Is our diocesan community willing to invest in the hearts of young people?

In 2016, Bishop Robert D. Gruss, wrote Through Him, With Him, and In Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan. Our sacred mission — why we exist as a diocese — is expressed very powerfully in our priority plan:

“We, the Diocese of Rapid City, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are called to attract and form intentional disciples who joyfully, boldly and lovingly proclaim and live the mission of Jesus Christ leading to eternal life.”

In our priority plan we have six core values that will decide how we are to communicate and behave as a diocese. Those core values are prayer, stewardship, solidarity, mercy, family and reconciliation.

We also have our foundational ministries: Sacraments and Worship, Education and Formation, Governance and Finance, Social Services and Outreach and Vocations and Evangelization.

This past month I have been reflecting once again on the call that all of us have in building a vibrant culture of vocations in our families, parishes and diocese. In my prayer I felt moved by the Holy Spirit to return to our diocesan priority plan, in particular the section on Vocations and Evangelization, (pages 120-125).

Everyone’s responsibility

We hear in our priority plan that promoting vocations is the responsibility of all of us. It must involve everyone. This compelling quote from the Code of Canon Law, of all places, explicitly speaks of this responsibility that we are all called to embrace:

“The duty of fostering vocations rests with the entire Christian community so that the needs of the sacred ministry in the universal church are provided for sufficiently. This duty especially binds Christian families, educators, and in a special way, priests, particularly pastors. Diocesan bishops, who most especially are to be concerned for promoting vocations, are to teach the people entrusted to them of the importance of the sacred ministry and of the needs for ministers in the church in order to encourage and support endeavors to foster vocations, especially by means of projects established for that purpose” (Paragraph 233).

Bishop Gruss states that in “dioceses where vocations are flourishing, there resides a culture that has created an environment for young men and women to view the priesthood and religious life as a viable way of life and to view sacramental marriage as a vocation centered in Christ.”

The bishop continues that “such an environment has, in some way, awakened the hearts of these young people. At the heart of this environment is relational ministry.”

Invest in young people

One aspect, then, of a vibrant culture of vocations is a community willing to invest their lives and hearts in young people.

Several weeks ago, I was in Rome visiting Robert Kinyon, who is a second-year theologian at the North American College. Robert and I made several day trips to celebrate the Eucharist.

One of our stops was to the Sanctuary of Saint Maria Goretti in Nettuno; the other trip was Bolsena — Orvieto, the place in which a eucharistic miracle took place in 1263. A German priest, Peter of Prague, celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Christina, had barely spoken the words of consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal. These were powerful places which encouraged some great conversations.

In one of our conversations Robert shared his desire to become another divine physician-Christ. Robert said too many people see the priest as simply a counselor or social worker rather than the divine physician of the soul. In Robert’s words:

“The priest is an Alter Christus (another Christ) who is called to live in complete conformity with Jesus and work as Christ in the world. Christ’s mission was fundamentally salvific. Every action he performed whether it be counseling, feeding, healing, or teaching was directed toward the eternal salvation of the people with whom he interacted. 

“So, too, it ought to be with the priest. Having received a special order from God, the priest participates in Christ’s work. His job is to serve as a bridge between God and humanity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the administration of the sacraments where God dispenses his divine life to his chosen people through the hands of the priest.”

Becoming a divine physician

As the Gospels attest, Jesus was a healer of body and soul. He came to bring life. He came to wage battle against sin and death. So, too, in a real way does the priest in whom, through his ordination and the power of the Holy Spirit, he makes present the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. 

It is through ordination and the power of the Holy Spirit that the priest, in the name of Christ, forgives sins, reconciling the human heart back to Christ. It is how he brings healing to the sick through the sacrament of anointing. The priest is truly the divine physician of the soul.

In addition to investing our lives and hearts in young people, we must also present a compelling vision of priesthood, religious life and marriage. We must speak clearly, boldly and creatively, both by example and by words, the fullness of the beauty of these vocations given to us by Jesus.

Fr. Mark McCormick and seminarian Robert Kinyon by the Sanctuary of Saint Maria Goretti in Nettuno, Italy. (Courtesy photo)