Reach out to those missing at Masses

In “The Joy of The Gospel,” Pope Francis says that an “evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.”

Recent statistics remind us that we need to be more inviting communities of faith. The pastoral essay, “Becoming an Inviting Church,” published by Paulist Evangelization Ministries, describes a “new normal” for Catholics. Weekly Mass attendance rates have dropped below 25 percent. They argue that “once a month” has become the new normal or the new “once a week” for most parishes.

The essay goes on to say that “parishes cannot presume on the involvement of folks listed in their databases. In fact, parishes should look upon this list as pointing to the very people they should aim to invite. With 60 percent of Catholics mostly not going to Sunday Mass, and many of them identified by parish leaders, parishes need to start making connections with the registered members in a consistent way.”

The great challenge for us as individuals and as parish communities is to begin making new connections with those in our parishes who are absent from Sunday Eucharist. Making connections is all about relationships. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to be in communion and relationship with one another; this is part of the divine plan of the Father.

I was surprised when I heard someone say that the reason they go to Mass is just for themselves: “It’s about Jesus and me. I do not go for anyone else but myself.”

This comment caught me off guard and, after hearing it, the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:8-9 was placed in my heart. Recall that Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God does expect us to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

It’s all about relationship! The heart of our new ministry of sending lay witness speakers three times a year to every parish is to emphasize how the Lord Jesus Christ is alive and active in each of our lives.

We need to re-awaken in the lives of our people the fact that God desires us to have a relationship with him and with one another. That is why God the Father sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus, so that we might come to know him and to live in him upon whom our salvation depends. We hear in John 15:5, “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.”

It is in learning to remain in Christ, to stay connected to him through word and sacraments, to be grounded in the Scriptures, that we hear the voice of Jesus speaking directly to us. To be

involved in the faith life of a parish community where we experience Christ’s love through our involvement renews and strengthens us.

Sherry Weddell, in her book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and following Jesus,” describes the sobering fact that “only 48 percent of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God in whom they believed was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship.”

We have a lot of work to do. Hopefully, our lay witness speakers will foster and develop this connectedness to the body of Christ through their own testimony and witness.

In Hebrews 10:24-25 we hear: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

I have a challenge, or, if you will, a homework assignment, for you this week as a way to start making connections with people in your parish communities that are registered members of the parish but who are, for the most part, missing and absent from Sunday Eucharist.

When you go to Mass this weekend, make it your personal intention for the 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 this week and reconnect with them. Simply tell them that their name came to your mind and heart this week and you just want to reconnect with them.

Call them, email them, text them, write them a note, or take them out for a cup of coffee. Then report back to me next week. Fr. Mark McCormick 605-716-5214, x235 or MMcCormick @diorc.org.

 

Lay witness speakers begin sharing their faith with others

summit

This past June at the Stewardship Summit, Bishop Robert Gruss commissioned our first set of lay witness speakers. They were sent out this fall to the parishes to give their testimony on how they have experienced hospitality and how they extended hospitality to others. Our lay witness speakers are scheduled to speak or have spoken in 39 parishes. They were well received by parishioners and pastors alike. Here are some of the comments we have received in regards to our lay witness ministry program which is part of our Stewardship Initiative.

“The witness talk about stewardship was excellent! She gave a very personal and wonderful witness at all the weekend Masses, both on Saturday and Sunday.”

“He is a good speaker, people enjoyed his message.”

“They did a clear, humorous and pointed message about the importance of continuing to invite. I had several say they enjoyed it.”

“Great talks! Lots of good feedback! Thank you for getting them to give witness talks!”

“They did an awesome job. They spoke of prayer and the need to visit with Jesus, as well as the importance of visiting with each other as we build stronger and more welcoming communities.”

“He did an excellent job and his talk was well received. Thank you for coordinating the details.”

“I had a great deal of positive feedback. It seems the more a person does this adventure, the easier it seems to become.”

“This has truly been a humble and rewarding time in my life.”

“I really enjoyed our time with their church families.”

Our plan is that every parish will experience a lay witness speaker at least three times a year. This year we will continue to focus the witness talks on generous hospitality. By the end of next year, we plan to move into lively faith — prayer, study and formation.

If you are interested in learning more about the lay witness ministry program in our diocese, are interested in becoming a lay witness speaker, or know someone you feel would be a good witness to others, please contact the Office of Stewardship at 605-716-5214, extension 233, or Fr. Mark McCormick at mmccormick@diorc.org.

Those who have been part of this new and exciting ministry come from parishes across the diocese:

Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City:

Julie Bernard

Dave Elkjer

Tom Hilt

Denise Maher

Cathedral, Rapid City:

Paula Clark

Maureen Yantes

St. Rose of Lima, Hill City:

Clare Ten Eyck

St. Anthony, Hot Springs:

Joyce Bussmus

St. Joseph, Spearfish:

Carol Athow

Mary Anne Herrboldt

Jan Carlson

St. Paul, Belle Fourche:

Carrie Donovan

Sacred Heart, Philip:

Marianne Frein

St. Mary, Milesville:

Nina Pekron

Our Lady of Victory, Kadoka:

Janet VanderMay

St. Joseph, Gregory:

Roxie Chocholousek

Andy and Patty Clark

Sacred Heart, Burke:

Mary Horn

St. Anthony, Fairfax:

Tony Koenig

St. John, Ft. Pierre:

Wade Pogany

Our Lady of the Rosary, Trail City:

Bill and Lynn Hahne

St. Joseph, Faith:

Josh Lee

Brad and Mandy Lemmel

St. Mary, Isabel:

LuAnn Lindskov

Holy Cross, Timber Lake:

Ray and Jean Tehle

One last note: Our priests are going to jump into the mix as well by swapping parishes from time to time to speak about “A Catholic Way of Life” through the three lenses of stewardship — hospitality, faith and discipleship. Look for one of them at your parish during the coming months.

 

 

 

Witness your amazing story to all you meet

In 2008, I was part of the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. Many of our youth and young adults who participated encountered the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in their lives in a profound way — so profound that it changed their lives forever. They met the person of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in a way they had never known!

The theme for that WYD was taken from Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”

At the heart of stewardship is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” they note stewardship is “fundamentally the work of the Spirit in our lives. When we accept our lives as sheer gifts, the Spirit can use us as instruments for spreading the Gospel. Wherever the Spirit works, there is joy. Good stewards are always the joyful bearers of the Good News of salvation.”

I will never forget that 13-hour bus ride from Melbourne to Sydney. Time flew as I heard witness talk after witness talk from our youth, young adults and adult leaders. Their amazing stories of what Jesus was doing in their lives gave me much hope. Their desire to know Jesus and to live Jesus in their lives was a powerful testimony that changed my life.

Last summer, I had a similar experience on another bus trip, this time coming back from the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference in Denver. Hearing our youth and adults testify and give witness to one another of how they encounter the presence of Jesus in their lives was electrifying.

It’s true. When you open your heart to Christ and surrender to his will, you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will touch your heart — so much so that you will want to testify, give witness and to share this encounter with others.

I am not sure why we as Catholics are so hesitant to testify and give witness to what Jesus is doing in our lives. It seems that our relationship with Christ becomes a private matter — a matter between Jesus and me rather than an encounter to be shared. That sharing has the potential to ignite the hearts of others through our own personal story of Jesus.

When Paul was in prison, he wrote a letter to Philemon encouraging him to be faithful to the Gospel so that its power might be effective and bear fruit in the lives of God’s people. In a sense Paul is saying, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith.”

The stewardship initiative in our diocese — through a life of generous hospitality, a lively faith and dedicated discipleship — is nothing more than sharing our faith in Christ with others. It is all about being willing to be a witness and to testify to what the Lord is doing in our lives. It is putting our faith into practice.

Pope Francis, in a daily homily at the Saint Martha House where he lives, said that “living the Christian life is simple: listen to God’s word and put it into practice. These are the two conditions in order to follow Jesus, hear the word of God and put it into practice. This is the Christian life, nothing more … simple, easy.”

This past year the Office of Stewardship has been developing a new ministry in our diocese — the training and sending out of lay witnesses to every parish. This past month some of you experienced having lay witness speakers in your parish. Our plan is that every parish in our diocese will experience a lay witness speaker three times year, with the hope of building up to four times a year.

The purpose of the lay witness testimony is to inspire people to accept the invitation to live a life as a Christian steward through a life of generous hospitality, a lively faith, and a dedicated discipleship. Lay witnesses have a simple message — to share their own personal stories of living the life of being a faithful steward. Lay witnesses convey powerful stories of transformation. Hearing personal stories can lead to changes of heart and bring about authentic conversion.

During the next several months, I will go into more detail about this exciting new ministry in our diocese. Remember: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”

What it means to be a ‘person of communion’

In September I attended the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors in St. Louis, Mo. One of the breakout sessions was led by Father James Mason, a priest from the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

He shared this wonderful story about being a newly ordained priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Gettysburg. He was an associate for Msgr. Marvin McPhee. After daily Mass, the two of them would head to the local hardware store where they would sit outside on lawn chairs drinking coffee and visiting with the local townspeople — Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Father Mason thought this was a waste of time because it seemed like he wasn’t doing anything important. He wanted to see some “real action” in his priestly ministry and sitting in lawn chairs was not fitting the bill for him.

Several weeks into this routine, Msgr. McPhee pulled Father Mason aside and said to him, “Father Jim, small talk is not small.”

In the end, the younger priest came to realize that those lawn chair conversations were not only a great way for him, as a new priest, to meet the townspeople, but they often led to deeper conversations about Christ. This was an important lesson for Father Mason to learn during his first few months as a priest.

Father Mason’s talk was on being a “man of communion.” He shared this quote from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Program of Priestly Formation” which speaks powerfully about the importance of living a life of a faithful steward by a willingness to engage others in conversations, even if it’s about the weather or the local high school sport teams.

“A man of communion: a person who has real and deep relatio­nal capacities, someone who can enter into genuine dialogue and friendship, a person of true empathy who can understand and know other persons, a person open to others and available to them with a generosity of spirit. The man of communion is capable of making a gift of himself and of receiving the gift of others. This, in fact, requires the full possession of oneself. This life should be one of inner joy and inner peace — signs of self-possession and generosity (Program of Priestly Formation, paragraph 76).”

We are all called to be “persons of communion,” which often begins with a simple invitation, the acknowledgment of another person. We are all called to be “persons of communion,” which begins with a simple hello, a greeting and the welcoming of another person into our space, opening up the possibility for deeper communion.

This acknowledgment of another happened to me several weeks ago when I was eating lunch at St. Thomas More High School. I ran into Wayne Sullivan, the principal and head football coach. I greeted him and asked where Friday’s football game was being played, and he replied, “Sturgis.”

I said, “I think I will make this game.”

He responded: “Why don’t you join us on the sidelines, Fr. Mark? The boys would love to have you there.”

This was something I had not expected to hear; it caught me totally off guard. That invitation to be on the sidelines, up front and close to the action, was thrilling to me. Yet, I was somewhat nervous by the prospect as well. He sweetened the invitation by throwing in a free St. Thomas More baseball cap and sweatshirt. Who could turn down an invitation like that?

On Friday night, I found myself pacing the sidelines at the game in Sturgis. A number of players came up to me right away and said, “Thanks for coming, Fr. Mark.” As the players came off the field, I was able to give some of them a high five and say, “nice catch” or “great tackle.” It was an incredible night — one that I will remember for a long time.

After the game, the coaches, players, cheerleaders and fans gathered in the center of the field. The coach gave them a pep talk and went over the practices for the following week. Then we all bowed our heads and prayed the “Our Father” together, ending with a resounding, “Amen!” That was followed by hugs and high fives.

I am grateful for Wayne’s generous hospitality. His invitation reminded me that hospitality is always relational. Hospitality isn’t about a project; it’s about people — it’s about being a person of communion.

This month, try to have some of those “lawn chair conversations,” keeping in mind small talk is not small.

Welcoming gestures can lead someone to Christ

One of the great gifts of Pope Francis, as witnessed during his recent visit to the United States, is his ability to touch the hearts of believers and nonbelievers alike by his willingness to engage in conversations that bring and lead to a fuller share and life in Christ.

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis said that “the church will have to initiate everyone — priests, religious and laity — into this ‘art of accompaniment’” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.

Although it sounds obvious, spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, and homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.

Pope Francis’ words speak of a generous hospitality we are to extend to another. It is this type of generous hospitality to which our diocesan stewardship initiative has been calling us. It is this generous hospitality that has the power to reignite a lively faith in the heart of another person.

This past summer I heard an amazing story that illustrates the art of spiritual accompaniment, which truly does transform and changes hearts. Here is the story of Kamren Horton:

“I came back to the church this year, at 26, after a very long (and tough) decade away. Thankfully though, God never gave up on me and patiently waited for even the slightest opening in my heart to give the faith another look. My story of coming back is a total testament to the profound power of simple love and hospitality and how God can use even small, seemingly insignificant encounters to do incredible things.

“Last January, God started laying the groundwork for my homecoming by sending me Judy as a regular in my line at a coffee shop. She was a familiar face from going to church growing up and she was such an incredible light in my life at a time I was harried and stressed and stuck. She quickly became one of my favorite customers and was always so radiant and joyful. And best of all, she was radically in love with God, and would share these amazing stories about these unbelievable ways God was working in her life.

“Though I had no intentions of returning to the church, her confidence and bold, authentic faith sparked enough of something in me that I ended up participating in (my own version of) Lent that year. I had been wanting to do some kind of spiritual practice for 40 days, and with Lent beginning, I decided to jump in on the pre-configured timeline of the season, and on a last minute whim ended up at Ash Wednesday Mass.

“I felt totally out of place at the standing-room-only Mass, yet the beauty of the Mass and the church is that even with new Mass translations and an unknown priest, there was still a thread of something all too familiar. As much as I felt like a total stranger, it was so awesome to get to share the sign of the peace and settling into the rhythm of the Mass.

“God took a tiny step forward inviting me to come and meet him. He gave me an incredibly powerful experience. There was this huge spark within me and my heart leapt at the encounter, much like the baby John leapt with joy at the presence of Jesus at the Visitation.

“It was an amazing moment and the Lent was unbelievably powerful. I ended up making some massive changes over those 40 days and quit both my jobs. (Kamren decided to move to Seattle for school at the suggestions of her aunt.)

“I pulled into town feeling completely crazy and shocked at the insane and totally irrational move I’d just made. I had found a woman on the school’s online housing board I might live with, but had never met her and didn’t even have a guarantee I could move in, just that I could come see the place once I got to town.

“She thankfully took me and I moved right in and planned to get settled in for a new year of school. God had way bigger plans for me though than just a simple school year.

“Two days after being in town, He got right to work. I came back to the house after orientation and my landlord had a friend visiting. I walked upstairs for coffee and this incredibly cute older woman, Patricia, hopped right up and came toward me to say hello.

“She introduced herself and immediately asked if I was a Christian. I quickly told her, “No, I grew up Catholic, but I don’t go anymore.” It didn’t seem to bother her though, and she told me that when I went, I had to come to her church across town instead of the one right near the house. She grabbed my name and number and hugged me and welcomed me to my new home.

“I wasn’t so sure about going to a Mass, but it was such an awesome thing that this woman had reached out and followed up to check in and invite me to join her on Sunday. I fought getting out of the car, but touched by her hospitality and warmth, decided not to leave her waiting, and figured ‘just one Mass’ sure wouldn’t hurt.

“After the Mass, she invited me across the courtyard, for “just one cup of coffee” at their cafe. Little did I know I was walking into much more than the usual coffee and donut hour; it was set up as a restaurant style buffet with a full staff of volunteers and more than 200 visitors per Mass.

“It was such an incredible atmosphere and Patricia made a point to introduce me around to all these people who were so warm and inviting and joyful and full of life and love and fire. It was so comforting and absolutely contagious, I ended up coming back. Within two weeks of that first Mass, I was signed up to volunteer at the cafe welcome desk, had been invited to a regular rosary prayer group, and was meeting with the pastoral assistant to be signed up for RCIA so I could get confirmed in the spring.

“I wish I could fully explain how amazing and life changing this year has been and how incredibly grateful I am that Pat ‘found me’ at my house and brought me back. Her simple invitation absolutely changed the course of my life.

“God has really healed my heart and wooed me in the sacraments — so much so that I’m visiting orders and now discerning a call to the religious life! The blessing of this amazing extended family that we get as members of God’s church is more than I could have ever hoped for.”

This month, let us all work on the art of spiritual accompaniment by inviting others to join us for the Eucharist, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ who leads us to the love of the Father.

Not sure it will work? Consider how Kamren Horton’s life was radically transformed by one simple invitation to Mass.

Each piece of the puzzle is unique

It is hard to believe we are approaching the end of summer. These past few months rapidly elapsed for the Offices of Stewardship and Vocations. Although busy, this time has borne much fruit. Allow me to elaborate…

At the end of May to kick off our summer, we commissioned two Duc in Altum teams comprised of eight young adults to go out. The travels of these young missionaries crisscrossed western South Dakota, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the young people of seventeen parishes. I am confident their witness of service, sacrifice, and zeal inspired many, including me.

In June, we hosted our first Stewardship Summit. More than 285 participants from 48 parishes in our diocese attended. A number of people even joined us from the Diocese of Sioux Falls and the Diocese of Cheyenne. Together the participants ascended the mountain of stewardship, cultivating a life of generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship, as a way to live out our Catholic faith.

I encourage you to go to our diocesan stewardship page http://www.rapid citydiocese.org/stewardship/, where you can download the audio files of the keynote addresses and the impact sessions. The speakers will inspire and challenge you to live more deeply the call of stewardship in your life.

On July 2, Bishop Robert Gruss ordained two young men to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Fr. Mark Horn from Burke, and Fr. John Paul Trask from Elm Springs. It was an incredible evening of great joy as we witnessed these young men generously give their lives to Christ and to the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Rapid City.

Throughout the entire summer we have had the great opportunity to be with almost 300 young people. Some attended the Steubenville of the Rockies conference in Denver, Colorado, others stayed for a week at our Girls and Boys Totus Tuus vocational camps. Several more gathered to hike in preparation for World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland to be held in the summer of 2016.

Finally, a few more literally ascended with us as we spent the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Big Horn Mountain range backpacking. All of these activities were beautiful periods of fellowship as we encountered the Lord in his beauty, in relationship with one another, and through his sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation.

As I reflect back on this summer and the programs, conferences and celebrations that were attended by our children, youth, and families, this line from the Prayer for Vocations resounded in my heart, “Lord Jesus, Son of the eternal Father and Mary Immaculate, grant to our young people the generosity necessary to follow Your call and the courage required to overcome all obstacles to their vocation.”

Stewardship and vocations truly go hand-in-hand. The U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” describes stewardship as the grateful response of the Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares them in love of God and neighbor. This is what we’ve done all summer long with our children, young people and families — we’ve attempted to instill in them this reality that each person has been blessed and gifted in many unique ways by God our Father and thus is called to share the good news of his son Jesus joyfully with others!

The call of Stewardship and Vocations is not complicated, it is quite simple; however, we need to recognize first how generous God is to us through the many gifts he has bestowed in a particular way. God is so generous, sending his son Jesus to be our Lord, Savior and friend. In turn, Jesus generously invites us into and reveals the Father’s plan for each of us.

Bishop Gruss, at the closing Mass for Boys Totus Tuus, preached on the call to know one’s particular vocation to priesthood, consecrated life or matrimony by using a piece from a jigsaw puzzle. Bishop Gruss said, “When I was a vocation director, I would carry around a jigsaw puzzle and when I spoke about vocations, I would give each young person a piece and tell them that they were as unique as this puzzle piece in the eyes of God and his kingdom.

“Each puzzle piece is unique, in that there is no other piece like it. It has a unique shape, colors only appropriated to that piece, and most important of all, that unique piece fits in only one place in the puzzle to make the beautiful picture complete and what it is supposed to be, how it was created to be. We are like that puzzle piece in the sense that God has created each of us uniquely and each of us fits uniquely in only one place in the kingdom with our own unique mission in that kingdom. We have to seek, discern and discover that unique place for ourselves.”

The ministry and work of stewardship and vocations do go hand-in-hand. I encourage you this month to pick up a jigsaw puzzle piece and carry it around in your pocket or put it on your prayer table at home as a visible reminder to pray fervently that you might know the unique mission God has called you to in his kingdom. Pray that all of us in the Diocese of Rapid City will have the generosity necessary to follow the plan that God the Father has called us to. And may we have the courage to overcome all the obstacles to the particular vocation that God desires for each one of us, whether that is to priesthood, consecrated life, or holy matrimony.

We can become instruments of God’s grace

 

How did you do last month with my challenge? If you remember, I encouraged you to invite your neighbor over for dinner and dessert, to strike up a conversation with someone you do not know and to introduce yourself to a stranger or a visitor in your parish. Hospitality is all about invitation, and a simple invitation has the potential to have far reaching ramifications.

At our diocesan hospitality meeting, “The Summit,” in June, Bishop Robert Gruss shared about an invitation he received to participate in a Bible study. His response was: “I’m not sure this is for me, I don’t even own a Bible.” The Holy Spirit moved Bishop Gruss’ heart that day as he said, “yes” to a simple invitation to participate in a Bible study. His participation transformed his life forever.

This past I year I have heard from a number of parishioners throughout the diocese how the Holy Spirit and hospitality are truly moving and changing the hearts of the individuals and parishes of our diocese — one invitation at a time. I wanted to share one such story with all of you from a parishioner at Our Lady of the Black Hills Church in Piedmont:

“During a recent Saturday afternoon while I was preparing to serve at Our Lady of the Black Hills, I learned firsthand the workings of the Holy Spirit in the area of hospitality.

“As I parked my car, I noticed someone sitting in their vehicle by the side of the church, and I thought, ‘This woman must be waiting for someone.’ While I organized, the lady eventually came into the building.

“I stepped out to greet her, and she inquired ‘Is this a Catholic Church?’ I answered that it was and asked her if she would like to be shown around. She replied that she would, and we began a conversation. I introduced myself, and I could see she was starting to experience the restful atmosphere of our church. She said she had a relative that shared my name. I told her that I was the church librarian, and she again replied that her sister was also a librarian.

“She told me her own name, and we started to walk around. During our tour, I stopped to tell her about the baptismal font and the beautiful stained-glass windows above it. She said she was Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a long while. We stopped to talk at the main altar and then at the side area where the tabernacle is located. Another parishioner was in the church and greeted her with a smile and a hug.

“The visitor was impressed with our church and seemed to enjoy walking through the building. Later we stopped at the side alcove with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then walked over to the confessional, and stepped inside. I explained that people could sit and pray with the priest now, face-to-face. Then I told her about the Returning Catholics program, which would be starting soon, but she replied that she still considered herself to be a Catholic who never left the church. Then I asked her if she had time to tour the rest of the building.

“Upon walking back up the stairs, I noticed that Father Steve Biegler was in his office, so I asked her if she would like to meet him. I was praying he wouldn’t be involved in a conference call and could greet her. When we entered his office, I introduced her and told Father Steve she might be interested in visiting our parish. He smiled and stood to greet her. The Holy Spirit may have whispered in her ear because she asked him if she could visit with him right then. He replied that she could, so I closed the door and left. They spent time together conversing.

“Later, she walked past the library where I was working, and she was smiling. I gave her a hug and a copy of the parish bulletin that included the Mass times for the upcoming weekend. I had the great pleasure of seeing her at Mass that next Sunday, as well as several more that followed.

“Looking back over the last year, I’ve realized that my awareness of ‘hospitality’ has increased greatly because of the emphasis the diocese and our parish has placed upon its importance. Notes in the bulletin on the topic and Father Steve’s sermons have made me realize that hospitality isn’t meant only for one designated committee in the parish, nor is it only the responsibility of the priest. When we are open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can become instruments of his grace. I was blessed to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit at OLBH with this new parishioner. The incident has encouraged me to continue offering hospitality to the stranger.”

What a beautiful story of the power of an invitation! When one offers hospitality to another, in and through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so much good can be done. The summer months offer us many opportunities to reach out to the many visitors and guests coming through our parish doors. Do not be afraid to extend an invitation and to make room for the visitor, the guest and the stranger in your midst. Your invitation could change the direction of a life.

 

Our own thoughts distract us from seeing other’s needs

Recently a married couple told me about their Memorial Day weekend. The couple’s daughter and son-in-law and their two young children came for the holiday and accompanied their parents to Mass. This young couple was quite surprised when they found themselves walking down the center aisle to find a place in one of the front pews. The couple protested as they were led with their young toddlers toward the front of the church. They worried about fussy behavior or the possibility of having to escort a child back down the aisle out the back doors. In the end, after the Mass finished, the young couple looked at their parents and said, “You were quite brave today.”

Isn’t this what church is about? Belonging to a parish community where one feels so comfortable and at home, walking to the front of the church with two young children causes no worry about what others might think or say.

We want our parishes to be such places of welcome and comfort. In the next several installments of this column, I want be take a deeper look at hospitality, the first lens of our stewardship process to promote A Catholic Way of Life. In the January issue of West River Catholic, Bishop Robert Gruss described the stewardship of hospitality as one in which, “each person in our presence is important to us. Each person is deeply valued because they, like all of us, have been created in God’s image and likeness.”

Hospitality is an attribute of God. Because we have been made in God’s image and likeness and are united to him in our baptism, we have become partakers of the divine nature and temples of the Holy Spirit (CCC1265). It is through our baptism that we are called to share in the priesthood of Christ. It is through our baptism that we begin to realize that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19).

Even with the graces received at our baptism, we still struggle to live generous hospitality. Selfishness persists within us. For the most part, we have not cultivated a habit of reaching out to one another. Often our own thoughts, needs and desires consume our time and distract us from seeing the needs of those around us. At times we simply do not want to be bothered with the difficulties of our neighbor, as we attempt to juggle our own problems. Other times we shrink from getting involved in the life of a stranger out of fear. How do we rescue this lost art of kindness?

Father Robert Rivers, CSP, in his book, “From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalizing of the Parish,” describes hospitality in these two terms. First, “the word hospitality is derived from the Latin word hospes which means host as well as guest. It has been defined as the act, practice, or quality of being friendly and solicitous towards guests or new arrivals.” Secondly, “Christian hospitality goes back to the practice of philoxenia, a Greek word that means to make the stranger a friend.”

These two definitions of hospitality give us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our baptismal call to really imitate the life of Christ not only as a host, but as a guest and to truly make the stranger among us a friend.

This month have the courage to introduce yourself to the stranger or the visitor in your parish. This month look for an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. This month invite your neighbor over for dinner and dessert.

I encourage you to spend some time this month with this passage from Matthew, as Christ calls us to hospitality:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (25:31-35).

Remember when welcoming the stranger, one welcomes Christ. As we continue to embrace A Catholic Way of Life through the lens of hospitality, let us recommit ourselves to live the grace of our baptism more fervently by being more aware of the needs of our neighbor and the stranger in our midst.

The Summit: Let us reach for a vibrant faith together

This past summer I was invited to go rock climbing with Anders family. This was the first time I’d ever been rock climbing and honestly, I was quite nervous, especially when Cameo turned to me, “Okay, Father Mark, it’s your turn.” Shortly after her invitation, I was harnessed and ready to begin the climb, an ascent up the face of a 50-foot granite wall. This was a bad idea.

Climbing to the summit was a challenging experience. Several times I thought that I’d climbed far enough, but upon looking down the Anders’ children kept cheering me on, “You can do it Father Mark, you can do it!” I finally reached the summit and the panoramic view of the beautiful Black Hills was an incredible sight. Although my body was tired and fatigued, my heart was filled with joy. The arduous ascent was well worth the final prize.

We all need encouragement as we move through life, particularly as we walk this Christian journey. Likewise in life we are met with granite walls that seem insurmountable. However, those painstaking climbs often reap the greatest reward. So too, as a diocese we look forward with desire to grow as disciples, deeper in love with the Lord. Christ’s first disciples labored tirelessly for his kingdom, some to the point of death. We are called to this same mission of love.

Our hope with this new Stewardship plan is very simple — to promote the Catholic Way of Life through hospitality, faith and discipleship. Perhaps your parish has begun to pray our diocesan stewardship prayer, “The Prayer of a Faithful Steward.” For me, the prayer stirs my heart to ask for the grace to live life more abundantly and it invites me to fully participate in building the kingdom of God. The prayer also reminds me to model the “yes” of Mary by seeking and responding to the Holy Spirit, the foundation of the life of the Christian disciple.

Bishop Robert Gruss believes that pursuing this Catholic Way of Life is the true path to discipleship, a path that will lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Who doesn’t want a more vibrant, intimate relationship with Christ? To help all of us grow in this way of life, Bishop Gruss has called for an annual conference on stewardship titled, The Summit. This first stewardship conference will be held June, 12-13 at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center. To promote the Summit, Bishop Gruss recorded a DVD segment to personally invite every person, every family and every parish in the diocese to come. To view this video, visit https://www.rapidcitydiocese.org/stew ardship/. I hope you take the time to watch it if you have not yet seen it.

As a way to help us understand this call of stewardship, this path of true discipleship, Bishop Gruss asked that we read, pray and reflect on the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship — “Stewardship: A Disciples Response. This letter on stewardship describes discipleship as such, “Discipleship requires the surrender of ourselves through grace and choice to Jesus Christ. Mature disciples make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves. A disciple is both a learner and a companion of Jesus Christ, as well as one open to the movement of the Holy Spirit towards a gracious generosity of heart. The authentic disciple regards all he or she is and possesses as gifts and blessings and realizes the need to share those gifts and blessings with others for the sake of the kingdom of God.”

The Summit is an invitation to foster a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. By participating in The Summit, individuals and entire parish communities will be given simple and concrete tools to grow in their life of discipleship. The Summit is for all of us, to encourage, to inspire and even to challenge us to reach for the heights of discipleship. In the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples “Do not be afraid.” Likewise, I encourage you, “Do not be afraid!” Come to The Summit to see what the Lord has in store for you. You do not have to be an expert or insider. You just need a simple thirst for the Lord. We are on this journey together and we need the support, prayer and friendship of one another to ascend.

What can you expect at The Summit? You can expect time to pray, to learn and to meet other people from across the diocese that have the same thirst and desire as you. The presenters at The Summit are from our local parishes. They will present on a wide variety of topics including: the Eucharist, intentional discipleship, creating strong families, writing a stewardship and parish mission statement. To see all of the sessions that will be offered or to register, click on The Summit link at http://terrasancta.org/. In the words of Bl. Pier Georgio Frassati, “Verso l’alto” — toward the heights!

Saint John Paul II encouraged the faithful to get to know Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom he called, “The Man of the Eight Beatitudes.” Pier was a normal young man who loved the outdoors.  He grew up in Turin, Italy, during the early 1900s. Pier Giorgio Frassati showed that we can all be holy by living our friendships, studies, sports, occupation and service to the poor by being in constant relationship with God. One phrase he commonly used was “verso l’alto” meaning toward the top. His life was a constant striving to reach the summit of eternal life. May we not be afraid to strive toward the summit in Christ.

 

Was that the best you could do?

“I Was a Stranger … Welcoming the Stranger Through Hospitality,” was the theme for Pastoral Ministry Days, held at the end of March. During this time together we looked at how our parishes and we as individuals can reach out to others and invite all into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Bishop Robert Gruss began by sharing a biblical understanding of hospitality and he encouraged us to see hospitality as a virtue.

In an article titled, “The Virtue of Hospitality: An Attitude of the Heart,” the author describes hospitality as the simple art of paying attention. “When we pay attention, we divest ourselves of self-preoccupation. To be hospitable we have to get out of ourselves and become interested in the other.” From personal experience, we all know this is easier said than done.

The night of Father Peter Kovarik’s funeral, I was in the cathedral hall vesting for the Mass when a couple approached me. They explained that they were good friends with Father Peter’s parents and were invited to sit with the family for the Mass. This couple asked where the family was gathering. I said, “Do you see the lady dressed in red? She is standing right in front of the kitchen. Go past her and past the kitchen, the first door on the right is the food pantry, the next door on the right is a large meeting room. That’s where you will find the family.” Instead of walking with the couple, I pointed and sent them off with a set of confusing directions to search on their own. After the funeral, as I prayed my nightly examination of consciousness at Casa Maria, I retraced the steps of my day and reflected upon where I encountered Christ with a grateful heart and where I could have done better. On this night, when I remembered my meeting the couple in the cathedral hall, I felt the jolt of the Holy Spirit probing my heart, “Now Father Mark was that generous hospitality — was that the best you could do?” It called me to ask for Our Lord’s mercy for this negligence.

This experience was a needed wake-up call for me. It reminded me that hospitality must be deliberate if I am to truly welcome the stranger in my midst. The heart of one striving to live this generous hospitality sees each person as Christ, each encounter as an opportunity to care for, serve, and love him. The challenge arises, however, as we battle with our selfishness and self-centered focus on our problems and our difficulties. This examination at the end of the day focuses our sight of those in our midst and seeing those in need.

Hospitality invites us to create space, to make room in our hearts to welcome another, to invite another, or simply to be with another, even when it is as simple as saying hello, sharing a hymnal, or inviting a visitor to bring up the gifts at Mass. All of these very simple gestures become far-reaching signs of welcome.

Hospitality happens in the here and now. It demands a directed attentiveness and an immediate response. As I reflected back on the experience at Father Peter’s funeral, I realized I would never get that opportunity again. I failed to act in the now moment of time that God had offered.

We must see hospitality as a holy event. Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche Community in France — a community of peoples with and without disabilities who share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. Vanier writes, “Welcome is one of the signs that says a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share … The community which refuses to welcome — whether through fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it’s fed up with visitors — is dying spiritually.” Vanier’s words certainly challenge us!

Is our parish community alive or dying? How do we welcome one another as the body of Christ? Does our parish offer a generous hospitality to those whose faith has become lukewarm? Do we welcome and acknowledge the visitor or stranger in our midst? Is hospitality a holy virtue in our parish?