September 20, 2018

The Church blesses us this time of year with many opportunities to reflect on the Blessed Mother beginning with the Solemnity of her Assumption in mid-August, to the celebration of Her nativity on the 8th of September, to the Most Holy Name of Mary on the 12th and finally the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows this past Saturday. She has been in the forefront of my mind and heart all summer and it has been such a gift to join my own attentiveness to that of the larger church this past month.

In June, the Office of Stewardship hosted Chris and Tony from Casting Nets Ministries once again for our Ambassador’s Training.  They challenged the participants to pray 1000 Memorares for the success of the upcoming Summit.  Interestingly, when they were here in 2017, I was able to take them to the Cathedral and they shared with me that their ministry has been entrusted to Our Lady under the title, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.”  She seems to have been with us in a very particular way since then, as our patroness and theirs under, ironically, the same title.

This summer, many people have indeed been praying Memorares.  Some have shared with me how many they have prayed, and it adds up to over 32,500!  I am confident many more than this have been prayed that I am not aware of. One parishioner shared, “I’ve grown to love this prayer.  I hadn’t had it memorized before this venture, of course, now I do!  I find myself automatically saying it as I fall to sleep at night!”  What a beautiful thing!  Only good things can come of a greater dedication to regular prayer and devotion to Our Lady in our own lives and in the Diocese as a whole.

I believe She is blessing us tremendously.  This coming Saturday we will have over 500 people attend the Summit.  This is the largest group Terra Sancta has ever hosted.  I am confident that Mary has her mantle of protection over the event.  I know that God desires to richly bless his people.  I am fervently praying for open hearts and open minds, for eloquence for our inspirational speakers, for safety and fun for the 100+ children attending our Youth Track and for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those that attend.  Please join me in praying for the day, that all who come might encounter our Lord in a real and concrete way and experience His love and mercy.  And please join me in offering our deepest gratitude to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for her love and her care for us and for the gift of answered prayer. Thank you, Mother Mary,!

Shawna

September 10, 2018

Congratulations to the staff and members of the new Newman Center serving Black Hills State University!

The Office of Stewardship rejoices with the staff and students at the BH Newman Center on the occasion of the dedication of your new Newman Center.  What a joyous occasion and what a beautiful new facility!  I know that much hard work has gone into bringing you to this day and it is with joy and gratitude that the whole church in Western South Dakota rejoices with you.

As we enter into September, it is not just university students in Spearfish but many of us all over the Diocese are just beginning another year of study; as students, as teachers in public and private schools, and as catechists.  I pray that this year is a fruitful one for all of us and that no matter where we are studying, we are being exposed to and drawing closer to all that is True, Good and Beautiful.

Under the second pillar of Stewardship, Lively Faith, is Study.  I think it is a good time to remember that all of us, young and old, are encouraged to be “life-long learners”, particularly in our faith lives.  God is infinite and there is always more to learn about Him and about our beautiful Catholic faith. This is one way we are good stewards of our time and of the treasure of our faith.  Recently, I have been encouraged to keep learning by one precept given to us in the “Daily Decalogue of Pope John XXIII”: “Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.”

Encouraging me to read only for 10 minutes and “only for today”, makes this goal reasonable and attainable despite the fact that life is very full.  Sometimes, if we are only able to do a little, we are tempted not to do anything at all.  But ten minutes a day adds up over time and bears great fruit in the long run.  This summer I have been blessed by, “My Sisters the Saints” by Colleen Carroll Campbell, “Scalia Speaks” by Antonin Scalia and I am currently reading, “God or Nothing” by Cardinal Robert Sarah.  Next on my list is the “Brother’s Karamazov” and I suspect 10 minutes a day may be the only way I will get through Dostoyevsky! And you?  What are you feeding your soul with?

August 16, 2018

Last week I was on vacation and was privileged to spend the week with my husband, all of my children and my grandson on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  What a beautiful place!  I enjoyed the history, the scenery, and most especially the time with those I love the most.  The drive home, however, can get VERY long!  I spent some time listening to podcasts and two in particular, that I wanted to share with you because they pertain to our pursuit of living Stewardship as a Way of Life.

The first is an interview that was done on Real Presence Radio.  The host of their live show interviewed one of the speakers for this year’s Summit, Matt Loboda.  I hope you have the Summit on your calendar!  It is going to be a fantastic day.  Unlike previous years, this year’s Summit is NOT a conference.  It is a day of renewal, a day to sit back, relax and be inspired.  As we have worked to plan this day, we have planned it with you in mind – all of you who faithfully attend Mass on Sunday, who give of their time to the Church, who are busy working and raising families and serving in so many ways.  Matt’s testimony will be one of the highlights of the day.  I am really looking forward to hearing him speak.  He is a gifted storyteller and has a very powerful story to tell of the miraculous healing of his daughter Joy.  To learn more about the Summit in general, or Matt’s story in particular, or to register, visit: www.The2018Summit.com. To hear Matt’s interview, which gives a wonderful introduction to who he is, please visit: https://yourcatholicradiostation.com/real-presence-live-podcasts.  The segment is “RPL Hr. 1 August 8”.

The second is a short, weekly podcast I often listen to called “Ascension Presents.”  In the episode linked below, Fr. Mike Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth talks about the virtue of courtesy.  One of the things he explains is the root of this idea of courtesy.  The word has its roots in the rules of a court (COURTesy).  In the days of kings, queens and court jesters there were rules that were followed at Court.  These rules allowed those in the court to recognize those that were speaking and those that were being spoken to and acknowledged the dignity of both.  Ultimately, he shares, the virtue of courtesy is rooted in our belief in the dignity of every human person.  I was struck by the connection to our value of Generous Hospitality. This virtue of courtesy is essential to our practice of Generous Hospitality.  The second thing that struck me as I listened was Fr. Mike’s comment, “courtesy costs us something.”  Most often what it costs us is our time.  What is the most common response to the question, “How are you?”  I believe it is almost always some version of, “Good, but I am so BUSY.”  Busy is America’s favorite word.  Because of this, I believe we struggle with the Stewardship of Time; that is, seeing time as a gift given to us by God to be received gratefully and given back to him generously.  So, the intentional practice of the virtue of courtesy can also be an opportunity to sacrifice a bit of our time for the good of the other and cultivate the stewardship of time.

Fr. Mike shares the importance of this virtue for Catholics much more eloquently than I could, so please sacrifice 8 minutes and 32 seconds of the gift of time given to us each day to watch him at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRGz7-hrWms.  He almost always manages to either challenge, inform and/or entertain me in these 8-minute segments.  I hope you, too, find inspiration in his wisdom.

I look forward to seeing your registration to the Summit!  Come. Be Inspired. Be Renewed.

Shawna

August 9, 2018

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the new Administrative Assistant for the Offices of Vocations and Stewardship, Maru (Maria) Oszwaldowska.  Fr. Mark and I are excited to have her join our team.  She brings many gifts to the office and I know you will find her very friendly and helpful.  Maru has lived in many different places before settling here in Rapid City with her husband, Rafal, a Professor of Physics at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.  She was born in Honduras and has also lived or worked in the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, California, Louisiana, and New York.  She holds a degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for large companies in product development and project management. Recently, she has been volunteering her time to assist the Diocese with the National Encuentro and also assisting us in communicating with Juan Carlos Urrego, a Columbian man who is interested in studying for the priesthood for our Diocese; something which Fr. Mark and I are very grateful for since neither of us speak Spanish. Most importantly, she has a great love for the Lord and for the Church.  Rafal and Maria have three beautiful children, Marek (9), Aneta (5) and Beata (4) who attend school here at Terra Sancta and her office hours will typically follow their school schedule: 8:00 am – 2:30 pm each day.  Her email address is: moszwaldowska@diorc.org and her phone number is:  605-716-5214 ext. 233.  She is in my old office at Terra Sancta.  Please stop by or call and introduce yourself to her.  She is looking forward to serving the Diocese, meeting all of you and serving you in your work in our parishes!

August 2, 2018

Last week I attended the Regional Stewardship Conference in Sioux Falls with over 200 others from Minnesota, North and South Dakota.  We were warmly welcomed by the staff of the Catholic Community Foundation for Eastern South Dakota and the Parish of St. Michael’s.  I wanted to share some of the highlights of the conference with you:

The keynote addresses were livestreamed on Facebook.  You can access and watch them here:https://www.facebook.com/sdcatholicfoundation/videos/10156682261645701/

In the first keynote,  the Most Reverend Robert F. Morneau shared five convictions regarding Stewardship.  He broke open the statement:  “Stewardship is to receive God’s gifts gratefully, to nurture and tend God’s gifts responsibly, to share them justly and charitably and to return God’s gifts abundantly.    Bishop Morneau has been writing and speaking about Stewardship for many years.

The second keynote given by the Most Reverend Donald Kettler, Bishop of St. Cloud Minnesota, focused on nurturing Stewardship in a small, rural parish or ministry – a topic which seems particularly useful in our Diocese.

The conference also offered 12 breakout sessions split into three sessions.  I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Dr. Chris Burgwald, Director of Adult Discipleship and Evangelization for the Diocese of Sioux Falls speak on the importance of prayer.  He said, “If stewardship is the response of a disciple, what does it mean to be a disciple?  It means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, and the name of that relationship is prayer.”  Dr. Burgwald is a wise and delightful speaker and gave us many practical insights into persevering in prayer.  In the Catechism, the Church quotes St. Therese, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”  (CCC2558) Dr. Burgwald witnessed to the transformative power of developing a habit of gazing at God when speaking of this quote.  When we remember to keep the eye of our mind and heart fixed on Jesus, it transforms our prayer.  Then we begin to intentionally dialogue with a person.  This deepens our conversation and assists us in developing the habit of listening to God and not falling into a pattern of doing all the talking.

I also enjoyed the presentation by Darryl Dziedzic, a Youth Minister from Altomonte Springs, FL.  Darryl shared his own story, growing up Catholic, spending some time discerning the priesthood, eventually leaving seminary, marrying and his career as a teacher and youth minister.  Darryl had good advice on how best to engage millennials and was a delight to listen to.  One interesting note:  Although Social Media plays a very important part in the life of a young person in our culture, a ministry’s presence there only becomes effective after engaging that young person in a face-to-face encounter.  Once the young person knows you, knows that you have a genuine interest in their well-being, then and only then, does a connection on social media with you become important to them.

Please keep in mind that this regional conference is held every year somewhere in Region VIII.  It is a good opportunity to learn more about Stewardship and how it can be lived out in the parish.  As information becomes available about it, I will pass it on.

July 31, 2018

A couple of months ago, a friend shared with me some examples of church “stewardship” or “annual” reports.  Most of them came from churches in the Protestant tradition.  In sharing these with me, she commented,  “These reports are exciting.  They are motivational; they are inspiring!  I mean, when I look at these I want to be a part of their mission.  They are making a difference in the world; their efforts and their money are making a huge difference!  We all want to be a part of something that makes a difference.”  I wholeheartedly agree with her.  We all want to make a positive difference and humans have a desire to be a part of something larger than themselves.  I have had the privilege of being a part of projects and programs that were successful.  The sure knowledge of the good that you were a part of was contagious and motivating. I have also had other experiences where I felt like I was being asked to climb aboard a ship that was wandering aimlessly in the water.  Or worse yet, being asked to climb aboard a sinking ship.  Sometimes, these impressions weren’t even accurate.  But those already involved either failed to communicate the mission and its purpose or they had become discouraged and disheartened and communicated that to others.  As Christians we know that this human desire to do good and to be part of something larger is rooted in being created by Love, out of love and for Love.  It is the voice of the Lord beckoning to us and to be a part of His mission.

Although I agree with my friend, I am also challenged by her words and the samples she shared with me.  And not because I don’t think our parishes are doing wonderful things. But producing a document like this takes skill and a great deal of data collection and tracking.  It takes some savvy marketing skills.  Even so,  I think it is worth thinking about and considering.  These are some of the questions these reports raised in me:

  • When we communicate with our parishioners, what message are we sending?  What is the overall impression they are left with?  The feelings our communications invoke?
  • And how often and what kind of information do we communicate?  Are many unaware of all that our parish does?  Do we tell the stories of how our parish impacts the lives of people?
  • Do our parishioners know the GOOD NEWS of what is happening in our parish?
  • Are they inspired?  Do they believe that by contributing to the life of the parish, they are making a difference in the world?

Two of the reports my friend shared with me are linked below.  I know that many of you come from parishes MUCH smaller than these communities.  And a stewardship report in your parish might look very different from these, but allow yourself to be challenged and inspired by the principle and the possibilities.  What might God be asking of us?  How can share the Good News of our parish with others?

I am grateful for all the good things I see happening in Western South Dakota.  God is Good!

Shawna

Attachments/Stewardship Reports:

Our Lady of Good Council, Plymouth, MI

Transformation Church, Tulsa, OK

July 19, 2018

Today’s Gospel reading contains this quote from Jesus from Matthew chapter 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

If you haven’t seen them yet, you might be surprised by this year’s Summit promotional materials.  They have a new look!  The Summit, too, will be different this year.  This ad, and the other four we have created attempt to capture what I often see as I look around, in my parish, in my workplace, in my children’s schools, in my friendships.  I do not see, in large part, people who walk as if their burdens are light.  Too often, I witness over scheduled, overburdened, tired people who feel as if they are being pulled in too many directions.  Their response to the question, “How are you?” is almost always, “BUSY.”

“Coming to Jesus is the condition for finding relief.  All we need to do is choose to enter the sphere of his presence, and the unnatural pressures borne down upon us by both the world and ourselves begin to dissipate.” (from Fire of Mercy, heart of the Word:  Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew).  This year’s Summit has been designed to offer an opportunity for you and those you love to “come to Jesus”.  It, like our promotional materials, has been completely re-designed.  It will not focus on information; it is not a conference.  Instead it is an opportunity to come and spend the day being inspired and renewed by the saving message and presence of Jesus.  The day will feature inspiring talks, adoration, confession, Sunday Vigil Mass, good food, music and fellowship.  I would invite you all to register and come.  Be inspired. Be renewed.  For more details, visit:  www.The2018Summit.com

But we don’t have to wait until September 22nd to find relief for life’s burdens.  I believe Jesus desires to give us his yoke daily; to give us His rest daily.  How do we find it today and take it upon our shoulders?  Living a Catholic Way of Life means being “stewards of everything the Lord has created and given to us, receiving it joyfully with gratitude and then sacrificially sharing with others from what we have received” (Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish, Introduction). This includes our time.  All 1,440 minutes of every day have been given to us by God as a gift.  Do we receive them as such?   Two practical habits help me to receive time as a gift:

  • The very ancient practice of the Morning Offering. When I wake up, I begin my day by thanking God for the gift of the day and then I offer it to him, “all my works, joys and sufferings of the day”
  • I spend ½ hour at the beginning of my day in silence and with the Word of God (usually the daily Gospel).  I ask the Lord what he would have me do with the Time he has given me this day.  I lay the heavy yoke of my own expectations and the world’s demands at the foot of the cross and I strive to receive from Him, His Yoke, His plan for the day.  When I do this well, my burden is light, the yoke is easy.  God is faithful, He keeps his promises.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

July 12, 2018

My thanks to all of you who responded with suggestions for the name change of this weekly email/blog post and all of the encouraging words which came with them! Your support means a lot to me. Many of you made me smile, but only one email actually made me laugh out loud.  I thought it worth sharing with all of you:

Ah, the invitation to come up with a name always intrigues me!

I thought of “Shawna’s Sherpas” but it didn’t really fit.
. . . . .Then, “Hanson’s Helpers” but that was pretty lame.
“Stewardship Staples” …meh.
“Hey, YOU!” (This might not be inspiring, but it does get my kids’ attention)  🙂
So, I guess my vote is going for “Soul Seekers!”

Perhaps it won’t strike you as funny, but as a mother of 5 and grandmother of one very busy 2-year old currently visiting at my house, I laughed out loud, so for this week anyway it had to go in the subject line.

On a more pertinent note, I wanted to share another story from Girls Totus Tuus with you this week. I received a phone call from Katie at Our Lady of the Black Hills in Piedmont the week before camp started  She asked me for the names of all of the girls registered for camp from their parish because they were going to list the girls’ names in the bulletin along with a request asking the parish to keep these girls in prayer during the week. This a simple way to live both the values of fellowship and prayer. I suspect the girls and their families felt supported by the parish because of this simple act and in this way a sense community and fellowship are fostered. It also gives all in the community an opportunity to pray and is one simple way a parish can act as a “School of Prayer.” Next week, another opportunity to pray for our youth is upon us. Boys Totus Tuus Camp begins on Sunday, July 15. We have 19 high school and 39 middle school boys coming to camp this year. Six of our seminarians, 8 of our priests and over 15 volunteers will assist Craig Dyke, the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, in a fun-filled, prayerful week. We know there have been so many positive fruits from these camps over the years.  Let us pray that these young men encounter Jesus in a real and concrete way this coming week, that they come to know of His great love for them and that He has a plan for their lives.  May they entrust themselves to this plan, whatever it is. And since they are a crowd of teenage boys, let’s pray for their safety and health as well!

Peace!
Shawna

July 5, 2018

Sometimes it is difficult to judge how our efforts to provide Generous Hospitality in our parishes are perceived by guests and parishioners alike.  For that reason, I think it is helpful to share the feedback we do occasionally receive.  Last week, the Office of Vocations hosted Girls Totus Tuus Camp for middle and high-school aged girls.  One of my responsibilities has been to manage registration for our camps.  In May, I received a registration for a young woman from the Diocese of Bismarck.  Within minutes of receiving the online registration, I also received a follow-up email from this young woman’s mother.  She was concerned that perhaps our camp was only open to those in the Diocese of Rapid City.  After assuring her that her daughter was welcome atTotus Tuus, she shared the following comment:

“We live in and are active parishioners of the Diocese of Bismarck in North Dakota.  However, we spend a good portion of our summers and a bit of our winters in the Black Hills each year.  We attend Mass at Blessed Sacrament in Rapid City in the summers.  Everyone is so welcoming there, to the point that we have been invited to bring up gifts and my daughter has even been an Altar Server when they were short one Sunday.”

 The Generous Hospitality practiced at Blessed Sacrament is the primary reason this young woman attended camp this year and has gone a long way to make this family feel welcome in our Diocese.  I have visited with some of the hospitality ministers who are responsible for asking parishioners to bring up the gifts each Sunday.  It is sometimes difficult.  Although taking up the gifts may seem to many of us a simple task, it is daunting for many and those who ask hear “no” quite often.  However, as this story illustrates, it is well worth the effort and it is making a positive difference!

The Office of Vocations extends a heartfelt “thank you” to those who practice this Generous Hospitality at Blessed Sacrament parish.  In doing so, you have also helped our office promote our camp and continue the work of creating a culture of vocations in our Diocese.

On another note, the change of assignments within our Diocese became effective this past weekend and Fr. Mark has now officially taken over his new assignments at St. Thomas More and the Newman Center in Rapid City and I will be assuming responsibility for the Office of Stewardship. I would like to continue sharing news and stories related to Stewardship with all of you on a regular basis.  I have been pondering a new name for this weekly email, but haven’t hit upon just the right one.  If you have a suggestion, I would love to hear from you!

Blessings,

Shawna

June 21, 2018

This past weekend we had our Stewardship Training — Ambassadors for Christ. We had 8 priests and Deacon Zane Pekron that were able to participate in the Friday workshop and 60 parish leaders that came from 19 parishes from across the Diocese and the Rapid City Catholic Schools for the Friday evening and Saturday workshop. One of the goals of the stewardship training was to help and encourage pastors and parish lay leaders to learn how to personally invite members from their parish community to the Stewardship Summit this coming September 21 and 22.

Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart, the presenters from Casting Nets Ministries, encouraged participants to consider their own circle of influence when inviting parishioners to the Stewardship Summit. This year’s Summit is an evangelistic event designed to help and foster an encounter with the living person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a new way in people’s lives. The Summit this year is being designed specifically for the parishioners who are at Mass on Sunday or at least several times a month, who aren’t necessarily involved in anything outside of Mass, and yet who are thirsting for more in a relationship with Christ.

How many of us are simply content in own relationship with Jesus?  I raised this question last Saturday at the Ambassadors training and not one person raised their hand, including myself. Aren’t we all searching and thirsting for more Christ in our lives?

The desire for Bishop Gruss is that everyone in our diocese would be personally invited to the Stewardship Summit. However, with over 23,000 Catholics in our diocese it is almost impossible for Bishop Gruss to personally invite every Catholic in our diocese to the Summit. That is where we come in, to extend a personal invitation on behalf of Bishop Gruss for people to come to the Summit knowing that it is an invitation to open our hearts to encounter Christ who is alive and to come ready to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit in a new way.

It was interesting last weekend, Tony Brandt asked how me how many people fit into the Holy Cross Chapel at Terra Sancta.  I told him 525 is our maximum with folding chairs and with that said “Summit: Operation 525” was borne.

Our goal is to get 525 people to participate in this year’s Stewardship Summit for the parishes across the diocese. We need your help in reaching our goal of 525 to fill the Holy Cross Chapel to the full.

The only way I know this can happen is first by becoming a beggar in prayer before the Lord. And secondly is to personally invite those in our own circle of influences in our parishes to the Summit. I am encouraging and inviting you to pray a thousand Memorares with the intention of the Stewardship Summit — Operation 525. I have attached a card to help you to becoming a beggar before the Lord, asking our Lady to intercede for us in Operation 525.

If you are willing to participate in this and pray a thousand Memorares, please print out and fill in the boxes on the card below. When finished, please send this card to Shawna.

June 8, 2018

I recently asked Joni Osnes, Adult Faith Formation Coordinator at Our Lady of the Black Hills to share with me her experience with the ChristLife Evangelization process originally designed in the Diocese of Baltimore.  Bringing this process to the parish is one way Our Lady of the Black Hills is striving to be a Stewardship parish.  Here is Joni’s experience:

“In 2016 Bishop Gruss addressed the people of the Diocese of Rapid City with his pastoral letter entitled Through Him, With Him, and in Him.  The bishop expressed his desire for this diocese to become a diocese with a real mission.  For this vision to become a reality, he felt it was important to develop a priority plan for the diocese.  Bishop Gruss invited us to engage and embrace the Diocesan Priority Plan so that, as our Sacred Mission states, we can “attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly, and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ, leading to eternal life.”

As the Adult Faith Formation Coordinator at Our Lady of the Black Hills and in response to Bishop Gruss’ challenge, I began researching programs and processes that were available so that we could form these intentional disciples.  In many ways, I think the Holy Spirit was prompting me to choose a process called ChristLife, an evangelization process that began in Archdiocese of Baltimore in the 1990s.  Specifically, when my husband John retired in April 2017, we planned a trip to celebrate.  I discovered that we would be in the Baltimore area precisely when the National Training Conference for ChristLife was scheduled.  This was a process I had looked at a year before and thought might be a good fit for our parish.  We registered and attended and came from that conference with excitement and resolve to get that process going.  We were encouraged by the other participants of the conference who had experience with this process.

ChristLife is an evangelization process with three seven-week sessions: Discovering Christ, Following Christ, and Sharing Christ. Each session includes a one-day retreat. “ChristLife equips Catholics for the essential work of evangelization so others might personally encounter Jesus and be transformed into his missionary disciples.”

In the first seven weeks, Discovering Christ encourages personal conversion and encounters with Christ.  This session is a place where Catholics can bring friends, family and acquaintances, who are searching for the meaning of life to encounter Jesus Christ.  It is a time of prayer through word and song, sharing a meal, building community, and sharing the Good News. After the fourth session participants are asked to make a personal commitment to become a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ.  At Our Lady of the Black Hills we launched Discovering Christ in September 2017 and finished just before Thanksgiving.  Twenty-one participants completed the first seven sessions.

In the second seven-week session, Following Christ, participants who had experienced the joys of a personal relationship with Jesus and with each other were supported and encouraged to continue growing with Christ and with each other.  Following Christ is a basic course in Catholic discipleship that includes topics such as: daily prayer, Sacred Scripture, the power of the sacraments, forgiveness, the Spirit-empowered life, spiritual warfare, and advancing the Church’s mission. This session was started after Christmas and concluded at the end of February. One participant remarked how she felt released from heaviness and anger when the group did a prayer experience on forgiveness.

Finally, the third seven-week session called Sharing Christ began the first week after Easter.  I have found that Catholics are intimidated by the word “evangelize.”  I know that I had never been trained on how I could share my faith in Jesus Christ with others.  Sharing Christ is designed to equip Catholics with the practical skills to proclaim the Gospel, draw others into a relationship with Jesus, and invite them to discipleship as Baptized members of the Church.

As we began this seven-week session, participants were encouraged to write and to share their witness stories.  It was amazing to hear how participants were becoming more aware of Christ’s presence in their lives.  The personal witness and testimony of Christ working in their lives that were shared during this time served to encourage all who attended to share their stories with others.  One participant shared how God was working to enrich her marriage.

I have found that I must share the Good News with others because it is not an option.  In His last words to His disciples, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”   I can no longer claim to be an introvert and that talking to others is hard; by my Baptism, I am called to evangelize, to share the Good News.

This first group of ChristLife participants will be invited to share what they have experienced when the series will be offered to all parish members this fall.  The teachings of Sharing Christ serve to help participants move from being “consumers” to “providers” of the ChristLife series.

John and I heard it may take two or three cycles of the ChristLife series to see the changes in our parish.  We were reminded this is the Lord’s initiative and that He is going to help us find ways to be an evangelizing community. We began this process asking persons to pray for the ChristLife process, and we are confident those prayers are being answered.”

The Office of Stewardship would like to help you find ways to “attract and form intentional disciples” as well.  One way to explore how the Holy Spirit is leading your parish in this direction, would be to attend our upcoming Ambassadors for Christ Leadership Training.  This training runs Friday evening, June 15th and on Saturday, June 16th from 8 am – 4 pm.  It is being led by Christ Stewart and Tony Brandt of Casting Nets Ministries and promises to give you practical tools for yourself as well as your parish.  Registration is online at:  terrasancta.org/ambassadors.  If you would like more information on this training, ChristLife or other evangelization programs, please contact our office.

June 1, 2018

We have just finished up a wonderful 10 days of training with this year’s Duc in Altum Teams.  These 13 young people come from four different universities and three states.  But they came together over the course of the ten days to form a cohesive, positive and supportive group.

Over the course of the summer, we will have three teams in twenty parishes across the Diocese.  Each team brings with them enthusiasm, joy and a desire to bring Christ’s message of salvation to the youth and families they will serve.  They also have a few silly songs, games and skits packed away in their hip pockets as well.  In the Office of Vocations, we are so grateful for their generous service, their love of the Lord and their desire to give their best to this endeavor.  We truly are sending you a great treasure in these young people.

A word of thanks as well to all of the catechists who have helped us this past week – Susan Safford, Amy Julian, Marlon Leneaugh, Craig Dyke, Fr. Tyler Dennis, Fr. Jonathan Dillon, Fr. Adam Hofer, Denise McCormick, Mary Helen Olson, Elizabeth Hofer, Angie King, Robert Kinyon, Andrew Sullivan, Jenny Scherr, and Fr. Tim Hoag.  You all brought so much wisdom with you. Thanks to all of you, these young people leave here well prepared for the work they will do.

Lastly, we are grateful as always to the staff here at Terra Sancta for their generous hospitality!  The food was great and the patient and kind service in the midst of so many details is always such a blessing.

We look forward to hearing from you, please share your experiences with the Duc in Altum team in your parish this summer!

Fr. Mark

May 24, 2018

In the Office of Vocations we are busy preparing for another summer of Duc In Altum — “put out into the deep.” (Luke 5.4) This coming week we will train two teams of four and one team of five young adults and send them out as missionary disciples, crisscrossing the diocese evangelizing and catechizing our children, youth and families in the Tradition, beauty and the richness of our Catholic Faith.

One of the many topics that we will present this week, beside the Creed and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary is the Examen Prayer. The Examen is a method of prayer that Ignatius of Loyola taught in his Spiritual Exercises. The Examen Prayer is a method of prayerful reflection on the events of one’s day in order to take notice God’s presence and how one responded in generosity or held back on the movements of the Lord in ones heart throughout one’s day. This prayer also offers us the opportunity to look at those choices one has made that are not of God.

There are number of adaptions to the way one prays the Examen prayer, but traditionally there are five steps. In Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today, he gives this outline as a guide in praying the Examen:

Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this Examen.

Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.

Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this Examen the work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.

Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I look also those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.

Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.

Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.

Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I peacefully conclude my Examen.

If you have never prayed the examen before or have been lukewarm in its practice, I encourage you to give it a try this week. It is right in line with the lens of lively faith: prayer, study, and formation in our stewardship initiative.  The Examen prayer also roots our lives in gratitude, which is the foundation of living Stewardship as a Way of Life.

Father Gallagher also gives this wonderful example of how to live and pray the Examen together as a family. He recounts how a father and mother, with their four young children, pray a family Examen together. The mother describes it this way: “For the last several years, my husband and I have introduced Examen as part of our evening meal with our four children (ages thirteen, ten, seven, and four). Using a very simple adaptation of the Examen, we propose these two questions: What have you been most grateful for today? What have you been least grateful for today?”

The mother goes on to say the sharing of their responses to these two questions become the material for their dinner table discussion. Each member is given a turn to respond to the questions with other members of the family listening respectively (on this point we try!) In the end the mother said, “It encourages us to listen to each other, and at times to be challenged to listen more than superficially. It helps our children to learn to get in touch with their inner experience, and to learn to share that with others.”

I would be curious to hear your experience in praying the Examen prayer individually or with your family.

St. Ignatius pray for us!

May 18, 2018

This past week I have been calling pastors and pastoral leaders about our upcoming Stewardship Leadership Training on Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16 at Terra Sancta. I have been checking in with them to see if they were planning to come to the Stewardship Training themselves, and if they were planning to send any of their lay leaders, pastoral council members, stewardship committee members, and others who are influential in their parishes.

I have some had some good conversations about the upcoming stewardship training conducted by Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart from Castings Nets Ministry.  Several conversations struck a chord with me because at the heart of stewardship is invitation. I heard several times: “The initial work has been done, the fliers are up in the parish and the announcement has been placed in the bulletin, however now the hard work begins of personal invitation to the training.” These words resonated with me as I thought to myself of the closing lines in Mark’s Gospel 12:28-34, commonly titled, “The Great Commandment.” “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.”’  We are accustomed to putting flyers up and doing bulletin announcements, when we embrace the extra step of personal invitation, we are “not far from the kingdom of God.”

In speaking on Evangelism Pope Francis said, “Evangelism is not about programs, but people. We can have programs, but we need to evangelize one-on-one, accompanying and encountering each person.” Gretchen R. Crowe OSV Newsweekly would wager that most people can remember how and why one joined a parish ministry, participated in a service project, decided to keep a regular Holy Hour or attended a retreat for the first time — it is because someone asked them too.

Crowe goes on to say, “There is a power to inviting someone to participate. It means something to be singled out or even to be noticed among the throng of Mass-goers. This asking — this personal invitation — needs to happen more if the Church is going to succeed in its mission of evangelization.” And I would add stewardship to evangelization.  If we truly desire to become parishioners and parishes who embrace Stewardship as A way of Life then personal invitation has to be part of our mission.

Inviting parishioners to attend this leadership training is a perfect opportunity to practice this one-on-one conversation that Pope Francis is speaking about, accompanying and encountering another person in Christ through invitation. And the training promises to better equip all those who attend to continue practicing this art of invitation and accompaniment.  For parishes, it can both be a beginning and/or a further encouragement towards creating a culture of invitation in the parish.

My West River Catholic article this month focused on the Stewardship Leadership Training coming up in the middle of June. For more information on the Stewardship Leadership Training and the Summit this September please visit our website https://www.rapidcitydiocese.org/stewrdship or contact Shawna Hanson SHanson@diorc.org or Fr. Mark McCormick at 716-5214, ext. 233

May 10, 2018

Last week, in my musings I shared about praying Lectio Divina with the ninth grade class at St. Thomas More using the fourth Eucharistic prayer. Angela Weber, who is the Vocal Director at St. Thomas More, shared with me her experience of praying and celebrating the Mass when the Church was transitioning from Latin to English in the liturgy and how she has come to appreciate so much more by intentionally praying the prayers that the priest recites:

“I remember it was right at the time when celebrating Mass switched from Latin to English in the liturgies, that I first discovered the beauty and richness of the texts of the Eucharistic Prayers at Mass.  Because we were hearing it all for the first time in English, our missalettes included a section that had the text of the prayers written out.  As a young girl, excited to know what all those prayers we had previously only heard in Latin were saying, I would follow along. I found the beauty of the prayers to be so striking.  It brought me to a very deep experience of prayer during the Mass at an early age, and I was determined to keep that kind of awareness of the prayers always.  I wanted to stay engaged in them, even as one who is only listening, to let them transform me into all that God calls me to.  It is easy to let my mind wander as the priest prays the prayers that are only his part, but if I am intentional about listening to those prayers, and praying along with all my heart, the Mass comes alive and inspires how I live my life and forms my way of thinking about the world we live in.”

On another note, I wanted to encourage you to pray the Nine Day Novena to the Holy Spirit as a preparation for Pentecost. The Nine Day Novena begins tomorrow, Friday, May 11th and runs through next Saturday, May 19th.

Bishop Robert Gruss would like the whole diocese to join together in praying for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit all across our land – we pray that the Holy Spirit would inflame our hearts with his power and grace.

Bishop Gruss said recently, “The Holy Spirit is the unseen moving force of God in the world — unseen but not unheard. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets of the Old Testament to lead the people to God. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the evangelists to write the Gospels and Epistles. It is today the Holy Spirit who guides the faithful, “and I will send the Holy Spirit to inspire you.

What is a Novena? The word Novena means nine. The practice of the Christian Novena was established by Jesus in preparation for the tremendous grace of Pentecost!  We now pray novenas to prepare for solemn feasts, or in petition for some special grace. Jesus commanded this first novena both as a period of preparation (since the feast of Pentecost was approaching) and also as an act of petition (for the Apostles, together with Mary, were looking forward to the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit).

Why a Novena to prepare for Pentecost?  In 1897, Pope Leo XIII asked the whole church to renew its devotion by praying a Novena to the Holy Spirit in the nine days leading up to Pentecost (Divinum Illud Munus). He asked that this novena be done every year in every parish throughout the world. In our day, we renew this quest in a special way for the sake of the New Evangelization. The Holy Spirit is “the principle agent of evangelization”. When his power is released in us, our lives are refreshed, our sense of purpose is renewed, our parishes are re-vitalized, and our mission is more effective than ever. (from: Archdiocese of Oklahoma City).

A copy of the nine-day Novena to the Holy Spirit can be found here: http://ww.spiritans.com/holy_spirit_novena.html

Or if you prefer to have it delivered to your email each day, you can sign up for that at:

http://www.praymorenovenas.com/novena-to-the-holy-spirit

May 4, 2018

I am the adoptive priest for the ninth grade class at St. Thomas More High School. The last several weeks I have been offering the students the opportunity to pray with the Eucharistic Prayer IV. It has some stunning lines and images in it that present a summary of the history of our salvation and therefore it is a wonderful way to proclaim the Kerygma (the basic Gospel message).

Fr. Paul Turner, who is pastor of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri and has a doctorate in sacred theology says, “Most breathtaking about the composition of Eucharistic Prayer IV is its ample use of biblical phrases.  The text not only forms a logical arc from start to finish, but it traverses that road with the vehicle of Sacred Scripture, using one illuminating quote after another. For example, the preface opens by saying, ‘God is one, living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light.’  Deuteronomy 6:4 says, God is one; in Matthew 16:16, Peter says that God is living; and in John 17:3, Jesus says that God is true.  1 Timothy 6:16 and 1 John 1:5 say that God dwells in unapproachable light.” (For Fr. Turner’s full article, see:  https://liturgy.nd.edu/assets/34766)

Lively faith as outlined in our Stewardship Initiative includes prayer and study. If you had some time this week, I encourage you to do a Lectio Divina on Eucharistic Prayer IV. What are the words, phrases and images that tug at your heart or get your attention? How do these words, phrases, and images connect to your life? Talk to God about them. Then read the article from Fr. Turner for further prayer and study. Lastly, share the fruits of your prayer and study with a family, friend or co-worker.

Fr. Mark

Eucharistic Prayer IV

It is not permitted to change the Preface of this Eucharistic Prayer because of the structure of the Prayer itself, which presents a summary of the history of salvation.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.

V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.

It is truly right to give you thanks,
truly just to give you glory, Father most holy,
for you are the one God living and true,
existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity,
dwelling in unapproachable light;
yet you, who alone are good, the source of life,
have made all that is,
so that you might fill your creatures with blessings
and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.

And so, in your presence are countless hosts of Angels,
who serve you day and night
and, gazing upon the glory of your face,
glorify you without ceasing.

With them we, too, confess your name in exultation,
giving voice to every creature under heaven,
as we acclaim:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

The Priest, with hands extended, says:

We give you praise, Father most holy,
for you are great
and you have fashioned all your works
in wisdom and in love.
You formed man in your own image
and entrusted the whole world to his care,
so that in serving you alone, the Creator,
he might have dominion over all creatures.
And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship,
you did not abandon him to the domain of death.
For you came in mercy to the aid of all,
so that those who seek might find you.
Time and again you offered them covenants
and through the prophets
taught them to look forward to salvation.

And you so loved the world, Father most holy,
that in the fullness of time
you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior.
Made incarnate by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary,
he shared our human nature
in all things but sin.
To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation,
to prisoners, freedom,
and to the sorrowful of heart, joy.
To accomplish your plan,
he gave himself up to death,
and, rising from the dead,
he destroyed death and restored life.

And that we might live no longer for ourselves
but for him who died and rose again for us,
he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father,
as the first fruits for those who believe,
so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world,
he might sanctify creation to the full.

April 26, 2018

Several months ago, I was heading into the staff lounge at the Chancery Annex at Terra Sancta to eat lunch. I noticed that Dan Brechtel, who is the facilities manager, was eating what looked like homemade pizza to me. I thought to myself, “Wow, pizza! That looks tasty.” I asked Dan if it was homemade pizza. He smiled and said, “It sure is.”

I told Dan that I have not had homemade pizza in a long, long time. Suddenly, a flood of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood.  Our family used to have homemade pizza on special occasions and my mom could make the best pizza. I started to share with Dan how much I loved my mom’s pizza. Dan said, “You should come over to my dad and mom’s house for pizza. They make pizza every Sunday at 1 pm. I said, “Every Sunday?” “Yep every Sunday,” Dan said.

About a month ago, I ran into Dan’s father, Hugh.  I said, “Hugh, I heard you make pizza every Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock.” Hugh’s response was, “Yep, every Sunday at 1 o’clock; you should come join us, Fr. Mark.” Several weeks ago, I took Hugh up on his invitation to join his family for homemade pizza. They had all the traditional ingredients plus some. He invited me to make my own pizza, which I gladly did.

As I was making my pizza, I asked Hugh, “How long has this Sunday tradition been going on?” His answer surprised me — probably 25 years or more. I thought to myself, “25 years, of making pizza every Sunday. That is a long time!”  What a beautiful family tradition the Brechtel family has developed and lived for the past 25 years and I love that they do it on Sunday — the Lord’s day.

To top it all off, we had ice cream with home grown strawberries, an extra treat. We finished the afternoon with a game of dominoes. I had a lot of fun that afternoon at the Brechtel’s home. It was a great reminder to me how important it is for us to keep the Lord’s day holy. To truly learn how to rest on the Lord’s day, which fosters lively faith.

St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Dies Domini, (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy), speaks of resting on the Lord’s day in this way:

“In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion. Therefore, among the forms of culture and entertainment which society offers, the faithful should choose those which are most in keeping with a life lived in obedience to the precepts of the gospel.” St. John Paul II gives this example, if you have a family, perhaps you might wish to get together as a family to plan special family activities for Sunday. This does not mean you need to spend money. Even what otherwise might be a “chore,” such as gardening or working on a home improvement project, might offer opportunities for “spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, [and] fraternal communion” when done together as a family.

How does your family rest on the Lord’s day?

Fr. Mark

April 20, 2018

Every year our region of the International Catholic Stewardship Conference holds a regional conference and this year the conference is being held in Sioux Falls in July.  I would like to take this opportunity to invite everyone who works in the area of stewardship in the parishes to attend this conference.

The keynote speaker is Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau.  I heard Bishop Morneau speak at the National Conference last year and enjoyed his presentation.  One of the things he said that really struck me was, “Whoever controls the imagination controls the culture.”  He also said, “What stands out for me is the joy that people experience when they buy into stewardship and get into a pattern of gratitude and generosity. Big changes happen. That’s a major shift and is not culturally acceptable. This is mine, my money in the bank, my car, my house or is it all a gift? I have been impressed at what happens when people change their identity from being an owner to being a trustee, caretaker, steward of God’s gift.”

Bishop Morneau is also the author of several brochures we encourage parishes to use including, “Embracing a Generous Life: The Joyful Spirituality of Stewardship.”

There are presentations on prayer, where to begin in Stewardship, nurturing stewardship in small rural parishes and many more.  This is a wonderful opportunity to meet others from across the region who also have a passion for stewardship and share ideas and best practices.  The cost is only $30 per person.  For more information or to register, please vist: Stewardship Conference

April 12, 2018

Last evening, we finished our last “Faith on the Road”  (FOTR) trip for the year at Sacred Heart in Philip, closing out our fourth season of bringing lively faith to parishes across the diocese, through the sharing of a meal, whole community/age-appropriate catechesis, praise and worship music, witness talks and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It has been another great year for our team and a blessing to meet with and pray with different parish communities throughout our diocese.

A comment that I hear often as we are crisscrossing the diocese visiting different parishes is simply, “Thank you for coming.” I have a sense that pastors and parishioners are grateful that the diocese is coming to them rather than them always having to go to the diocese, i.e. Rapid City. Another benefit of Faith on the Road is that there is no cost to the parish. All it takes is an invitation from the pastor, the DRE, or the youth minister’s to come to their parish.

Early in the fall, the FOTR team picks several themes to present. In the past, our themes have been on stewardship, lively faith, prayer, Diocesan Pastoral Plan and vocations. This year the topic that parishes seemed to ask for most often was on the theme of “desire.”

In my presentation on desire, I began with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

 THE DESIRE FOR GOD

CCC 27 — The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

 Craig Dyke, the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, developed this fillable chart as a way for our middle school and high school youth to discuss this topic of desire. I found the chart to be a very helpful tool as well;  not only to look at the desires of our own hearts, but to a look at what God desires for us and then to bring all of these desires to Jesus in prayer. The chart is below Perhaps you can use it as a family, in your parish youth group, or parish council/stewardship committee or the vocation committee. From my experience, praying through this chart of desires has brought forth very fruitful conversation.

See you next fall for Faith on the Road!

The Desires of Your Heart

  What do you desire? What do you fear? What Does God Desire for You?
To Hear?      
To Taste?      
To See?      
To Have?      
To Do Right Now?      
To Do this Summer?      
To Do as an Adult?      
For Your Family?      
For Your Friends?      
For Eternity?      

“May He grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfil all your plans!” (Psalm 20:4)

“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

“Seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (Mt. 6:33-34).

Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt. 7:8).

April 6, 2018

Last evening, I received this beautiful story of love and resurrection from a friend of mine. A lesson learned once again: when we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit within our hearts, the Lord has a way of surprising us, even catching us off guard at times. If we are open to such surprises, we too, will experience a resurrected heart in Christ.

Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year in the Catholic Church, but for priests like myself it can sometimes be an occasion for sleepiness and maybe some crankiness. We’re cranky because the night before, the Easter Vigil, is a very large celebration in which the liturgy itself and the festivities afterward can go on for hours until early in the morning. Getting up the next morning for 7:30am mass can be pretty difficult.

This past Easter Sunday, I was helping out at a Carmelite parish in Kansas. It was a beautiful day; but that didn’t quite cut through the sleepiness. The aisles were choked, every pew taken, and I’m wrapping up one mass and preparing for the next when a man approaches me and asks me to give Last Rites to his dying father. Though this the last thing I want to hear at this moment, I tell him I can be there that afternoon, after the last mass.

Afterward, as I am plugging his address into the GPS in my car, I seriously consider blowing it off. I really need a cup of coffee and maybe something to eat. I need some time to rest. ‘I could show up tomorrow morning, no damage done’ I think to myself. But there was something quietly urgent about the man’s request, so I head over.

When I pull into the driveway, a crowd of people that could only be family is standing on the front lawn of the house. I think they must be waiting for the ambulance; I’m sure that because I hesitated, I am too late. But I find out pretty quickly that the family isn’t waiting for the doctor – they are waiting for me.

‘Dad asked us to carry him out to the backyard to enjoy this weather,” the man explains. “We were afraid that if we stayed out back we wouldn’t hear the doorbell ring.” The family members– the dying man’s wife, two daughters, two sons, and a handful of college-age grandchildren – are pleasant enough, and as I am following them out to the backyard, I feel a bit calmer.

Out back, the dying man is propped up on a lawn chair. After relaxing in the sun and visiting for a while, I bring out the anointing oil, as well as Communion, in case anybody wants to receive. The Catholics in the group have skipped mass, afraid they’d lose their father while at church, and they are relieved at not having to forgo Communion today. I perform the Last Rites ceremony, and then I talk briefly about the Easter Gospel from this morning’s mass. I talk about the Doubting Thomas story, and about how Thomas’s newfound faith in Jesus is its own resurrection.

After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?.’”

After distributing communion, the dying man asks to speak with me privately. Assuming he wants his confession heard, the family gets up and retreats into the house, and we are alone. After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?’

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he explains. “I’ve always had one or two jobs to keep food on the table. My kids – I think they knew I loved them, but I never told them that.” He pauses for a moment. He’s looking away from me. “I think they loved me, but they never told me that. We never said these things out loud – we just were a family.” He turns to me again. “But suddenly these last two days, being with them all the time, I know how much they love me. And I never really knew that before.”

As he speaks, I can feel my attention to his words sharpening. “I married my wife because she was the prettiest woman I ever saw – but I never really knew that her heart was so much more beautiful than that.” My Doubting Thomas sermon is starting to feel a little silly in comparison.

He stares out into the grass. “And I finally realized what I’d been missing my whole life. Today, after a few days with family constantly at my side, I finally got it. The whole point of life is to love. The reason we are alive is to love – and that makes this the best day of my life.”

I begin to understand that this man has just given me a gift – and that clarity like this is contagious. Love itself is a resurrection. The family returns and we sit around chatting for a while, and suddenly I am not so hungry, not so desperate for a cup of coffee. This man is approaching death, I realize, with joy; and that is a gift to his family too. They are not grieving so much as delighting in watching him exit with grace.

The next morning the phone rings in the rectory at an oddly early hour. It’s a representative from the nearby funeral home: “We’d like to schedule a funeral this week.”

“I know” I say to the voice over the phone. After hanging up, I’m sitting alone in silence for a few moments when I realize that tears are falling down my face. As a priest, I’m often called to be present when people die but, in truth, I’m generally not much of a crier. It dawns on me that my tears are not in sadness for the death of a man I barely knew. Instead, they are for the grace and privilege I felt at being witness to a resurrection on Easter Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Kansas. -Fr. Gregory Houck, O.Carm.

March 28, 2018

One of the new ministries forming in our diocese is the Serra Club, inspired by the life of St. Junipero Serra. The goals of the Serra Club are simple and threefold:

  1. To foster and promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood in the Catholic Church, as a particular vocation to service and to support priests in their sacred ministry.
  1. To encourage and affirm vocations to consecrated religious life in the Catholic Church.
  1. Finally, to assist members to recognize and respond in their own lives, to God’s call to holiness in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

As we were preparing for our February meeting, several of us in the newly formed Serra Club were sharing with each other our goals for Lent. Stephen Wesolick, the president of our new Serra club, and his wife Lisa were sharing about their desire to pray the rosary each morning at 5 AM together. This was going to be a true sacrifice for the Wesolick’s because they are not morning people.

In mid-March Stephen, along with Fr. Adam Hofer, drove young men to Winona, MN to IHM Seminary for their semi-annual live-in weekend, an opportunity provided by the seminary for young men to see and experience seminary life. It was amazing! We took nine young men to experience seminary life from the Rapid City Diocese. I knew of Stephen’s goal for Lent – to get up at 5 AM to pray the rosary with his wife Lisa. I told Stephen that I would be willing to stand in for Lisa and pray the rosary with him, to encourage him in his Lenten resolution. The three mornings that we were at the seminary, Stephen and I prayed the rosary, read scripture together, and asked for Our Lady’s intercession for an increase of vocations to priesthood and consecrated life in our diocese.  We also prayed spontaneously for the needs of our families, our communities, our church and world.

Last week I ran into Stephen and Lisa at Pastoral Ministry Days and I told Stephen how I missed praying with him early in the mornings at the seminary. He invited me to come over to their house some morning at 5 AM to pray with them. This past Tuesday, I took Stephen and Lisa up on their invitation. I thoroughly enjoyed praying with this couple early in the morning. Their Lenten discipline and faithfulness as a couple inspired me.

After our prayer time together, they invited me into their kitchen for homemade muffins that Lisa made the night before.  We sat around the kitchen table eating muffins, drinking coffee and visiting with one another. This was truly an encounter with the Lord for me.

I asked Stephen and Lisa if they would be willing to share their blessings of their Lenten journey and they graciously said yes.

“Lisa and I started doing this, along with scripture reading and spiritual meditation, for Lent this year. We completed 40 days and are looking forward to continuing this beyond Easter. I have read that it takes 66 days to make something a habit, so we are almost there!

We have received many graces from offering our prayers and petitions daily to our Blessed Mother. I have personally experienced the renewing of my mind in conformity of our Lord’s will (Rom. 12:2). I am more patient throughout the day and persevere easier through challenges. Lisa and I have drawn closer to each other and to God because of our early morning time together. We feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and upon our tasks. Where we primarily thought about or anguished for our loved ones before, now we offer them up for protection and mercy in an intentional and focused way — and we are seeing many blessings as a result. The Word of God is becoming more alive in new dimensions with each reading, and I am receiving special revelations as never before. We have added a special veneration to St. Joseph, the protector of the family and defender of the faith, and we are experiencing his intercessions in new and bold ways. We are also comforted by the daily reading of Psalm 23, which assures us that God’s goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. Finally, our daily devotion has directed us to focus on that which is true, honorable, pure, pleasing, excellent, commendable and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). It has been a truly powerful experience, one for which are immensely grateful.” -Stephen and Lisa

I am always amazed of the Lord’s generosity and abundant blessings that he pours upon us to fulfill the desires of our own hearts. Stephen and Lisa shared their desire of their hearts with the Lord before Lent and the Lord surprised them both with many new graces, strengthening them to continue their Lenten practice into the Easter season. When our Lenten journey is fruitful it gives us the desire to continue to build on those things which draw us closer to Jesus. How fruitful was your Lent?

March 15, 2018

This past week I have been reading a book by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D. entitled The Holy Spirit, Fire of Divine Love. As I read a subsection in the second chapter titled, Koinonia — Fellowship, the lens of generous hospitality: invitation, welcome and fellowship came alive to me.

In our stewardship initiative, we are called to have hospitality events, fellowship gatherings that not only bring the parish community together, but also the community in which we live together. We extend our hospitality beyond those who attend Mass because the pastor is responsible for everyone that lives within the geographical boundaries of a particular parish (Catholic and Non-Catholic alike) and he relies on the help of parishioners to fulfill this responsibility.

Sometimes we get stuck in thinking of fellowship as a simple gathering of coffee and donuts following the celebration of the Sunday Mass. We seem to settle for this type of fellowship. However, Fr. Stinissen, goes way beyond coffee and donuts on Sunday mornings.  He expresses fellowship as the fullness of love, which is made up of both agape and eros love. He says, “In fellowship, one shares everything in common. Nothing is just yours. ‘All that is mine is yours’, you say. ‘And all that is mine is yours’, answers the other. You empty yourself of what is yours in order to fill the other, and this is agape. But by the fact that the other empties himself of what he is in order to fill you, eros is also satisfied.  ‘I am yours’, says agape.  ‘You are mine’, says eros. Is that not what love repeats for all eternity?  ‘I am yours — you are mine’, together, is the fullness of love: koinonia.”

He goes on to say that the Holy Spirit is fellowship. The Holy Spirit “creates community; he brings together. Almost every prayer in the Catholic liturgy ends with in unitate spiritus sancti (in the unity of the Holy Spirit). It is the spirit who incorporates us all into the Body of Christ and makes us one.”

By contrast, I remember hearing in one diocese about a parish that has separate plates, glasses and cutlery for their different parish organizations that they do not share. This is a clear example of not living this radical fellowship, but all of us should be challenged by Fr. Stinisson’s reflection.  I suspect that all of us, upon reflection, will see ways that we do not embrace this definition of fellowship in our families and in our communities.

As we enter the fifth week of Lent let us pray, fast and gives alms freely and generously so that our hearts might be changed and we truly become one Body in Christ, living fellowship — kononia with a heart awakened and moved by the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Mark

March 9, 2018

This past Friday and Saturday, the Office of Stewardship hosted the Come, Holy Spirit Lenten Retreat as a way to promote the lens of lively faith through prayer — the spiritual formation of the heart.

The retreat was put on by the Community of Beatitudes out of Denver, Colorado. One of their charisms is praying with Israel.

“Bringing to completion the promise made to our fathers in the first covenant, Christ admits all who embrace salvation into the inheritance of Israel. Like the apostle Paul says, the Church is in some ways grafted into the root of Israel, the olive tree. The unveiling of the plenitude of the mystery of Christ to Israel is essential, because it concerns the definitive union of all the people of Israel and the eschatological vocation of the Church. We wait for the moment in which the Glorified Christ will be all in all, for ourselves but also for the chosen people, and can only pray with fervor for the hastening of the day when Jesus will be fully revealed as Messiah to Israel” (Book of Life 11).

As a way to lift up this “praying with Israel,” the Community of Beatitudes will do Israeli folk dancing as a community. This dancing is done on Sunday, the day of resurrection, the Lord’s Day.  As a way to end a retreat on Saturday evening, the Community of the Beatitudes taught us Israeli folk dancing.Here is a bit of dancing from the retreat: https://www.facebook.com/RCStewardship/videos/2039421662994264/

Israeli folk dancing is circle in nature and usually based on a number of biblical images, especially from the Psalms. One dance emphasized Mary stomping on the head of the serpent, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great way to end the retreat, with great laughter and joy as we learned to dance in and with the Lord, praying for the day when Jesus will be fully revealed as Messiah to Israel.

Israeli dancing also brought me back to the beginning of our stewardship initiative when we were encouraged to incorporate monthly hospitality events into parish life as a way to build up the body of Christ in our parishes. As we were dancing last Saturday night Israeli style, I thought this would be a great hospitality event for parishes. It is definitely stepping out of the box a bit and certainly goes beyond coffee and donuts.

I am interested in hearing what hospitality events your parish has been doing of late.

March 2, 2018

Last week, Adam Johnson, a first-year theologian at St. Paul Seminary, was installed as a lector. As reader and bearer of God’s Word, Adam will proclaim God’s Word in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith, and bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it. (From the Rite of Institution of Lector)

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

Adam’s pastor, Fr. Brian Lane from Blessed Sacrament Church in Rapid City, along with Adam’s parents, Mike and Kathy, were able to attend this celebration of the Ministry of Lector. After the celebration, I sent a text to Adam, his parents and Fr. Lane congratulating Adam and asking them to send pictures from the installation, which they did.

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

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

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

This year’s Pastoral Ministry Days, is on creating a vibrant culture of vocations in our parishes. This year we have two great speakers: Fr. James Mason, President and Rector of Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis and a priest from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, and Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP, Vocation Director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist out of Ann Arbor, MI.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is one of the fastest growing religious orders in our country. A relatively new order that was founded in 1997 with four sisters, the order now has 96 members. The average age is 26, and more than 20 postulants are expected to enter next year; the largest group ever.

Our theme for this year’s PMD is Harvest: The Harvest is Plentiful but Laborers are Few, taken from Matthew 9:37. PMD is coming up very soon, March 18-20 but there is still time to sign up! You can register online:  www.PMD2018.com

This should be a great PMD and one that will give some concrete tools, ideas and suggestions to help all of our parishes and families build and create a vibrant culture of vocations in our diocese.

February 22, 2018

An image of a single parishioner in an empty church was used to lead off a recent article by Fr. Jack Bentz, S.J., in America Magazine entitled, Dear regular Mass-goers: The Seats at the End of the Pew Aren’t For You. Fr. Bentz who is the vocation director for the Oregon Province Jesuits and the chaplain to Gonzaga University’s law school and the men’s basketball team. Because of this, he spends a great deal of time on the road and this gives him the opportunity to visit different parishes throughout the country on the weekend.

He commented on a common phenomenon in most Catholic parishes, “the experience of being the unwelcomed stranger in a strangely familiar land.” He says that most parishes had greeters that were smiling at the doors of the church with bulletin in hand and there was usually an invitation made from the pulpit to welcome all visitors. One parish in particular even handed out shiny little gift bags with a ballpoint pen and a coffee cup, bearing the name of the parish.

Fr. Bentz said that he appreciated being officially welcomed, greeted and even receiving a gift from a parish, but he felt like that type of hospitality was not working. He still didn’t feel welcomed.  Why not? “Because I had to climb over people to get into a pew. Seriously. This happened time and again and in churches that were empty except for the ends of the pews firmly held against all newcomers.” Fr. Bentz goes onto say, “The more parishes I attended, the more people I had to crawl over, the more time I had to think: What scares us about sitting in the center? The wooden pew is just as hard, the view is much the same and we won’t suddenly hear an improvement in the music by sitting on the aisle. Perhaps it is because we know we should be at Mass but are unwilling to really commit. We want to be close to an exit so we can make a quick getaway. So we sit with one foot in the pew and the other in the parking lot.”

I know that sometimes it is necessary for parents with small children to stay at the end of the pew in case they need to leave with their child and I also know that sometimes people sit on the end of the pew because they are serving as Lector or Eucharistic Minister, but I also see Fr. Bentz’ point, and I am sure most of us have experienced it and or have at least seen this phenomenon happen in our own parishes weekend after weekend, except perhaps in our smaller rural parishes.  People tend to gravitate to the ends of the pews and leave the middle empty perhaps without realizing how unwelcoming this can be.

Fr. Bentz alludes to the fact that “every weekend, in every Catholic Church in the United States, new people arrive hungry for a community to call home. Is this parish for them? Is this pew for them? They come from other denominations, from other faiths and from other parishes. If they cannot find a place to sit, they will not be back. And we will never have a chance to speak the saving Word to them, because, in spite of the official welcome, they understood this was not going to be their church. It was already taken by the guardians at the end of the pew. The end spots on a pew are for those who arrive after us.

As we continue to work on becoming stewardship parishes through generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship, perhaps Fr. Bentz’ s article will inspire us once again to look at how our parishes are doing with generous hospitality. Are we encouraging our parishioners to develop the attitude that, “the end spots on the pew are for those who arrive after me?”

To read the article in its entirety: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/02/14/dear-regular-mass-goers-seats-end-pew-arent-you

February 16, 2018

This morning, as I was driving to get the oil changed in my car, I was listening to Real Presence Radio and they were talking about the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen were killed, fourteen young people, three adults, and fourteen were injured in this horrific and senseless act of violence. In Romans 12:15 we hear, “when one mourns we all mourn.” So our hearts are heavy as we pray and mourn for the youth and adults that were killed in this high school shooting, and we remember their parents, families and classmates who struggle to get their minds and hearts around this tragedy of death.

As I was listening to this story, there was this ray of hope that was surfacing and illuminating the darkness of such evil permeating the community of Parkland, Florida. The radio hosts were telling the story of a young junior named Daniela Menescal, who was injured in the shooting herself. This is what Daniela said in referring to the shooter and herself, “In the back of his mind, God is with him and I know that we all deserve a second chance, and that even for all that he caused, we forgive him. I forgive him.” Amazing words from this young person who was part of this tragedy.

I believe in Daniela’s heart she recognizes the power of sin in her own life and how Jesus has given her numerous second chances to follow him. Sin is universal, we all struggle with sin, including myself. I, too, go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently because I know my own sinfulness. I realize that my own patterns and habits of sins have caused, not only damage to myself and to my relationship with Jesus, but also have hurt my brothers and sisters who I am called

In today’s first reading from Isaiah, we hear about fasting and the type of fasting that the Lord desires of us — “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn in your wound shall quickly be healed.”

Daniela is a reminder to us of what it means to follow Jesus Christ by “breaking every yoke”, especially the yoke of unforgiveness by extending forgiveness even to one who has taken 17 innocent lives. Daniela understands that, “when we refuse to forgive someone for harm done to us, we are adding another wrong to the first. That solves nothing at all. We are increasingly the quantity of evil in the world, which has quite enough as it is. Let us not join in the propagation of evil. St. Paul tells us,” do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Philippe, Interior Freedom)

Jesus is calling us, even in our sinfulness, to be that light that breaks forth like the dawn to bring healing to our wounded humanity and our world. Be not afraid to be the light and to follow Christ with your whole heart. Be inspired by Daniela’s witness.

Fr. Mark

February 8, 2018

Last evening I was able to be part of the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders for Andrew Sullivan, who is a first year theologian for our diocese and studying at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.  Bishop Walter Nickless of the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa was the presider. As part of his homily he read the instructions for the Rite of Candidacy itself:

“Dear brethren in Christ, our brothers, stand here today in the presence of the Church, recommended to us and to you for admission among the candidates for holy orders.

Christ gave this command: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” Our brothers know the Lord’s concern for his flock, they see the needs of the Church and they feel ready to respond generously to the Lord in the words of the prophet: “Here I am, send me forth.” They put their hope in the Lord, trusting that they may answer his call faithfully.

This call from the Lord should be recognized and understood from the daily signs which reveal God’s will to discerning people. When God chooses people to share in the ordained priesthood of Christ, he moves and helps them by his grace. At the same time, he entrusts us with the task of calling suitable and approved candidates and of consecrating them by a special seal of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of God and of the Church. By the sacrament of holy orders, they will be given part in our ministry of service to the Church, and build up by word and sacrament the Christian communities to which they will be sent.

Our brothers have already begun their preparation so that later they may be called to ordination by the bishop. Day by day, they will learn to live the life of the Gospel and deepen their faith, hope, love, and compassion. In the practice of these virtues, they will gain the spirit of prayer and grow in zeal to win the world to Christ.

Urged by his love and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, they have come here to declare their desire to bind, themselves to the service of God and of humankind.”

I saw theses instructions come alive several times in the last several days as the seminarians prayed as a group, Lectio Divina, on this Sunday’s gospel from Mark (1:40-45, the cleansing of the leper). It was in the spirit of fellowship and trust, that not only the seminarians, but also the priests on staff, including the Rector, Fr. Mason and Vice Rector, Msgr. Mikesch shared the fruits they experienced while praying with this gospel text.

One of the seminarians shared that during his prayer with this gospel passage he asked the Lord to heal the leprosy of his own heart. What he heard from the Lord was, “I choose not to heal this particular part of your leprosy, but instead invite you remain with me in it.” He recalled an experience he had this past summer while working in a parish in Omaha visiting with a woman dying from cancer. They both prayed fervently that the Lord would heal her and restore her completely from cancer. However, this past fall she died. The great grace he received from this experience was that, even though the Lord didn’t heal her of her cancer, she is a woman of such great faith that he witnessed how she was able to remain in and with the Lord in her suffering. This is truly and inspiration and gift to him. Father Mason shared that in his own life he also has begged the Lord to remove the leprosy of his own heart.

This experience of group Lectio Divina, which the seminarians do several times throughout the week, calls to my mind the importance of, not only praying the Word by myself, but also with others. As the Church proclaims in the Rite of Candidacy,  “Day by day, they will learn to live the life of the Gospel and deepen their faith, hope, love, and compassion. In the practice of these virtues they will gain the spirit of prayer and grow in zeal to win the world to Christ.”

As we approach the season of Lent, I encourage you to pray with the Sunday gospel with a group of people, perhaps it’s around your kitchen table with your family, or a group of friends in your neighborhood, or parish.

The Office of Stewardship which promotes and encourages the Catholic way of life, by living a life of generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship can help you with a very simple format that we learned several years ago at Pastoral Ministry Days from Msgr. Richter. I am more than willing to send this simple prayer card to you if it is not already available at your parish. Then all you have to do is to invite your family or others to your house, reserve a room in your parish hall or go to a local coffee house and pull people together to reflect on the Sunday Gospels of Lent.  Let your heart be set on fire this Lent, letting Jesus speak His word to you, as I have seen it speak to the seminarians and faculty at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Fr. Mark

January 31, 2018

This week the Vocations Office received a donation for the Adopt-A-Seminarian fund along with a story written by Wendy Pitlick of St. Patrick’s in Lead.  The story of how St. Patrick’s raises money each year for the Fund speaks to me of the kind of generosity of spirit that is such a part of a Catholic Way of Life.  I wanted to share the story with you:

A plate full of sugar cookies from the St. Patrick’s Cookie Fair can not only be a conversation piece at a Christmas party, an edible gift for a friend, or a sweet treat for the family, buy many of the beautifully crafted sugar cookies have been shellacked and saved to be used as tree ornaments.

That’s because every year the Loeffen family – longtime parishioners at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Lead – donate 140 dozen of their sweetest and most beautiful creations, to be combined with hundreds of other tasty treats from other parishioners.  The Loeffen family cookies – created with love by Kim, Rita, Mary, Nancy (Butler), Shannah and Kaitlin – have gained a reputation for being the most creative and beautiful cookies around, and people drive for miles to make sure they get some.

Mickey Mouse peeks out from underneath Santa hats.  Olaf skips through some evergreen branches.  Angels sparkle just like the stars, and the Christmas trees look like they probably belong as an ornament on the real thing.  With more than 100 cookie cutters to choose from, every year the family brings something just a little different.

“We love that people love our cookies!  It’s one of our big contributions that we do for the church,” Rita Loeffen said.  “We have people so excited about the cookies.  People tell us they look like professional cookies.  One gentleman here in Deadwood saves one cookie every year.  He shellacs it and puts it on his tree.”

Rita said that making the cookies has become a family tradition.  The ladies of the family begin baking cookies in the beginning of November.  They then spend Thanksgiving week, and every week thereafter until the cookie fair in mid-December, decorating until the wee hours of the morning.  “Sometimes we have cookies everywhere!  We might have 10 dozen cookies all sitting around in different spots, in different stages,” Rita said.

Hundreds of hours of work culminate each year with the annual cookie fair, where the Loeffens join with other friends and parishioners who also contribute between six to 10 dozen cookies of their own.  The night before the fair opens, volunteers assemble pre-ordered plates of cookies, and last year the church sold about 200 pounds worth of pre-ordered sweets.  “The pre-orders are out of this world,” Rita said.  “People love to give those as gifts because we put them on a really fun plate and then they are all sealed.  You can also take them home and put them in the freezer.  A lot of people like to take them to Christmas parties.  They are a conversation piece.”

After the community has selected their sweet and artistic cookie trays, the St. Patrick’s Altar Society uses the money earned to make a “sweet” donation to the seminarian fund.  This year they gave $2700.00.  “This is a great way to raise money for the seminarians,” said Mary DeMarcus of St. Patrick’s.  “It is so important that we support them.

My thanks to these generous parishioners!

January 26, 2018

In last week’s musings, I pondered the power of an invitation and the fruits which come from being persistent in extending, always inviting others to become intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ. We must never tire of extending an invitation, giving others opportunities to follow Jesus more deeply in their lives.

This was reaffirmed for me on Tuesday when I decided to celebrate the optional Memorial for St. Marianne Cope (of Molokai). To be honest, I didn’t know the story of St. Marianne Cope, but I found her story very moving. She was Beatified on May 14, 2005 and Canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.

It was this part of the story that reminded me again of persistent invitation: In the early 1880’s King Kalakaua of Hawaii sent over 50 letters to religious orders asking for help in caring for and extending aid to those who suffered from leprosy and were isolated to the island of Molokai. In answer to his plea, King Kalakaua received more than 50 letters declining his invitation to come to Molokai. His fortitude of continuing to extend the invitation finally paid off as his invitation landed on the desk of Mother Marianne Cope, the Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, New York.

Mother Marianne Cope responded yes to King Kalakaua’s invitation even though she did not know where this yes would lead her and her community. Mother Marianne extended the same invitation to her sisters and thirty-five sisters responded yes to her invitation. In the end, Mother Marianne and six sisters left for Hawaii in 1883. In 1888, Mother Marianne moved to the leper colony on Molokai. Mother Marianne and her sisters spent 30 some years taking care of the lepers of Molokai, and miraculously she never contracted leprosy herself.

St. Marianne said, “My heart bled for the children and I was anxious and hungry to help put a little more sunshine into their dreary lives.” St. Marianne Cope brought the sense of beauty into the life of community by introducing cleanliness, pride, and fun. She provided bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women as a way to restore their dignity and beauty, despite the way they felt about themselves because of their leprosy and the isolation they felt.

This is a beautiful story of the persistence of King Kalakaua of Hawaii, who kept inviting others to participate in the caring for those who felt abandoned and isolated from families, friends and community. I also reminds us that when we are able to say yes to the Lord, the Lord does amazing things and our work always produces great fruit. The fruit begins with an invitation to invite others to share in our way of life, the life of Christ.

Let us never tire of extending an invitation, no matter how many times we have been declined and feel rejected. It is the Holy Spirit that opens the door for one to say yes to the Lord. Our ministry, our job is to extend the invitation as the Lord has extended it to us and leave the response to Him, who moves the heart to say yes.

Fr. Mark

January 17, 2018

Today (Wednesday), 38 people from the diocese, both youth and adults, are heading to our national capital in Washington, DC for the 45th Annual March for Life. We are heading to experience this great event because invitation and perseverance does pay off. The first lens of our stewardship initiative is generous hospitality, which is rooted in being people of invitation. In the past, I have heard different priests, lay ministers and chancery staff express a desire to send a bus of young people and adult leaders to the March for Life. For a while it seemed just talk. Two years ago, the talk grew into an invitation that was sent out to all the parishes. There were a few takers willing to make the trip to March for Life, however not enough to fill the minimum quota. Last year, still not enough to fill our own bus and so 10 of us joined up with the Diocese of Sioux Falls and traveled with them.  Today, we have our own busload.  This speaks to the power of an invitation and learning to persevere in the invitation. As intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim the mission of Jesus Christ, we must never tire of extending an invitation to others to follow Jesus more deeply in their lives and we must not be easily discouraged, but be patient and persevere.

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

In Through Him, With him and In Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, Bishop Gruss, says: “if we are not currently living these values, meaning they are not part of our lives in very practical ways, we need to beseech the Lord’s grace daily, asking him to open our lukewarm hearts and teach us how to bring them into our lives. If we do not put these values into practice, then our light will not shine before others, so that others may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

As we head today to Washington DC, to March for Life, I am full of hope and joy that one day we all would truly become disciples of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life, in every aspect of what it means to be human, made in God’s image and likeness.  Pray for us as we put into practice in a very visible and tangible way our commitment to life, letting our light shine before others and giving witness and testimony to the power of an invitation to live and be Christ to others in our world.

Januar 10, 2018

In the gospel reading fro january 10, from the Gospel of Mark, we hear how Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. We are told that the disciples immediately told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law, who was down and out with a fever. The fever was so severe that she was unable to offer them hospitality.  Jesus drew near to her, grasped her by the hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she waited on them, extending to them generous hospitality.

This gospel story reminds me of lively faith as we have come to know it in our diocese, through the lenses of prayer, study and formation. This gospel teaches us to be people of prayer, where we are called to intercede and to bring the needs and concerns of our brothers and sisters before the Lord.

It seems that one of the constant happenings in my life is people brining to me the prayer requests of a family member, a friend, a neighbor, who is struggling in some way with a physical or emotional illness or simply having a difficult time at the moment and could use some prayers.

In the past, I would ensure them of my prayers for them and then I would move onto the next thing, the next meeting, the next appointment. Keeping so busy that at times it would forget to pray for them. And then the inevitable would seem to happen and I would run into them and they would say thanks for the prayers, Fr. Mark they meant a lot to me and my family or friend.

When this would happen I’m sure I had a sheepish look on my face and I would think to myself, “Oh crap! I forgot to pray for them.” Has this ever happened to you?

The disciples teach us an important lesson about interceding for someone in need of our prayers. They immediately told Jesus about Simon Peter’s mother in-law and Jesus immediately approached her grasped her by the hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she extended hospitality to them by waiting on them.

Thanks be to God my practice has changed. Now when people approach me about praying for them or a loved one; I, like Jesus, try to immediately stop what I am doing and began to pray with the person, whether it’s in church, my office, Dunn Brothers, Safeway or the doctor’s office. I know this can be a little frightening or scary for some of us and yet it should be so much a part of us that it becomes a normative way of acting as disciples of the Lord, whose faith is alive in Christ Jesus.

I would like to share with you a simple method of praying with/and over people. There are just six steps and they build on one another. You and I, like Simon and Andrew, James and John, are called to bring those who are hurting to Jesus’ attention. He is the Divine Physician. We simply acknowledge God as the Merciful Father, we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior Redeemer and friend.  We acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the Lord and giver of life. We ask the person what they are praying for; what is the desire of their hearts; what they are asking of the Lord. Then we simply speak of their need, their desire to the Lord. Afterward we pause; we enter the silence for a few moments to see if the Lord wants us to speak to them further, if so we speak what’s in our heart, if not we simply conclude with an Our Father, the Hail Mary or Glory be. We assure them of our prayers and we do all of this on the spot.

Let me know how this prayer practice works for you! Be not afraid!

Praying over and with People

Six Simple Steps

  1. Acknowledge God
  2. Acknowledge the person
  3. Invite Jesus to minister to the person at their point of need
  4. Pray for their intention
  5. Listen and share what else, if anything, the Lord is asking me to share or to pray with the person.
  6. Conclude the prayer by praying a prayer that you both know, e.g. Glory Be…

Fr. Mark

January 4, 2018

As we begin this New Year I thought it would be thought provoking and inspiring as well to hear what individuals might be doing as part of their New Year’s resolution. We usually think of New Year’s resolutions as something we do individually and not so much collectively and or collaboratively. It would be interesting to see if there are any parishes, stewardship committees and vocations committees that have made a New Year’s resolutions as a whole.

A New Year’s resolution is usually defined resolving to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve one’s life in some way.

I read that only 8 percent of people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions, usually because they were too ambitious and the goals they set for themselves were too restrictive. I also wonder if New Year’s resolutions fail because it’s more about human effort instead of allowing and giving permission for Jesus to be a part of one’s New Year resolution, letting Him lead and guide the way.

I also thought about New Year’s resolutions in light of our understanding of virtue. In the Catechism we read, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) The paragraph goes on to define virtue as a “habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” (paragraph 1803)

Seeing New Year’s resolutions in the light of virtue, trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit, would only increase the chance of one being successful in one’s New Year’s resolutions, giving them power to truly transform their life (parish and diocese) in Christ.

To help us get the ball rolling, here are Pope Francis’ suggestions for New Year’s resolutions from 2016:

  1. “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.”
  2. “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.” 
  3. “Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.” 
  4. “Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.” 
  5. “Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.” 
  6. “Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.” 
  7. “Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.” 
  8. “Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.” 
  9. “Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”
  10. “Making sure your Christmas is about Jesus and not about shopping.”

Source: https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/pope-francis-10-new-years-resolutions-for-you/5030/