Invited to be witnesses to love
By Sr. Sara Kowal, SCTJM
Veritatis Splendor Institute – What is it and why does it matter?
St. John of the Cross once quipped, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” It’s easy to complain about “the world today.” And, to be fair, there are some things to complain about. It is not hard to find a daily example of what is “wrong with the world.” But, what I would offer to those (often true) complaints is the challenge of St. John of the Cross: “Where there is no love, put love.”
Evil is not a thing. Evil is the absence of the love, goodness, truth, and beauty that should be somewhere. Evil is a lack. It is a lack of good. Therefore, to solve the problem of evil, the answer is to fill the lacking with God who is the source of the love, goodness, truth and beauty that is often missing today. Who is responsible for doing that? We are. That is the mission of every human person, and particularly of every Christian. We are called to be the salt and leaven that fills the world with His presence – the only presence who can solve the ache of the human heart.
So how do we do this? Well, to begin, we have to be filled first. We cannot give what we do not have. This is where Veritatis Splendor Institute comes in, VSI for short. It was created to be in the business of “filling and forming.” It was created to equip disciples to better know and love their faith so they can more effectively share it with others. It helps us understand more fully the gift and treasure we have and impels us to share that gift with others in need.
Who is it for?
VSI is for everyone. In many ways, it was initially designed for those who minister in the Church or teach the faith in some form: catechists, youth ministers, OCIA teachers, music directors, prayer team leaders, and more. If this applies to you, we urge you to seriously consider signing up for VSI.
For those ministering in the Church, it is so important to know our faith well, to know it in a way in which we can effectively communicate it to others, so that its life-changing effects can be experienced with power.
Others of you may be thinking, “I am not a teacher of the faith, so I am not sure if I need this.” We would disagree. Everyone is called to be a teacher of the faith in some form. Everyone is called to be able to “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet 3:15). It is truly for everyone. Moreover, the experience of VSI is deeply enriching for those who go through it, and growing in your own faith is another essential reason to consider it.
Parents, we would like to especially encourage you.
Parents are the first and primary catechists of their children. Yes, the catechists in our parishes and the teachers in our schools are very important, and they need to know their faith really well to teach it effectively. But parents have a primary and more fundamental role in imparting the faith to their children. VSI is for parents in a special way, to help them fulfill this sacred and beautiful responsibility.
How does it work and where does it take place?
VSI takes place one Saturday a month, beginning in September and ending in June. On those days, you gather with other people from across the diocese to pray, learn, share, and grow. It is more than simply attending class; participants pray together, have a monthly small group, have Mass, share meals, and more. This year, we have two possible locations: Terra Sancta in Rapid City or St. Joseph in Gregory. So, whether you live in the eastern or western part of the diocese, we have a place for you. As well, VSI includes a yearly weekend retreat.
“I’m not sure if I can because …”
It is possible that, after reading this article, you are experiencing a tug to sign up, along with all the many reasons you shouldn’t: “Who will watch my kids while I am gone? … I don’t really enjoy doing homework… Rapid City and Gregory are far away… I don’t know if I have the time or the money …” I am sure you can think of others. I would offer one simple thought for all of them: authentically good things are usually not easy and require commitment, but they are always worth it. Sometimes, we need to fight a little for the good that is before us. I have always found that the best things in life require the most effort to attain. If it does not require effort or commitment, it probably doesn’t have a lot of value. I would posit that VSI is one of those good and valuable things worth fighting for. Yes, there are certainly obstacles. But most (if not all) can be overcome if we set our minds and hearts to do so.
I leave you with the words of St. John Paul II: “The world you are inheriting is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God’s love. It needs witnesses to love. You … are the first evangelizers of your world, tormented today by many challenges and menaces. You, above all, can do this. No one can replace you. Many people … do not know Christ, or do not know him well enough. You cannot, therefore, remain silent and indifferent! You must have the courage to speak of Christ. Christ trusts you. Christ needs you.”
By God’s goodwill and grace, I was Baptized, Confirmed, and received my first Holy Communion on Easter Vigil in 2021. Even after an excellent RCIA (now OCIA) course at St. Rose of Lima in Hill City, I was still starving for knowledge. My pastor, Fr. Mark Horn suggested I enroll in the Veritas Splendor Institute in Rapid City. After looking over the dates, expenses, and commitments of the program, I decided it was something I wanted to do. I have now completed the year of Basic Studies and Masters One, and I plan on finishing Masters Two this upcoming year.
My motivation at the beginning of VSI was well-intended but flawed. I desired knowledge about the Faith for two reasons. The first and the better reason, was because I fell in love with His Church. Everything about the Catholic Faith had utterly captivated me and I wanted to learn all I could about His beautiful plan. The second reason was out of fear. I thought that unless I continued to learn and study I would not be able to communicate this beautiful faith to my non-Catholic family and friends in a way that attracted them to the truth. In other words, I feared being a poor witness. This fear was quite motivational albeit miss guided. Thank the Lord that in two years of study, alongside amazing human, spiritual, and pastoral formation, that fear has receded and diminished greatly. He has worked in so many incredible ways through the classes, teachers, and leadership of VSI.
Rising earlier than I would on regular school days, that first Saturday of the month, was difficult but always worth it! The Lord would bless the drive with a beautiful sunrise and scenery, as if to say, “Look, I have so much good in store for you today!” That one Saturday a month was a safe haven for me. Getting to pray, share, study, and commune with other Catholics who desired to grow in their faith was always a motivational shot in the arm. I always heard exactly what I needed to every month! It was like our teachers, who are all incredible by the way, had a two-hour meeting before the day to discuss the cross-circular elements of our lessons! Everything would be coordinated and interconnected between the morning and afternoon classes even though they were completely different subjects. And after a long day, I would leave the Terra Sancta Retreat Center with more energy and spiritual motivation than when I arrived! He can not be outdone in generosity.
The goal of VSI is not solely intellectual formation, thank God was are not robots! For deeper spiritual formation, students attend a weekend retreat once a year. This past March, on the weekend of the Feast of the Annunciation, I attended the Masters retreat which was all about the Discernment of Spirits and good Christian decision-making. The Lord needed that time with me and I needed it with Him. I wrote many prayers and desires that weekend. The following week, a job opportunity was put before me again. It had been made known to me in February but I thought I was supposed to stay in Hill City for at least another year. After a few phone calls with my professional mentors, it was very obvious that I was to apply for this job. During Holy Week, the Lord gave me a snow day off from school on Tuesday to complete and submit the application. They immediately asked me for a Zoom interview the next morning, which I could do because we had a 10 a.m. late start. Applying all of the knowledge I had just learned during my retreat weekend, and considering the unexpected ways the Lord was answering my recent prayers, I accepted the position on Good Friday.
I will be the middle school choir director and the assistant high school choir director at the Bishop O’Gorman Schools in Sioux Falls starting this August. Praise God for the opportunity! My family is overjoyed to have me close again. My church family at St. Rose has been so supportive and outrageously generous in the departure process. This is not a forever goodbye though! The Veritas Splendor Institute and all of the people involved have made such an impact on me, I plan to finish my last year of Masters classes and will drive out once a month to Rapid City. When I first came into the Church, two different and holy people told me, “Be generous with Him”. I have tried to live out that advice and at every turn He has outdone me in every way possible! Matthew 10:8 “Without cost you have received; without cost, you are to give.” This verse has struck me deeply in recent weeks. I did nothing and have done nothing to receive the gift of new life and the Sacraments. Giving Him my time and energy in VSI has been one of the most fruitful and wonderful choices I have made. I ask that you prayerfully consider enrolling in VSI, no matter your fears or motivations! The Lord will work with you and through you in beautiful ways that are yet unseen. Praise God for all of His works!