.” Fr. Paul is emphasizing three key words in his description of who we are: Relationship — Identity – Mission (RIM).

Relationship — Identity – Mission is rooted in the vine and branches passage in Jn 15:4, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”

However, we often get this ordering reversed by putting mission first, then identity and lastly relationship. When we put mission first, it is easy to lose our way and our identity because our focus and gaze is not on Christ, but rather on the mission and on ourselves.

When we get this upside down, the mission inevitably takes up all of our time and energy, and in the end we have no time for a personal relationship with Christ. It is much easier and less challenging for us to focus on the mission rather than on our relationship and identity with Jesus.

Let’s face it: being people of prayer is difficult because it requires us to be disciplined and to have a spirit of constancy in our lives when it comes to giving time to building and maintaining a personal intimacy with the Lord.

This is why in our diocesan priority plan prayer is our first core value. Bishop Robert Gruss indicates, “Prayer is listed first

because it provides us a secure foundation” as we read in the story of the wise and foolish builders in Lk 6:46 -49.

Since March, we have been focusing on the second lens of our stewardship initiative lively faith: prayer, study and formation. Both Msgr. Thomas Richter at Pastoral Ministry Days and Jim Beckman at the Stewardship Summit focused on RIM: Relationship — Identity – Mission in their talks. Msgr. Richter describes RIM in the

context of the experience of Jesus’ life:

“Relationship with the Father for 30 years, then at Jesus’ baptism the Father proclaims his Identity, ‘This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.’ Then the Spirit sends Jesus on Mission.”

I encourage you to go to our diocesan webpage and listen to both Msgr. Richter’s and Jim Beckman’s talks on lively faith. (Msgr. Richter) http://rapid

citydiocese.org/pmd-2016-video-

resources;and (Jim Beckman) http://rapidcitydiocese.org/stewardship or you can download them to your smart phone as an audio file. (Podcast) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/

official-podcast-for-diocese/ id1127485294?mt=2.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI , while speaking to a gathering of young people at Westminster Cathedral, sums up the theme of RIM in this way: “This is the message I want to share with you today. I ask you to look into your hearts each day to find the source of all true love. Jesus is always there, quietly waiting for us to be still with him and to hear his voice. Deep within your heart, God is calling you to spend time with him in prayer. But this kind of prayer, real prayer, requires discipline; it requires making time for moments of silence every day. Often it means waiting for the Lord to speak. Even amid the business and stress of our daily lives, we need to make space for silence, because it is in the silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true self. And in discovering our true self, we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for building up his church and the redemption of our world.”

With the Advent/Christmas seasons upon us, spend some time in re-examining your relationship with Christ, who first gives us our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Father and then sends us out on mission through the Holy Spirit to bear abundant fruit in his name.

 

Let prayer be the seeds of vocations in your parish

During the first part of November we celebrated National Vocations Awareness Week, a celebration to promote vocations to the priesthood,

diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education. In our diocesan priority plan, under the foundational ministries of Vocations and Evangelization, Bishop Robert Gruss speaks about dioceses in the United States where vocations are flourishing.

In these places, he says, “There resides a culture that has created an environment for young men and women to view the priesthood and religious life as a viable way of life and to view sacramental marriage as a vocation centered in Christ. Such an environment has, in some way, awakened the hearts of these young people. (Through Him, With Him and In Him, p. 121).

One of the goals in the pastoral priority plan, under Vocations and Evangelization, is that each parish or parish grouping will form a vocation committee to encourage and promote a culture of vocations. It is within this environment young men and women will be emboldened to pray and to discern God’s plan and desire for them in more intentional ways, and it will be an environment in which parish communities will take it upon themselves to fervently pray for a vocation boom — not only in their own parishes, but in the entire Diocese of Rapid City as well.

Jesus said to his disciples “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; beg the master of the harvest to send out laborers to gather his harvest” (Mt 9:36-38). We should pray fervently, pleading to Jesus constantly and relentlessly, to send more priestly and religious vocations to our diocese.

I am not sure how well we do this in our parishes and in the diocese as a whole. Every weekend at parish Masses throughout the diocese we pray the vocation prayer, but has it become too rote for us? Do we just say the prayer instead of truly praying the prayer? Do we pray the vocation prayer and leave it at that?

There is an amazing story of a village in northern Italy called Lu. From this village, with a population of about 1,800, has come 323 vocations: 152 priests and male religious and 171 nuns belonging to 41 different congregations. In 1881, the mothers of Lu made a decision that literally changed the face of this village community and its families forever.

The mothers of Lu had a deep desire that one of their sons would become a priest and one of their daughters would

become a religious sister, placing their lives completely in God’s service. The mothers of Lu, under the direction of their parish priest, Msgr. Alessandro Canora, would gather every Tuesday for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament asking the Lord for vocations.

The mothers of Lu received holy Communion on the first Sunday of every month with the same intention. After Mass, all the mothers prayed a particular prayer together imploring vocations to the priesthood: “O God grant that one of my sons may become a priest! I myself want to live as a good Christian and want to guide my children

always to do what is right, so that I may receive the grace, O God, to be allowed to give you a holy priest! Amen.”

Through their trusting and confident prayers, the mothers of Lu inspired other parents to pray for the same desire for their children. Together they created an atmosphere, an environment, a culture of vocations and of deep joy, which made it much easier for their children to pray, discern and recognize their own vocations. This environment inspired them to lay down their own lives at the service of God’s plan.

Msgr. Thomas Richter, rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, shared with me recently a similar experience in his parish. The Bismarck cathedral has not yet seen the fruit that is born by the fervent desires and prayers of the mothers of Lu, but nonetheless is seeing abundant fruit from the seeds planted in fervent prayer,

desire and petition for vocations to priesthood and religious life.

Right now, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit has eight seminarians studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Bismarck alone. Msgr. Richter said that there has been a group of parishioners that has been meeting every Tuesday for the last 20 years for adoration and rosary, praying fervently for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

As Msgr. Richter reflects on this phenomenon of having eight seminarians from one parish, he says it has to do with an environment, a culture where vibrant faith is experienced and lived out on a daily basis. He shared that they have 150 to 200 people who attend daily Mass. The priests in the parish offer over nine hours of confession weekly, plus 55 hours of adoration. These things are setting this parish on fire — a fire that is contagious to those who experience such a vibrant faith.

Bishop Gruss, reflecting on the core value of prayer in the diocesan priority plan, says, “Prayer is the encounter of God’s desire for us united with our desire for God.”

This desire seems to be at the heart of the mothers of Lu and the group of parishioners who have been praying for some 20 years at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, fervently, consistently, begging and pleading that the Lord be faithful to his promise we hear in the Gospels: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; beg the master of the harvest to send out laborers to gather his harvest.”

As we put our diocesan priority plan into action, perhaps in our parishes across the diocese there will be mothers, fathers, families and parishioners inspired to gather in front of the Blessed Sacrament with the firm desire — a firm intention — to pray for vocations to priesthood and religious life. May the Lord lead them with wisdom into creating a strong culture of vocations in their homes and parishes, and may our diocese be the next diocese where vocations to priesthood and religious life are flourishing and booming.

Spiritual mothers support priests, seminarians

Spiritual mothers support priests, seminariaIn the middle of September, I was at St. Joseph Parish, Faith, for our annual gathering of “Spiritual Mothers.” They pray for the priests and seminarians in our diocese. The ministry of spiritual motherhood in our diocese is still relatively unknown even though spiritual mothers have been gathering in our diocese since the fall of 2008. The past eight years there have been about 60 women in our diocese responding to an invitation from the Congregation for the Clergy to offer Eucharistic Adoration in parishes for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI summed it up the best when he said: “The vocation to be a spiritual mother for a priest is largely unknown, scarcely understood and, consequently, rarely lived, notwithstanding its fundamental importance. It is a vocation that is frequently hidden, invisible to the naked eye, but meant to transmit spiritual life.”

Several years ago I experienced a profound conversion in my own priestly life. I was pretty lukewarm and tepid in my priesthood, living a life of maintenance rather than missionary zeal. I did not really know personally and intimately the person of Jesus Christ and the power and the fire of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Through a series of events, moving from Our Lady of the Black Hills, Piedmont, to St. John the Evangelist, Fort Pierre, an eight-day silent retreat and a åpilgrimage to Medjugorje that changed and transformed my priesthood in so many ways — particularly in the way I embraced and took to heart the words of Jesus to Mary and the beloved disciple, John, at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26-27).

I have come to understand more deeply the power of spiritual motherhood in my own life as priest. I firmly believe my conversion and continual growth and renewal of my priesthood has come partly through the prayer, the sacrifices, fasting and the penances offered on my behalf by spiritual mothers in our diocese — unbeknownst to me. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said “the vocation of spiritual motherhood is meant to transmit spiritual life” of the priests, seminarians and those discerning God’s call to priesthood.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, proposed fighting the spiritual crisis within priesthood with a spiritual endeavor. He suggested forming the vocation of spiritual motherhood for priests — spiritually mature women willing to offer their lives and pray at the cross for priests and the priesthood.

Cardinal Hummes highlighted the importance of feminine souls who follow the typology of the Blessed Virgin Mary to spiritually support priests in order to help them with their self-offering, prayer and penance. Again, we can see this clearly at the foot of the Cross in the Gospel of John when Jesus says “Woman, this is your son; son, this is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27).

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, in one of her essays reflecting on the spiritual maternity of women, wrote: “For an understanding of our unique feminine nature, let us look to the pure love and spiritual maternity of Mary. This spiritual maternity is the core of a woman’s soul. Wherever a woman functions authentically in this spirit of maternal pure love, Mary collaborates with her.

“This holds true whether the woman is married or single, professional or domestic or both, a Religious in the world or in the convent. Through this love, a woman is God’s special weapon in his fight against evil. Her intrinsic value is that she is able to do so because she has a special susceptibility for the works of God in souls — her own and others. She relates to others in his spirit of love.”

A spiritual mother is one who commits to offering prayers, good works, sufferings, fasting and penances on behalf of priests, seminarians and those discerning God’s call to priesthood in our diocese, whose names are known to God.

Kit Schmidt from St. John the Evangelist, Fort Pierre, says, “To be a spiritual mother, one need not be the biological mother of a son who became a priest — in fact, one need not have given birth at all, because spiritual motherhood, as the name implies, is not a matter of biology, but of the heart.”

There are incredible women who have been praying for priests and their sanctification throughout the history of the church. St. Therese of Lisieux, in one of her letters to her sister Celine, wrote: “Let us live for souls, let us be apostles, let us save especially the souls of priests. … Let us pray, let us suffer for them, and, on the last day, Jesus will be grateful.”

There are incredible stories of spiritual mothers who, through their lives of prayer, suffering and penance, have truly transmitted life and borne fruit in the lives of priests and the church in so many ways. Women such Eliza Vaughan, Blessed Maria Deluil Martiny, Blessed Alexandrina Da Costa, Servant of God Consolata Betrone, Berthe Petit, Anna Stang and the women of the small village in Lu, Italy.

You can read these and more stories about spiritual mothers in the booklet titled “Eucharistic Adoration in parishes for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual
Maternity” from Roman Catholic Books or down load in pdf at http://www. clerus.org/clerus/dati/2008-01/25-13/Ado ration.pdf.

Our hope in the Office of Vocations is to continue to increase the number of spiritual mothers in our diocese. If you are interested in becoming a spiritual mother or organizing a spiritual mother group in your parish please contact the Office of Vocations at www.gods-call.com.

Experiencing the universality of our church

 

 

In July, I was part of the pilgrimage of young adults from our diocese who journeyed to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day. As part of our pilgrimage, we were blessed to have not only Bishop Robert Gruss join us, but also two religious sisters, Sr. Joy of Martyrs and Sr. Dove of Simplicity from the Servants of the Lord of Our Lady of Matara. Their presence, and their faith and joy in the Lord added much to our WYD experience.

As I look back on my encounter of WYD, there are three things that repeatedly come to mind. The first is mercy, which was the theme of World Youth Day taken from the fifth beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Mt 5:7). The second and third are: generous hospitality and lively faith. These words should sound familiar to us because they are the first two lenses of our stewardship initiative. I experienced them being played out in so many ways throughout our pilgrimage.

Our first week we stayed in a hostel in Fr. Andrzej Wyrostek’s home town of Izdebnik, Poland. The pastor of St. Margaret Church, where Fr. Andrzej received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, opened up the church several times for us so that we could celebrate Mass and a Holy Hour. He even had a U.S. flag hanging outside the church as way to welcome us.

One of the first nights, the mayor of Izdebnik came and officially welcomed us as pilgrims and as friends. The day before we left for Krakow for the WYD gatherings, the owners of the hostel offered to do laundry for us — 20 loads of laundry! It was quite funny to see all our laundry laid out on a big table when we returned from touring that day. Next to it was a big sign that read: “American — Polish Power Ball.”

We were so blessed to stay in hosts’ homes in Wadowice, the hometown of St. John Paul II, during the WYD events. Throughout our stay, our host families were incredibly generous and showed us great mercy on a number of occasions. One of the things that struck me is that their faith was so evident and alive. Because of that, offering generous hospitality and showing us great mercy came naturally to them.

For instance, the opening night of WYD, the trains were not quite working the way we had expected. We arrived back at the train station at 3:30 in the morning, and then we had another 2.5 mile walk back to our host homes. Even so, when we arrived at the train station, our host families were there to greet us with big smiles, hugs and high fives. And when we arrived home, we were greeted with a simple meal.

On another night, it was pouring rain when we arrived at the train depot ready for the walk to our host homes. There again our host families were waiting to welcome home their tired pilgrims and to feed them again.

At dinner the first night with our host families, I was sitting behind a statue of Our Lady and I felt a movement of the Holy Spirit to ask if they wanted to pray the rosary with us. So after dinner, Kristof, the father, pointed to the deck and he took the statue of Our Lady sitting behind me and placed her on a table on the deck with a lit candle. The host family’s lively faith was shining.

Robert Kinyon, a third year college seminarian, tells of his experience of this encounter:

“My principal desire for World Youth Day was to experience the church universal by which we derive the name ‘Catholic,’ and from this I wanted a stronger aspiration to follow the will of the Father as he guides his church on earth.

“This desire was chiefly satisfied one evening while praying the rosary with my homestay family in Wadowice. We took turns leading each mystery with our Polish family, alternating between English and Polish, and ending with the “Salve Regina” in Latin. This, for me, was a beautiful moment of consolation. How magnificent is our church — spanning thousands of years and countless languages!

“Truly, in that moment, the Lord fulfilled the desires of my heart and gave me a new vigor to follow him, bolstered in faith and hope.”

This experience of generous hospitality and lively faith at WYD, especially with our host families made me think how important lively faith is in our lives, and how lively faith impacts everyone around it. Lively faith is contagious. It also made me more aware of how hospitality and lively faith are intimately connected. One flows out of the other and each is enriched by the other.

The next time you are hosting a meal at home or at a family gathering, why not end your time together with the rosary or praying with one another? You never know what one invitation to prayer — which would be a joining of generous hospitality and lively faith — might mean to someone.

 

When pastors are reassigned, it’s dying and rising

Fr. Craig Cower has often told pastors that moving to a new parish is, in a real way, a participation in the Paschal Mystery. When a pastor is told he is being reassigned, he must die to the hopes and dreams and plans he had for the parish he is serving. He must say good-bye to many of the people to whom he has drawn close.

When he first moves to the new parish and is unfamiliar with the routines, doesn’t know the parishioners or the community, he is, in some respects, in the tomb. After some time, when he has had the opportunity to serve those in need, minister to families in times of tragedy, and build trust with his new parish, he begins to build hopes and dreams in this new place; he experiences resurrection.

Right now your new pastor is in the tomb. Continuing to welcome him throughout his first year can help him rise perhaps sooner than later. Last month, we shared ways we could assist new pastors. With school starting soon, here are a couple ideas to continue welcoming your new pastor:

Show him where the school is and point out where the school activities and athletic events take place. What door do you use to get into basketball games or school concerts? Tell him what the school mascot is, what the school colors are, on which side of the field or court the home crowd sits. Don’t just give him the sports schedule, invite him to come with you to the high school football game. Introduce him to other parishioners while you are there.

Get at least seven families to invite him to something seven times over the course of 18 months or so.

Ask him his thoughts and aspirations concerning faith formation. What is his vision and how can you help make it a reality?

There are also ways we can “help” our former pastor to die to our parish so he can rise from the tomb in his new parish. The first thing is to let the past be the past and not succumb to the temptation to keep comparing the old with the new, as we mentioned last month.

Second, one woman I knew many years ago shared this idea with me: Whenever her pastor was reassigned, she gave him a few postcards which were addressed to her and stamped. She invited him to send her one of these cards whenever he was in need of prayer. He needn’t write anything on the card, she said. When she received it, she would know to pray for him.

Third, it is often tempting to ask an old pastor back for funerals or in other times of need. This is understandable because often there is a relationship and trust built up over many years with him. However, ministering to people in need is one of the primary ways the new pastor builds relationships with his parish. Allow him this time and this opportunity to minister to his people.

Conflicts often arise in times of change. This is a good time to reflect on how we, as disciples of Jesus, are called to respond to conflict. When a new (or old) pastor does or says something with which we disagree, offends us or makes us angry, it is tempting to vent to friends, neighbors or family members. It is more fruitful, though, to take our problem to the one who can truly help us. Go instead to Jesus, present in the tabernacle, and share honestly with him your anger, hurt, disappointment, thoughts and feelings. Ask him how you should proceed, what you should say and with whom, if anyone, you should speak.

If, after this time with the Lord, you still feel you should say something, go to the pastor. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Mt 18:15). Pray for the right words said in the right tone and at the right time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we are to “interpret insofar as possible our neighbor’s thoughts, words and deeds in a favorable way” (CCC 2478). Work toward genuine understanding and reconciliation. If the matter is grave and not resolved with the pastor, then it is appropriate to bring it to the bishop’s attention with trust that, despite the outcome, we have done our part.

Significant transitions can be difficult, but they are also an opportunity to grow as disciples of Christ, to practice humility, charity and genuine hospitality as we read in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rv 21:5) and Jn 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

(Fr. Tim Hoag co-wrote this month’s column.)

 

 

Helpful hints: How to welcome your new pastor

It’s been said that a pastor is the only person in the parish who can make everyone happy — some are happy when he comes and the majority come to know and trust him over time as he ministers to them during his tenure, and he makes the rest happy when he leaves. In truth, though, we all know that the only one who can make everyone happy is Jesus and, even then, in order to know this happiness we have to cooperate with his will.

Transitions can be difficult, and many of our parishes are experiencing big transitions this summer as they say good-bye to a pastor who may have served them for many years, and then welcome a new one. Change is always hard. It is hard to let go of the familiar, to mourn the loss of talents and strengths of our former pastor, and to face the unknown of how things will work with the new one.

Being re-assigned is difficult for the pastor as well. It is hard to die to the dreams and hopes he has for the parish he is serving, to leave the people about whom he has deeply cared. And it is difficult to walk into a new place, where he knows no one and has yet to build trust and friendships in his new parish.

But transitions also offer us an opportunity to experience God’s abundant mercy. When Msgr. Thomas Richter was here in March for Pastoral Ministry Days, he reminded us, “God comes close to us where we experience misery; where we experience need, where we are lonely and not enough, where we are poor … he comes to us in the very place that if we had a magic wand we would get rid of … he extends his mercy precisely in the circumstances we don’t like but cannot change.”

So in these times of transition, we have opportunities to extend and to receive God’s mercy. We also have the opportunity to practice good stewardship, to welcome the stranger in our midst and to extend hospitality. We have the opportunity to look out for the good of all and put aside any selfish inclinations we have.

Here are some ideas for welcoming your new pastor:

Prepare a place for him. Take a look at the rectory with the eye of a realtor. Perhaps there is a realtor in your parish who can walk through it and assess it. Is it move-in ready? Does it need a thorough cleaning? Fresh paint? Is it in good repair? Would the bed your pastor will sleep on be inviting and comfortable in your guest bedroom? When he walks in, does he know how grateful you are that he has come to serve our community?

Organize a welcome for him after all of the Sunday Masses. Introduce him to the people of the parish.

Perhaps parishioners from both his old and new parish(es) will be helping him move. When I (Fr. Mark) moved from Piedmont to Ft. Pierre, all those who helped me move — some from Piedmont and some from Ft. Pierre — gathered around the altar after we were done and prayed together. It was a beautiful experience. Later that night, a couple showed up at my door and offered to take me to dinner, knowing I wouldn’t have had time to do any shopping yet. It meant a lot.

Organize a tour of the area served by the parish. Take him for a drive and point out ranches of the parishioners. Take him around town and point out the post office, the grocery store, perhaps local businesses that are owned by parishioners.

It means so much to the members of our communities when our pastors come to community events. At the beginning, though, this can be very difficult. Your new pastor doesn’t know anyone. He doesn’t yet know who his parishioners are. Invite him to community events. Don’t just tell him about the annual town celebration and rodeo; offer to pick him up and take him with you.

A new pastor is anxious to get to know the families of his parish(es).

Invite him over for dinner, or lunch, or breakfast, or coffee or whatever. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Remember, they all grew up in families just like we did. Welcome them into your home and make them feel special. Don’t be discouraged if at first they say no; keep trying. Invite them over more than once. Don’t think to yourself, “Oh, they are so busy.” Of course, they’re busy. We’re all busy, but we make time for the people who are important to us.

It is not helpful for anyone in this time of transition to say something like, “Our old pastor never did that” or “Our old pastor always did it this way.” Each priest is a unique person, with unique talents and strengths and ways of doing things. Focus on this new pastor’s strengths and affirm them. Welcome the fact he might minister best to a different group of parishioners than the previous pastor. Encourage him to tap into the expertise from within the parish for those areas in which he is not strong.

It’s never too late to welcome someone new, and welcoming doesn’t stop after the initial welcome party. Next month we will continue to explore ways we can grow in discipleship in this time of transition.

(Fr. Tim Hoag co-wrote this month’s column)

 

 

Pilgrimage reawakens spiritual life

This past February, I was blessed to be on the diocesan pilgrimage with Bishop Robert Gruss. It was a whirlwind pilgrimage, as we visited France, Spain and Portugal in 10 days. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but praying at these holy sites and pondering the Blessed Mother’s appearances to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, St. James in Zaragoza, and Lucia, Jacinta and

Francisco in Fatima was absolutely the best!

As a bonus, we stopped at Avila and Salamanca to reflect on the courageous lives of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, each of whom became bold witnesses for renewal in the church in the middle 1500s. We need witnesses like them today, people who are willing to give testimony to the power Christ in their lives.

Pope Paul the VI, in his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

The call to be witnesses is not a new one in the church. Toward the end of the Acts of the Apostles we hear how the Lord stood next to St. Paul and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome” Acts 23:11. In all times and in all places, we are called to bear witness and to give our personal testimony of Christ to others. And it isn’t always easy.

On the pilgrimage, we were staying at Lourdes and I had a beautiful view from the balcony of my hotel room of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Our last morning in Lourdes, I found myself on the balcony about 3:30 a.m., praying and taking it all in one last time.

I was surprised to hear the door of the balcony next to me open as a gentleman walked out onto it. I greeted him and started to make some small talk with him. I found myself sharing with him how he was going to love Lourdes. I told him how our Blessed Mother Mary appeared to a teenage girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, and how Lourdes, through the intercession of Blessed Mother Mary and St. Bernadette, has become a place of both spiritual and physical healing for many people around the world.

Many spiritual lives have been re-awakened and renewed in Jesus Christ here. Mary always points to her son, Jesus — the way, the truth and the life. I finished by saying, “I pray and hope that Jesus through Mary will touch your life in a new way while you are in Lourdes.”

He looked at me and, without saying a word, walked back into his hotel room and shut the door. I was stunned by his action.

Were my words offensive to him? Maybe he had a bad experience of church growing up or felt that God never answers his prayer. Perhaps I was boring him with all this talk about Jesus and Mary? Or maybe he was just having a bad day. Whatever it was, he was not interested in what I had to say.

I have thought about this experience a number of times since then. Looking back on this encounter, I should have first invited the Holy Spirit into my heart and asked him what he wanted me to share with this person. Perhaps it would have been better to share my personal story of how the Lord Jesus is working in my life, in particular of beholding Our Lady.

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians the call to discipleship invites us to share not only the Gospel, but our very selves. In our stewardship initiative this is where “lively faith” enters — sharing the Gospel and ourselves with others. This is how faith is caught. It becomes contagious and alive.

As we continue to hear lay witness speakers in our parishes witnessing on generous hospitality and lively faith, I encourage you to think about your personal testimony, your story.

Summer is a perfect time to meet new people in the many events, activities and travels of this season. We meet people at the baseball park,

camping, while on a family vacation or perhaps on the balcony of a hotel room. Summertime gives us many opportunities to give witness to our faith in Jesus — to share the joy of the Gospel. Are you ready?

Here are a few questions I have found helpful. I invite you to take them before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Pray and journal on these questions. They will help you prepare in an

intentional way to give your testimony if the opportunity arises.

*What event or series of events in your life lead you to the place where you first said “yes” to God?

*What was your life like before that?

*How have you experienced the invitation to follow Christ?

*How have you experienced Christ longing for you?

* is your life like now? How have things changed because of your decision to follow Christ?

*What are the little ways you see God moving in your life?

*What keeps you connected to Christ and his church?

*Remember, when you are about to give your testimony, first pray to the Holy Spirit that he will give you the words to speak from your heart. Oh, and then remind me to do the same, won’t you?

*Keep it simple. Be direct. Beintentional. Be discreet. Be bold.

 

Let’s build a culture of vocations together

It is an exciting time in the Diocese of Rapid City — a time filled with renewed hope and energy as we embrace the Priority Plan of the Diocese of Rapid City together.

Bishop Robert Gruss says this plan “offers a message of hope and an opportunity that draws the people of God to something greater than themselves and inspires them to action. The power of the Holy Spirit will lead us to accomplish more that we can possibly ever imagine.”

In the foundational ministries section of the Priority Plan, under vocation and evangelization, one of the goals is that by Jan. 17, 2017, each parish or parish grouping will form a vocations committee to encourage and promote a culture of vocations.

To help jump start building a culture of vocations in every parish in our diocese, we brought Rhonda Gruenewald to our diocese in April for two workshops. We had 75 people who attended the “Hundredfold” workshops; 32 went to St. John the Evangelist, Ft. Pierre, and 43 attended at Our Lady of the Black Hills, Piedmont. They represented 26 parishes from across the diocese. This is not a bad start to forming vocation ministry committees in every parish in the diocese.

Gruenewald, a convert to the Catholic Church and the author of the book “Hundredfold: A Guide to Vocation Ministry,” did not know what the word vocation meant four years ago. She and her husband, David, were invited to a meeting at her parish, St. Cecilia in Houston, Texas. Her parish priest, Fr. Victor Perez, personally called her and asked if the couple would attend a meeting about “priests and such.”

They accepted the invitation and her life has never been the same. I pray what happened to Rhonda and David will happen to each one of us as we embrace Bishop Gruss’ call and invitation to build a culture of vocation in our parishes and diocese.

The heart of building a culture of vocations in our parish families begins and ends with prayer. Blessed Hannibal di Francia wrote: “Jesus wanted to teach us that vocations in the church do not come by chance, either by themselves, nor can we make them out of human efforts only. They come to us from the mercy of God. If we do not pray to obtain them they will not be given us.”

St. Paul urges the faithful to “pray constantly” (1 Thes 5:17).  If we truly want to work for vocations, our petitions to God must be unending.

Forming an environment in our parish where vocations to priesthood, religious life and sacramental marriage are discerned, nurtured and affirmed has a ripple effect on the entire community. Gruenewald says a single parish vocation ministry committee could be more like a tsunami revitalizing and energizing the parish at many levels. We have to “invite” our young people to actually pray to know their true vocation and to discern God’s call in their lives.

God does indeed have a particular plan — a vocation for each and every one of our young people, whether it would be a call to priesthood, religious life, sacramental marriage, or the single life. Parish vocation committees help families create the space and environment they need to help children and young people hear the voice of Jesus calling their name.

In “Hundredfold,” Gruenewald describes four phases to creating a vocation ministry in parishes:
Phase I: Laying the Ground Work
Phase II: Establishing a Presence
Phase III: Spreading the Word
Phase IV Expanding the Ministry.

The point of the phases is to implement different activities such as prayer, awareness and education, and youth activities that affirm and foster a culture of vocations in an intentional but incremental and sustainable way. She notes there are over 50 activities, from simple to complex, that help a parish develop this culture.

Let’s get started. Read “Hundredfold: Building a Parish Vocation Ministry.” It’s available through the Vocation and Stewardship Office for only $13 – a savings of $7.

In addition, Gruenewald was recently featured on EWTN Live with Fr. Mitch Pacwa.  In the interview, she shares many of the same stories and experiences she offered during the workshops.  This episode can be accessed at:  http://www.ewtn.com/tv/ live/ewtnlive.asp. It is the second thumbnail under the currently featured video and is the April 13 episode.

If you would like to purchase a book or two, please contact our office at 605-716-5214 ext. 233 or at shanson@diorc.org. You will find it helpful in laying the foundation for creating and building a culture of vocations in your parish.

I look forward to working with you and your parish in creating a culture of vocations in which we nurture, within the hearts of children and our young people, a desire and an openness to follow God’s plan in their lives.

It’s always fishing season

“For the clergy it is easier to be pastors than to be fishermen — that is, it is easier to nourish those who come to the church through word and the sacraments than it is to seek out those who are far off in cultural environments that are very different. The parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: ninety-nine sheep have gone off and one remains in the sheepfold. The danger for us is to spend all our time nourishing this one remaining sheep and not to have time — also because the scarcity of clergy — to seek out those who are lost. The contribution of the laity in this situation seems providential.”

—Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa 
“Christ Yesterday and Today”

 

In 2013 there was a television mini-series titled “The Bible” that aired on the History Channel. One of my favorite scenes is when Jesus says to Peter, “Let’s go fishing.” As they were in the boat conversing with one another and fishing, Jesus sticks his hand into the Sea of Galilee and begins to summon the fish. That day Peter and the other disciples netted a miraculous catch of fish.

I thought of this story last summer when I was competing in Bishop Robert Gruss’ fishing tournament for seminarians. The fish were not biting so I decided to stick my hand into Lake Oahe and start summoning the fish.

A fellow in the boat next to us yelled out, “Hey, buddy, does that sort of thing really work?”

I yelled back, “For those who have faith it does!”

He smiled, but never stuck his hand in Lake Oahe to summon the fish. My team won; his did not.

After last month’s column, in which I invited you to share your “fishing stories,” I received several phone calls. Two calls in particular were about answering Jesus’ challenge, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Mt 4:19). I know there are more fishing stories still out there, but to give you some hope and encouragement, I thought it would be good to share with you one of those stories:

“I met my friend Brandon while working in the panhandle of Texas in 2013. He was half my age, a hard worker and eager to learn. As our working relationship grew, I learned that he was raised Catholic but was no longer practicing the faith. He was, at the time of this meeting, anti-Catholic; what I mean is he would say negative things about the Catholic faith and Christianity in general, and did not attend church of any kind.

“There were two of us on that job who were active Catholics and we would travel an hour to Amarillo on Sundays to attend Mass at St. Mary Cathedral, followed by a trip to a shooting range and lunch. After a few weeks of talking to Brandon about shooting, he asked if he could come with; I told him we attend Mass before we go out to the range. That was okay with him, even though he had not been to Mass for quite a long time.

“When that job was completed, Brandon returned to his home in Denver and we stayed in contact through email and an occasional phone call. I was working in Colorado in August 2015 and Brandon and I ended up going to a Rockies game one weekday afternoon. We had a great day and before we parted company, he told me that he wanted to go to confession but was scared.

“He asked if I would help him get to confession. I said, ‘Sure!’ but I didn’t know when this could happen because the job I was working was ending that week and I knew I had no chance to do anything for him right then.

“As Lent 2016 progressed, the promise I made to my friend stayed on my mind. I sent him a text a few weeks ago to see if he was still interested in the sacrament of confession and he said he was. I really wanted to help him get to confession before Holy Week so he could enjoy that liturgy and also be ready for Divine Mercy Sunday.

“I called the Denver Cathedral Basilica office and asked if I could schedule a general confession. The secretary said she would see if there was a priest who could accommodate me and call me back. As I was driving through Wyoming on March 15, I had a lot of anxiety about not finding a confessor for Brandon. I said out loud with all my heart, ‘Please Jesus, send a confessor to help me!’

“That was all it took. About 30 seconds later, my cell phone rang and I had an appointment with Fr. Ron for a general confession at 1 p.m. on March 18 for Brandon. Tears of joy came down my face. I called my friend and told him to meet me at the cathedral in Denver for their noon Mass “We went to lunch and he told me that it had been 20 years since his last confession and that he thought his father and grandfather, who are deceased, were probably pretty happy. I assured him they had definitely thrown a party in heaven that day.”

Wow! That’s what I call fishing! This man drove all the way to Denver from the Black Hills to accompany someone to confession. What a gift of extraordinary generosity and an example of taking to heart Bishop Gruss’ invitation to accompany others in their journey to Christ.

This joy-filled Easter season is a great time to apply Jesus’ words about fishing for people. Who is the one person — just one — you could help bring back to the church, to a deeper relationship with the Son of God? I look forward to hearing your fishing story at 605-716-5214 x235 or email MMcCormick@diorc.org.

Last month did you forget to go fishing?

At the end of my February article, I gave a homework assignment. At this point it looks like I need to give an extension because my phone has been silent! The homework assignment was this:

When you go to Mass on the weekend, make it your personal intention for that Mass to ask the Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to place in your heart one person who you no longer see or rarely see at Mass. If the Holy Spirit places in your heart a name, I invite you to contact that person and reconnect with them. Simply tell them that their name came to your mind and heart and you want to reconnect with them. Then call me at 605-716-5214 x235 or email MMcCormick@diorc.org and let me know how it went.

Making connections with one another is how we begin to build up a bridge of trust which opens the door for further conversations about things that truly matter — a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his church.

Sherry Weddell, in her book “Forming Intentional Disciples: the Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” outlines five thresholds of conversion: initial trust, spiritual curiosity, spiritual openness, spiritual seeking and intentional discipleship.

Weddell writes, “Without some kind of bridge of trust in place, people will not move closer to God.”

I remember several years back I was visiting with a young couple about the baptism of their son. They were seeking baptism for their son, but were not active in their Catholic faith, in particular the Sunday celebration of Eucharist. I rarely saw them at Mass. My initial conversation with this young couple did not go very well. As a matter of fact, they almost got up and walked out of the rectory.

I was simply too hard on them, laying down the guidelines and obligations they have as parents in raising their child in the Catholic faith. I just kept hammering home to them their obligation to attend Sunday Mass and demanding some reassurance that their child would be raised in the Catholic faith.

At one point during our meeting they had had enough and started to collect their belongings and move toward the door. I had been too harsh. But for some reason, as they walked toward the door, the husband looked at me and asked, “Did you ever know Father Dale Kutil? He married us.”

I said, “Of course I knew Father Dale Kutil.”

I began to share some stories of Father Dale and the three of us laughed together. I shared with them an experience I had right before he died of cancer. An amazing thing happened as we shared stories about Fr. Dale. They began to unpack their belongings and return to the couch and we finished discussing the baptism of their son.

Father Dale became this “bridge of trust” that led this couple a step closer to God and, hopefully, a more lively Catholic faith. After the baptism, I received this note from that couple: “Father Mark, thank you for reaching out to us and being part of our son’s baptism. It was a beautiful, meaningful baptism and God has blessed our family in so many ways. We are very fortunate. Thanks again for sharing it with us.”

I learned a great deal in this encounter with this young family, discovering how important it was to first build a bridge of trust if my desire was to bring them closer to Christ and his church.

Weddell indicates that non-practicing Catholics and former Catholics do not have a bridge of trust in place which would enable them to retrace their steps. She cautions us to avoid such things as defensiveness or coming across in a judgmental or critical way when visiting with people that seem to have a nominal practice of the Catholic faith.

This was the trap that I fell into with this young couple. Because I came across as judgmental and harsh, instead of drawing them closer to Christ and his church, I started to drive them away at a time when they had made a step forward by seeking baptism for their son.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in an article titled “Christ Yesterday and Today,” writes:

“For the clergy it is easier to be pastors than to be fishermen — that is, it is easier to nourish those who come to the church through word and the sacraments than it is to seek out those who are far off in cultural environments that are very different. The parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: 99 sheep have gone off and one remains in the sheepfold. The danger for us is to spend all our time nourishing this one remaining sheep and not to have time — also because of the scarcity of clergy — to seek out those who are lost. The contribution of the laity in this situation seems providential.”

I’m inspired by the words of Father. Cantalamessa, which are an echo of Jesus’ words to Peter and Andrew in Matthew 4:19 NAB: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Being a person of great hope, I ask that you use that homework extension and seek out the 99, build a bridge of trust with them and lead them to a closer walk with Christ and his church.

And if you are moved by the Spirit, please take a minute to report back to me. I would love to hear how your fishing went!