God’s plan turns out much better than we can imagine

St. Thomas More High School students Ian Krump, Patrick Kellar, Rose Wingert and Liam McGuire mix cement for a new sidewalk at the Mustard Seed Community in Jamaica. (Courtesy photo)

 

This past Holy Week, I was blessed to be part of the St. Thomas More Mission trip to the Mustard Seeds Communities in Jamaica. One of the great lessons I had to relearn once again is that I need to trust God completely in his plan for our mission trip.

No matter how much we organized and planned out our trip, in the end, God’s plan would turn out much better than we could have imagined. It takes eyes of faith to see God’s plans unfold before us and one thing is for certain: “There are no coincidences with God.”

We left for Jamaica on Saturday, April 13, and spent over seven hours in the Rapid City airport waiting for the thunderstorms in the Dallas area to subside. We finally made it to Dallas that evening but missed our flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica. The earliest they could re-book us was Monday morning. We prayed as a group in the Dallas airport asking that Jesus and Our Lady would provide for a way out of the predicament in which we found ourselves.

We ended up staying at a hotel and renting four vans for our unplanned “layover” in Dallas. Mary Casey, one of the adult leaders, received a text message from a friend of hers encouraging us to go to the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas for Mass, and we decided to go to the Abbey for Palm Sunday Mass after viewing beautiful pictures on their website, even though it meant driving past a parish only minutes from our hotel.

When we reached the Abbey, Abbott Peter happened to catch sight of us as we were coming in. He made sure to officially welcome us at the opening of the Mass and then had Father Anthony give us a tour of the Abbey afterward. Father Anthony’s parents, who happened to be at Mass as well, went and bought donuts for us while we were taking a tour of the Abbey.

As an extra bonus to our time at the Abbey with the monks, we were treated to three amazing vocational testimonies by Father Anthony, Brother Christopher and Abbott Peter. It was truly a grace-filled time at the Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas and so unexpected. Thank you, Lord!

St. Thomas More High School has been sending students on mission trips to the Mustard Seed Communities for the last six years. Mustard Seed Communities began in 1978 as a home for a handful of children with disabilities who had been abandoned to the streets of Jamaica.

Today, MSC provides loving and lifelong care to over 600 children and adults with disabilities, children affected by HIV/AIDS, and young mothers in crisis across Jamaica, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

As we started the trip, I asked our students and adult leaders to name a desire of their hearts, to ask from Jesus a grace that they wanted him to do for them while on this mission trip. Alissa Stephens, a junior, shared this desire of her heart:

“I began to pray about what it was that God wanted me to get from this trip. Eventually, I realized what I desired was a deeper appreciation for the dignity that exists in every human being that I encounter.

“Throughout this trip, I spent numerous hours with the mentally and physically handicapped residents of the Mustard Seed Communities, and it was through doing this that I was able to see God’s love constantly at work in them and in all the members of the mission team.

Stephens continued, “Prior to the trip, I struggled with being able to look at a certain people around me and see God in them, but now it is much easier for me to recognize God’s presence in almost every person that I encounter.

“This trip was an amazing opportunity for me to serve others and at the same time,  grow in my own spiritual life. I can’t wait to continue spreading this newfound love that I acquired while in Jamaica.”

Spreading this newfound love is at the heart of a missionary disciple who has encountered the person of Jesus. Pope Francis writes in his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel”:

 

At the end of the mission trip, we presented each of our young missionary disciples with the Mustard Seed Cross as a reminder to them to proclaim and live Jesus Christ and to see Christ in one another. The Mustard Seed Cross is indispensable to its mission and graces each of their community chapels. They describe it in this way:

“The transparent figure of Jesus represents the risen Christ and the barbed wire cross stands for the sufferings of the world. This unique work symbolizes the hope the resurrected Christ brings to those who may feel trapped by the barbed wires of fear, poverty, injustice, illness, or despair. It is particularly vivid when viewed as dawn breaks during early morning prayer in the Chapel. In the darkness, the cross is the only part that is visible, but as the light grows the body of Jesus becomes more apparent, reinforcing Christ as the light amidst the darkness of our lives and as Light of the world.”

When we returned from our mission trip, I noticed that several of our students were wearing their Mustard Seed Crosses to school, among them Joe Hanson and Michael Eastmo. I asked Joe, who will be entering the seminary this fall for our diocese, about the wearing of the Mustard Seed Cross. Joe responded, “I haven’t taken it off. It serves as a constant reminder to me of our trip and why I went on it.”

I pressed Joe a little bit and asked, “Why did you go?” He replied, “I went on this trip to have the opportunity to serve the most vulnerable in Jamaica, but also to help open my eyes to the presence of Christ in those that I am able to serve. This trip really taught me to see Christ in the people that I am gifted with the opportunity to serve.”

Besides hanging out with the residents, we also engaged in several work projects: painting some residents’ homes, building a sidewalk, hanging doors, putting screens on windows and purchased and built two personal energy transportation hand carts.

In visiting with Mary Casey, who has coordinated several of the St. Thomas More mission trips and helped this past year, she said she would be willing to be the contact person and help to coordinate any groups  looking for a mission trip experience. She can be contacted at: mcasey@rccss.org.

In the words of Pope Francis: “So what are we waiting for?”

 

 

The Announcement of the Year of the Eucharist

“Once you understand the Eucharist, you can never leave the Church. Not because the Church won’t let you, but because your heart won’t let you.”

We just recently celebrated the greatest event in human history — the depth of the Father’s love for us in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In giving away his Son, the Father’s only and deepest desire was and is to have a relationship with those whom he has called his own — each and every one of us.

As the mystical body of Christ, in our Catholic communities, each week we gather to experience this reality in the celebration of the most holy Eucharist. Far from being merely an event that we attend, it is here, in this sacramental moment, where each of us is drawn into this great mystery of love.

In order to draw us more deeply into this mystery, I have called for a Holy Year of the Eucharist in the Diocese of Rapid City. Unlike recent holy years, such as the Year of Faith and the Year of Mercy, this was not initiated by the Holy Father for the Church around the world. It is intended to invite each of us in western South Dakota to a deeper experience of encounter with Christ.

Because sin has entered into the world, humanity has fallen far from God’s graces, keeping us from that original holiness and thus subjecting us to “eternal” death. Our Catholic faith proclaims a “good news” and gives us an answer of hope that death does not have the last word. God’s compassion toward us and his mercy are infinite. “But God has proved his love for us. While we were still sinners Christ was sent into the world by the Father to die for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath (Rom 5:8-9).”

Through his death on the Cross, Jesus presented to the Father in heaven his perfect homage and obedience as reparation for humanity’s disobedience and sin. Jesus offered himself on the Cross for each of us, fulfilling his own words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Christ’s complete act of charity towards humanity allows us the opportunity to re-establish an authentic relationship with God and grow towards that original holiness.

This saving action of Jesus Christ is re-presented each time the Eucharist is celebrated. “It is Christ himself, the eternal priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priest, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.”

The Church fathers of the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The Church draws her very life from the Eucharist. The other sacraments and all the works of the Church flow from and are directed toward this great mystery.

The Church’s mission, our mission, flows from the mission of Christ: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). From the Eucharist, the Church draws her spiritual power and then is sent on mission to “go therefore and make disciples” (Mt 28-19). The Eucharist comes to be “both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”

Our union with Christ in the Eucharist, both a gift and grace, makes it possible for us, in him, to embrace fully his mission of love and mercy. When we come to understand this great mystery celebrated in the Eucharist and participate fully each time we gather, our lives will never be the same. We come to understand more deeply the Father’s love for us in Christ Jesus. Our desire for spiritual union with the Lord deepens. Our own sacrificial love intensifies and expands. Our aspiration to serve the Lord grows. These are the very fruits of our holy Communion.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought of how the Lord Jesus desires to bring us, individually and communally, deeper into this love relationship. When we deeply encounter Love, we are transformed by it, and become like the Lover.

As shepherd of the Diocese of Rapid City, I long to help others come to know and experience Jesus in a more personal and life-changing way, especially through the celebration of the Sunday Mass.

Over the past many years, there has been a decline in Mass attendance around the world. Half of all baptized Catholics in the United States who have left the Church now declare no church affiliation. Every family knows of people who no longer regularly attend Mass or have fallen away from the Church altogether. Perhaps it is because they have no clear understanding of the Eucharist, the Church’s greatest treasure. Or perhaps they came to Mass but did not give themselves over to this beautiful encounter with Love.

If not attended to, our faith can “become like smoldering cinders or embers — weakened by sin and secularism. It must be reawakened, fanned into flame. We must help Christians to encounter once again, this Jesus, especially those who have left the Church.”  The Year of the Eucharist is meant to help awaken the hearts of all Catholics across the Diocese of Rapid City, deepening the desire for Jesus in all of us. Celebrating this Year of the Eucharist is meant to help us come to a deeper understanding, appreciation, and experience of the Church’s greatest treasure.

This Holy Year of the Eucharist will commence on Sunday, June 23, 2019, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and will conclude on that same Solemnity, Sunday, June 14, 2020.

Over the course of this year, the focus of the spiritual life of the diocese will be oriented towards the importance of the holy Eucharist in our lives as Catholics. All adult and youth religious education will give attention to some aspect of the Holy Eucharist — the Mass, its meaning and importance; Eucharistic Adoration; etc. Materials have been prepared for use in all parishes to help the faithful come to a deeper understanding and experience of this great gift so that the Eucharist will always be held in highest honor, received devoutly and frequently, and worshiped with supreme adoration. These materials will also assist pastors in carrying out their responsibility to teach the faithful diligently about this area of sacramental life.

By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, we will show that we are attentive to the importance of the greatness of this gift Jesus left us. Over the course of this year, we will recall in more intentional ways the central event of history of our Catholic faith — Christ offering himself on the cross, the acceptable sacrifice which is made present each and every time the holy Eucharist is celebrated. This is at the heart of the Gospel and the living

Tradition of the Church. Christ has promised to be with us always (Mt 28:20), and he is to be known, loved and imitated. The holy Eucharist brings us into communion with him, enabling us to live with him in the life of the Trinity, and to not only be transformed by this love, but, with him, to transform the world through our lives made holy by this union.

We must remember that we are never alone because through the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our food for the journey, strengthening us to become, for everyone, witnesses of love and hope for the world.

As we begin the Year of the Eucharist, let us not forget Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. We ask her to intercede for us and assist us in meeting her Son in the Eucharist.  Every time we approach Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we turn to her who received the lifeless body of her son, and so received Christ’s sacrifice for the whole Church. In her, the world is renewed in Christ’s love. Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, pray for us.

 

Given in Rapid City, on 27 April, the Vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter, or the Sunday of Divine Mercy, in the year of our Lord 2019, the eighth year of my Episcopacy.

+Most Rev. Robert D. Gruss

Bishop of Rapid City

 

Video of text read by Bishop Gruss:

 

 

Year of the Eucharist

The Liturgy Commission of the Diocese has been working with me to develop a series of short teachings that can be used throughout the Year of the Eucharist in the context of the celebration of the Mass.

West River Catholic May 2019

Enjoy the May 2019 West River Catholic

Download pdf

 

Teachings from ‘out of the mouths of babes’

Shawna Hanson, Director Office of Stewardship

 

“Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Mt 19:14).

There are a group of dedicated disciples who are already meeting to assist the Office of Stewardship in planning the Youth Track for Summit 2019 which will be held on Saturday, September 28. Watching all of their creative ideas come together to create a wonderful day for all of the children who will come is truly a joy.

This year our focus will be on the Eucharist and it has been a real gift to me to experience some of the presentations that are given to our youth as part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I think the same holds true for children’s catechesis.  The best lessons are those that are also appreciated by adults. My own faith has been enriched and deepened by these presentations on the Eucharist. They gently and beautifully share the truth of the tremendous gift we have been given and by the time they are finished, my heart has been moved to deep gratitude and wonder.

We often think it is the role of adults to teach children, but in my experience it is children who often teach adults. A very long time ago I read that children are proof that God has not yet given up on us. In the last month three people have shared stories of children with me that both warm my heart and teach me profound truths.

A very dedicated young couple are very actively studying how best to pass on the faith to their eldest son who turned three in December. After learning about a young child’s tremendous capacity for memorization and the benefits to their brain development of doing so, they decided to work with their young son to help him memorize the Baltimore Catechism. They shared this conversation with me:

Mom: Who made you?

3-year old: God

Mom: Who is God?

3-year old: The supreme being who made all things.

Mom: Why did God make us?

3-year old: To share in his goodness and to be with him in heaven

Mom: How do we get to heaven?

3-year old: Uh …on a ladder?

On the Feast of St. Joseph, another mom shared this story:  “This morning I told my 6-year old, Joseph, that today was his feast day.”

Joe: Really? It is my feast day?

Mom: Yes!

Joe: Wow! I have the most powerful saint ever!

Mom: Really? How so?

Joe: My saint was the boss of Jesus!

And finally, a long-time parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral shared this memory with me recently.  “Many years ago, we were at the 10:30 a.m. Mass and a young family was sitting near the front. Their toddler was being disruptive and finally the father picked him up and started heading to the back of the church down the center aisle.  The young boy exclaimed quite loudly, ‘N-o-o-o! Daddy, don’t spank me!’ His young friend, sitting a few pews behind him, yelled back loud enough for all to hear, ‘We will pray for you!’”

What have I learned from these small disciples? That the God who made all things, the billions of stars we see in the sky down to the smallest flower on earth also made us and desires our happiness both in this world and in the next. This God chose to become man and allowed himself to be put under the authority of mere humans, Joseph and Mary. He died a horrific death on the cross out of love for us and that we might have a reconciled, intimate, covenant relationship with him and he invites us to share that love with our brothers and sisters — to pray and support one another in our times of difficulty and in joy. As Christian stewards we are called to care for the many gifts that God showers upon us, to be grateful and to return those gifts with increase to the Lord, but the greatest gift he showers upon us are children. Let us gratefully receive these gifts, rejoice in them and give our best to lead them into the loving arms of our Father. May you have a joy-filled Easter season! He is truly risen, Alleluia!

Pray together with the pope and our bishop

In the four Eucharistic Prayers that are used at Sunday Mass, we pray for unity and peace, for faith and charity in the church. Together with the pope and our bishop, we ask God the Father to grant us these graces. The four Eucharistic Prayers express our belief that we, the body of Christ, the Risen Lord present in the world today, are united with the Pope and our bishop.

I say “we” because, although the Eucharistic Prayer is vocalized by the priest, we all pray the Eucharistic Prayer through our attentive listening and in the sung acclamations. Together with the priest we are offering this prayer to God the Father through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the past few weeks I have reflected on this moment in the Eucharistic Prayer. Our church is under attack. Our Holy Father along with bishops throughout our country have been challenged on many levels. To be sure these are difficult times and there are many unanswered questions about serious matters in the church. All the more reason to renew our efforts to pray for this unity in the body of Christ, for the Holy Father, our bishop and bishops throughout the world.

The words of the Eucharistic Prayer are powerful. This is the high point of the celebration of the Mass. We are joining our sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice. Christ died to bring unity to all people. His first words to his disciples in John’s Gospel when he appeared to them were, “Peace be with you.” Christ desires unity and peace in his church. When we join our sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice, foremost in our minds and hearts should be His desire of unity. As we pray the Eucharistic Prayer, we believe that God the Father hears our prayer because it is the prayer of Christ himself. Jesus told us that God always hears his prayer.

The Eucharistic Prayer also calls us to action. During the disagreements that will inevitably manifest themselves we are called to exercise charity. In our conversations around the dinner table and the office, we must strive for clarity in the truth and understanding. Sharing our understanding must be united to our listening to others. This is how we arrive at the truth and how the unity for which we are praying will be manifested. I am always grateful when those moments of dialogue happen. This is how God continues to work within us and between us.

Unity will come to the church. May we pray earnestly for this and do our part to ensure the building up of church unity.

I would encourage you to reflect on this the next time you celebrate Mass and hear that part of the Eucharistic Prayer that says: “Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant Francis our Pope and Robert our Bishop” (EP III) or “Be pleased to grant her (the church) peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world together with your servant Francis our Pope and Robert our Bishop.” (EP I)

The Diocese of Rapid City would have a public face in the community

The Diocese of Rapid City is working on creating a new pastoral center in the Black Hills Federal Credit Union building on Main Street in Rapid City. The credit union is selling this building and will move into a new facility across the street in a couple months. (WRC photo)

 

The Living the Mission Campaign is moving into full swing. The pilot phase has been successfully completed and the parishes in block one are fully engaged in the process. I am not only pleased, but deeply grateful for the generosity that I have seen thus far in the campaign. It speaks of peoples’ holy desire to live the mission of Jesus Christ, helping the diocese to move forward with what has been laid out in the Diocesan Priority Plan beginning in 2015. It is my hope that we are well on our way to a very successful campaign.

I would like to take the opportunity to update you on a very important priority for the Diocese of Rapid City. It too, was a key priority outlined in the Diocesan Priority Plan — a new pastoral center to include not only the chancery (offices of the bishop, diocesan administration and the archives) but also the offices of the personnel who provide pastoral ministry throughout the diocese. Before I do so, let’s look back for a moment.

As we recall, phase two of the We Walk By Faith appeal had originally planned for the renovation of space at Terra Sancta to be used for all of our diocesan offices. Due to lack of space at the main chancery located next to the cathedral, several departments were moved to the Terra Sancta Retreat Center on the northwest side of Rapid City — not the most ideal situation. The archives and the offices of our ministries including Faith Formation, Family Life Ministries, Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Stewardship, Vocations, the Marriage Tribunal, and Native American Ministry, are all currently located at Terra Sancta. Because of the overwhelming success of the Terra Sancta Retreat Center and the increase in diocesan staff, the retreat center is no longer a viable option as a new home for our diocesan offices. Our staff has almost doubled in the seven and a half years that I have been here.

Currently, my staff is spread across three buildings in two locations. At the main Chancery located near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we have some staff using space that was originally intended as a closet and file room. We also have staff who work different days each week in order to share a desk and shelf space. We have a very limited number of conference rooms which must be shared by many departments and 40 staff people. The longer these types of issues persist, the more difficult and costly it will be to address.

It has always been my desire to have a new pastoral center that will meet current and future needs more centrally located in Rapid City as a matter of convenience for the people we serve, at least locally. We have been quietly looking for a building that would provide adequate space for a couple of years. When we completed the facility master plan for the Terra Sancta campus a year and a half ago, we included a new pastoral center to be built there because we

already owned the land.

Last February, we became aware that the Black Hills Federal Credit Union building at 225 Main Street was coming on the market in the near future. We toured the building and began a conversation with the owners about the possibility of purchasing it. At the same time we had our architect look at it to determine if the facility had adequate space based on our initial plan for a new pastoral center on the Terra Sancta campus. We also had an appraisal and

inspection completed to assist us in determining if this could be a possibility for a new pastoral center.

My own excitement grew as I thought of the possibility of having the presence of the Catholic Church in downtown Rapid City. What a blessing that would be!

Over the course of the past ten months, we have been in negotiations with Black Hills Federal Credit Union to purchase this building. After a renovation process, it would provide enough office space to meet our current and future needs, allowing all of our staff to be together under one roof as well as ample parking for chancery staff and visitors — not to mention that the downtown location will give the diocese a very public face in our community.

I am very happy to say that we have recently signed a purchase agreement to acquire the building and the parking lots surrounding the Credit Union. We have agreed upon a four million dollar purchase price and could take possession in late February or March,

depending upon how soon Black Hills Federal Credit Union is able to vacate the building and move into their new building across the street. With the remodeling necessary to accommodate the unique features and space requirements of a pastoral center, we believe that this option will cost $1-1.5 million less than a new building. The renovation process could take ten to twelve months.

We have been in our current location since 1975, serving the needs of the diocese from there for approximately 44 years. Like most families, most companies move multiple times in a 44 year history. I believe this new pastoral center will serve the needs of the Diocese of Rapid City for many, many years to come and also allow us to be the face of Christ to those we serve in the heart of Rapid City! That is the true blessing!