April 28, 2017

In the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, under the Foundational Ministries; Vocations and Evangelization, one of the goals is that each parish or parish grouping is invited to form a vocations committee to encourage and promote a culture of vocations.

Bishop Gruss says in Through Him, With Him and in Him: A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, “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. Such an environment has, in some way, awakened the hearts of these young people. At the heart of this environment is relational ministry: disciples engaged in relationship with others where faith, hope and love are shared in some way. Relational ministry fosters an openness to speak about vocations and give guidance in the area of discernment. This allows a person to respond freely.” (p. 120-121)

The key to creating a culture of vocations is grounded and rooted in our relationship with Christ and one another. Next weekend, we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This celebration gives parishes a great opportunity to give witness to creating a culture of vocations. This past week, Fr.  Brett Brennan, a priest of the diocese of Savannah Georgia spent time with our priests, Rapid City Catholic School Catholic School System and with parishioners from all across the Diocese.  He shared his wisdom on how to create a culture of vocations in parishes and homes.

One of the things Fr. Brett suggested was that next weekend, during World Day Prayer Vocations, several parishioners could give a witness/testimony on how priests have made a http://rapidcitydiocese.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=10278&action=edit#savedifference in their lives. For instance, many of us have stories of how our priest was there for us in a time of struggle and healing in our lives. Others may want to share how they have experienced a priest as a spiritual father, loving and caring for them or their family. This type of witness of a priest “bringing Jesus to his people and his people to Jesus”, as Fr. Brannen said, can go a long ways in encouraging a culture of vocations.As we celebrate World Day Prayer for Vocations, let us be mindful of the many parish priests that have touched our lives.  Let us give thanks to God for them and for their ministry.  And may our gratitude fuel our prayer as we beg the Lord Jesus to open the ears and the hearts of those He is calling to be the next generation of priests to accompany us on this journey to eternal life.

Fr. Mark

April 10, 2017

Last week our diocese gathered for our annual Pastoral Ministry Days at Terra Sancta. This year’s theme focused on the third lens of our stewardship initiative “Dedicated Discipleship: love God, love neighbor with an intentional heart.” Our speakers were Fr. Michael White and Tom Cochran who wrote the book Rebuilt: Awaking the Faithful, Reaching the Lost Making Church Matter. 

At the opening conference, Tom spoke of how important it is for us to ask the why question. “Why am I here?” He said we do not ask the why question enough. “When we lose our why, we lose our purpose and when we lose our purpose we lose our way.” As I heard that quote it made me think of “RIM” Relationship — Identity — Mission.

The heart of the why question begins with our personal relationship with Christ, who helps us to understand our true identity as being beloved sons and daughters of the Father, who through the power of the Holy Spirit, sends us out on mission. Jesus gives us our why in Matthew’s gospel: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The reason that we lose our way at times is because we begin to focus on the mission first rather than beginning with our relationship with Jesus in prayer first.  Living a “Life on the RIM”, begins with the inside out, our relationship with Jesus first; rather than outside in, focusing first on the mission then secondly on our relationship with Jesus.

It is much easier to plow ahead with our own perceived mission first without ever really sitting down in prayer first, asking and sitting with Jesus like that of Mary. In the story, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)  In reality, every effective Martha is first a Mary, who sits at the feet of Jesus and receives from him, the mission he has planned for her.

As we enter into Holy Week, let us begin inside out, putting Jesus first in everything we say and do.

Fr. Mark

March 31, 2017

Several weeks ago I was helping Fr. Godfrey out in the parishes of Gregory, Burke Bonesteel and Fairfax.  After the Mass in Bonesteel, I had a conversation with Tony Koeing, who has been one of our lay witness speakers the past two years and has really enjoyed sharing his love and joy for our Catholic faith. I asked Tony if he would be willing to share with the priests and the stewardship committees his experience of being a lay witness speaker, traveling to a number of parishes in our diocese giving testimony to what the Jesus is doing in his life.

Here is what Tony shared with me:

I have been a lay witness speaker in the Rapid City Diocese for the past two years. I have visited 12 parishes mostly in the eastern part of the diocese.
I would just like to say that being able to share my faith and some of my life experiences with people of other parishes has been rewarding.  I also appreciate the opportunity to meet and visit with Catholics from other parishes and to participate in Mass with them.  I may not have had this opportunity if it were not for the lay witness program.
I also enjoyed visiting with the priests of these parishes.   Some of these priests are former pastors and it was a chance to renew old friendships.  Other pastors were priests that I had not known personally before, but after a weekend with them we are no longer strangers.
I believe that other lay witness speakers have had similarly gratifying experiences.  Thank you for inviting speakers to your parishes in the past.  I encourage you to continue inviting lay witnesses in the future.

Tony Koenig
St. Anthony, Fairfax

When Jesus heals the Gerasene Demoniac in Luke’s gospel (Luke 8:26-39), he says to him, “’Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” In a very real way this is what lay witness speakers do, they proclaim “joyfully, boldly, and lovingly” what God has done in their lives as they live out the mission of Christ leading to eternal life.

If you are interested in scheduling a lay witness speaker in your parish or becoming a lay witness speaker yourself, traveling to different parishes in our diocese and giving testimony to the joy of the gospel in your heart, I encourage you to visit with your pastor and or contact the Office of Stewardship.

Fr. Mark

March 17, 2017

Thursday morning when I read the news that Fr. Steve Biegler was named Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the scripture passage from 1 Corinthians 12:26 came to my mind, “if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” The people of God in the Diocese of Rapid City rejoice with Fr. Steve and his willingness to say “yes” to Pope Francis and the Church to become the new shepherd to the people of God in the Diocese of Cheyenne.

I also thought about our new vocation prayer, “Heavenly Father, inflame our hearts with the fire of your love. Inspire our families to eagerly say “yes” to the Holy Spirit as did Mary and Joseph. Help our parishes become schools of prayer, forming intentional disciples of Jesus who desire to live for him.” Father Steve’s yes should inspire and encourage all of us to continue to say yes to the Lord in our lives.

Saying yes to the Lord is not always easy.  It is an act of faith, a surrender of one’s own desires and embracing the desires of the Lord. It is saying, “Jesus I trust in you!” both with our voices and with our actions. I remember reading something from Pope Benedict who observed that people often say, “I do not want to get too close to the Lord because I am afraid of what He might ask me to do.” Pope Benedict said the real reason people do not want to get too close to the Lord is not because of something they will be asked to do, but because of something they will be asked to give up and the fear of surrendering one’s heart and life more totally to the Lord.

In her book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Sherry Weddell calls this type of surrender “dropping the net”! Weddell goes on to say that the decision to “drop one’s nets,” is to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to re-order one’s life accordingly.

Fr. Steve’s life, as he knows it, is being re-ordered. He is being invited by the Lord to trust him more deeply with his life and his heart. I texted Bishop-elect Steve after the news to congratulate him and to offer my prayers for him. His response was “thanks for the support and prayers. Tough to leave the diocese.”

“Tough to leave the diocese” expresses what Bishop-elect Biegler is being asked to give up.  His yes reflects his decision to drop the net and follow the Lord with his whole heart and trust Him; to know that as blessed as he has been in his ministry here, the Lord has even greater things in store for him in Cheyenne. This is lively faith! Bishop-elect Steven Biegler, thanks for modeling lively faith to all of us in the Diocese of Rapid City.

March 10, 2017

In the fall of 2015, when I was visiting with Msgr. Richter about the possibility of his coming to our diocese to speak on “Lively Faith” for Pastoral Ministry Days, he was very enthusiastic about our topic, and was very interested in speaking on it.  We had a wonderful conversation about what lively faith is, how one “catches” lively faith and then finally, how one lives lively faith.

In the course of this conversation, Msgr. Richter asked me if I had ever read a book called I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbee. I told him I had never even heard of the book. To which he replied, “Shame on you Fr. Mark!”  I am glad Msgr. Richter shamed me into buying this wonderful book. I am about three quarters of the way through it am really enjoying it. At the same time, though, I find the insights of Fr. d’Elbee very challenging. The book is based on the teachings of St. Therese of Lisieux.

This past week, I finished reading the seventh chapter entitled, “The Apostolate”. It plunged me headlong into the season of Lent, in which we all seek a conversion and change of heart, in particular through the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Fr. d’Elbee speaks of prayer as a great apostolic work. “Pray to obtain mercy for souls… Jesus could have saved man without us. He did not will to do it that way.” St. Therese writes, “The Creator of the Universe, listens to the prayer of a very little soul to save others who are ransomed, as she is, by the price of his blood.” Both remind us that the power of our prayer and intercession for others truly helps to set hearts held captive by the habit of sin be set free in Christ. 

As we continue to live this Lenten journey, let us be mindful that it is not only about our own change and conversion of heart,  but the conversion of the hearts of others; our family, our friends, our parishioners and even the strangers and acquaintances which cross our path.

Fr. d’Elbee challenges us further when he says, “Do not ask only for the return of sinners, but that good people will become very good, and that the very good will become saints. Do not ask only for the conversion of souls, but for the perfection of souls, because Jesus not only thirsts to see sinners convert, but perhaps He thirsts even more to see the souls which He has chosen rise higher and grow in love, and unite themselves more intimately with Him. He needs loving souls, true hosts, truly transformed into Him by love. He needs such souls in order to save men.”

May our Lenten journey be a time for growing in “lively faith” and may we truly become saints in Christ seeking to save other souls in his name! What an incredible journey that lies ahead of us. Be not afraid to give your heart to Christ and to let Him in, not only for your own salvation, but also for the sake of your brothers and sisters

Fr. Mark

March 3, 2017

As I was preparing for the men’s retreat several weekends ago in Timberlake, I came across this phrase: “no Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed” by Fr. Larry Richards. Fr. Richards has breathed and lived this saying for over 25 years.

He tells this story of making his priest retreat before his ordination and Msgr. Peterson (then Fr. Peterson) asked him to sit before the Blessed Sacrament. He told him, “Just go before the Blessed Sacrament, ask God to reveal His Word to you. Open the Word of God and whatever comes is God’s Word to you.” Since this time, Father Richards has made this practice a part of his life. Every morning he opens the Bible and reads and when a word, phrase or verse tugs at his heart, he stops and prays with it.  He writes it down and puts it in his pocket and throughout the day he pulls it out and re-reads it. Pondering and reflecting in his heart and connecting the Word of God to his life.

Father Richard encourages others to pray this way as well.  He suggests that before one picks up their Bible, they should pray a fervent prayer to the Holy Spirit asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s word to them. Then open the Bible randomly, letting your finger point to a passage. Then simply read the Scriptures until the word of God tugs at your heart. When something grabs you, stop and pray with God’s word. Realize that one might read a few verses before the Lord tugs at your heart or perhaps even several chapters. The key is to read until the Lord tugs at your heart with a word, words or phrase from the Scripture.

Since the men’s retreat several weeks ago in Timberlake, I have been using this prayer method outlined by Fr. Larry when I wake up in the morning and before I go to bed, remembering — “no Bible, no breakfast; no Bible no bed.” Sometimes a word tugs at my heart right away and sometimes I read three or four chapters before the Lord really tugs at my heart revealing his word of mercy, love, forgiveness and truth to me. To be honest, it has been a lot of fun reading and praying the Scriptures this way.

If you are looking for another Lenten practice, I encourage you to try praying the Scriptures this Lenten season this way because God indeed wants to reveal his life-giving word to you, to your heart, and to your life.

Pope Francis says about the Bible, “Take it, carry it with you, and read it every day: it is Jesus Himself who is speaking to you… The important thing is to read the Word of God, by any means, but read the Word of God. It is Jesus who speaks to us there. And welcome it with an open heart. Then the good seed will bear fruit!”

Fr. Mark

February 23, 2017

Last weekend I was in the parishes in Timberlake, Isabel and Trail City preaching on stewardship through the lens of lively faith. I also did a parish men’s retreat for them in the afternoon. 

I was preaching on prayer using the prayer card Msgr. Richter gave out at last year’s Pastoral Ministry Days, “If I want to spend time with Jesus what would it look like?” As part of my homily, I assigned them some homework which was to use the prayer card with the reading from the gospel for next Sunday (Matthew 6:24–34).

During the men’s retreat, one of the ranchers came up to me and said, “Fr. Mark, I am not sure I have ever heard God speak to me. I did my homework assignment last night but nothing really happened.” 

I said to him, “When you were reading and praying through Matthew 6:24-34, what word, words or phrases tugged at your hear?” 

Without hesitation and very boldly he said, “Worrying!”

I said, “What does worrying have to do with your life?”

He responded, “I am a worrywart, Father. I worry all the time.”

I said to him, “What is Jesus trying to tell you about all that worry?”

He responded with a smile, “I guess if Jesus takes care of the flowers and the grass of the fields, he will take care of me too.”

And I said with a smile back, “You just heard the voice of Jesus in your heart.”

Shortly after that he said, “Father, when I was sharing with you, this memory came to mind, but it happened 20 years ago.”

I said, “Tell me about it.”

“In the winter of 1997, Timberlake had one of the worst winters that I could ever remember. I remember one evening going out to check on my cattle during the blizzard. I got lost two or three times and finally stumbled on some of my cattle and five of them were dead.  I was visibly shaken; thinking that I was going to lose my whole herd. I got lost again, but finally made it back to my home shaking, struggling and shattered. I was not sure what else to do so I ended up sitting down and reading the Bible for 20-25 minutes surrendering it all to the Lord. I thought, ‘Lord I’m not in charge, you are.’ I just felt that I should go to bed because I had turned it over to the Lord. That night I rested as I had never rested before. I slept so well. I got up early the next morning and, to my surprise, no more cattle had died.”

 I asked him if he remembered that Scripture passage he read some 20 years earlier. He said he wished he had. I encouraged him to pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to reveal that Scripture passage again to him. I reminded him, “Jesus does speak to you and you do hear his voice. Today has been a great grace for you to hear his voice once again. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. Give him your worries.”

The Collect from last Sunday’s celebration of the Eucharist states:

“Grant we pray, Almighty God,
that, always pondering spiritual things,
we may carry out in both word and deed
that which is pleasing to you.”

 This Collect came to life for me because it was in visiting with this rancher, pondering and sharing spiritual things, that our hearts were renewed in Christ and faith came alive again.

February 17, 2017

Several weeks ago, I stopped by the Cathedral office for a moment to see if Fr. Steve was in. The next thing I knew I was surrounded by three of the Cathedral staff who were so excited to share with me the new app for smartphones for their parish. They had me download the app right there on the spot. I think it took me less than a minute or so to download the app for their parish and it’s pretty cool.  There is lot of good information regarding the life of the Cathedral parish now available at our fingertips.

Technology is simply amazing. It can be a great tool to stay connected with the parish community as well as a tool for evangelization. More and more parishes around the country are embracing technology such as apps for smart phones as way to stay connected with their parishioners

Give the Cathedral app a try. It’s free! It is available for Apple and Android products. Just go to the App Store or Google Play Store and search for: Cathedral OLPH Rapid City.

The Cathedral app helps parishioners to stay connected with all Cathedral events, announcements, alerts, and much more! You can join a parish group which allows one to stay connected with a ministry such as Liturgy, Music, Formation, GOF, First Communion, Health Care, and Confirmation. The Cathedral app also connects one with links to the Daily Readings, Family Living, prayers, and even a daily reflection by Pope Francis.

I encourage you to download the Cathedral app on your smart phone today and give it a test drive, perhaps it will inspire an app for your own parish. For more information about how the Cathedral parish created an app for smart phones, contact Shari Dahlke – Youth and Young Adult Faith Formation Director at: shari@cathedralolph.org  or phone 605-716-8532

February 9, 2017

Last fall at the International Stewardship Conference, Fr. Andrew Kemberling, author of the book Making Stewardship A Way of Life, reminded attendees that building a culture of vocations in the parish is part of being a “Stewardship parish”.  He shared how, at his parish in Denver, there was a planned and intentional effort to regularly affirm marriage, priesthood and religious life, actively teach about vocations at every age level and intentionally invite young people to consider a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life.  They have a wall in their parish with pictures of all those who have discerned a call to priesthood or consecrated life from the parish and there are A LOT of pictures on it.  Clearly, their efforts have been successful at nurturing the calls God has planted in the hearts of young people.

In some ways, it is providential, then, that in our Diocese the Offices of Stewardship and Vocations are together.  Last spring, our office sponsored two workshops designed to help parishes begin a vocation ministry.  Those who attended left with many practical suggestions for ways they, like Fr. Andrew, can build a culture of vocations.  I have been so encouraged to hear about the creative ways they are taking up this work and I wanted to share this Good News with you.  Here are some highlights:

Our Lady of the Black Hills has borrowed our priest/nun cutouts a couple of times. The kids love them! 

They also delivered roses to Consecrated Women on the Feast of the Presentation to honor World Day of Consecrated Life.  One recipient sent me this:  “Just wanted to share with both of you that the Vocations Committee at Our Lady of the Black Hills in Piedmont very kindly remembered me yesterday, on the World Day for Consecrated Life – they brought me a rose and sent a beautiful card on behalf of the parishioners thanking me for the gift of my vocation.  It was very thoughtful, and I was grateful for their remembrance of the World Day.”


Custer parishioners made an intentional effort to attend the recent Men in Black game in support of their pastor, Fr. Gerlach, who played in the game.  What a great sign they created!  They also welcomed him this past summer with a coupon book filled with invitations from parishioners. 

Blessed Sacrament in Rapid City created this bulletin board in their gathering area to affirm those in consecrated life for the World Day for Consecrated Life. They also have a coffee bar during their KC breakfasts.

The Cathedral Vocations committee made prayer cards for the World Day and passed them out after Masses along with the names of all Consecrated working in our Diocese. They are also working to establish a 24-hour period of prayer for Vocations during Adoration which will happen each month.

In Bonesteel, the Director of Religious Education worked very hard to create a card with a priest or seminarian’s picture and address on it.  She gave these cards to those participating in Religious Ed and asked that a card be sent to the priest or seminarian.  In Gregory, they have a poster at the back of church that highlights a seminarian each month.  Currently, they are highlighting and praying for Todd VanderMay.

We want to continue to support and encourage these efforts as well as continue to invite those who don’t yet have a committee to form one in their parish.  We are excited to be welcoming, Fr. Brett Brannen, author of the books To Save a Thousand Souls and A Priest in the Family to our Diocese in late April. He will be offering workshops and sharing his wisdom about building a culture of vocations.  I invite you to mark your calendars and make plans to join us!

Here are the details:  

How To Build a Culture of Vocations in our Parishes/Homes
Please join the Office of Vocations in welcoming Fr. Brett Brannen, acclaimed author and speaker, to our Diocese.  Fr. Brannen will present a workshop on Thursday, April 27th @ 5:30 pm at St. John the Evangelist in Ft. Pierre and repeat the same workshop on Friday, April 28th @ 5:30 at Terra Sancta Retreat Center in Rapid City.  The evening begins with dinner and includes a presentation by Fr. Brannen and time for prayer. Fr. Brannen will share insights from his own vocation journey as well as his extensive experience and wisdom on how to inspire a culture of vocations.  This workshop is open to all.  If you are interested in starting a vocations ministry in your parish, this workshop will be helpful to you.  If you are already helping with a flourishing vocation ministry, this workshop will encourage and inspire you to continue!  If you are a parent or grandparent who would like to learn how to better encourage and support vocations, you will appreciate what Fr. Brannen has to say.  There is no charge for this event, but registration is required.
Fort Pierre – Thursday, April 27th – 5:30pm CST
Terra Sancta Retreat Center, Rapid City – Friday, April 28th – 5:30pm MST 

From Father to Son: Helping Boys Embrace Authentic Masculinity
Join Fr. Mark McCormick on Wednesday, April 26th at 5:30 at Terra Sancta for a very special Father/Son event.  The evening will begin with dinner (think sports bar food) and be followed by a talk by Fr. Brett Brannen, acclaimed author and speaker, titled:  From Father to Son:  Helping Boys Embrace Authentic Masculinity.  There is no charge for this event, but registration is required.  Registration deadline is:  April 18th.  This event is open to middle and high school young men and their fathers, grandfathers, older brothers, godfathers and mentors. There are a lot of voices out there and many conflicting and confusing messages about what it means to be a man in the 21st century.  How many of us take the time to listen to what God has to say about the matter?  Note: Young men must be accompanied by an adult.  

Registration deadline is:  April 18th

Guest Speaker: Fr. Brannen
Fr. Brett Brannen was ordained a priest in 1991 for the Diocese of Savannah, Ga.  He graduated from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary with an M.Div and an MA-Theology; Sacred Scripture.  He has served as pastor of five different parishes and was diocesan vocation director for 10 years.  From 2005-2011, he was the vice rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.  Fr. Brannen has preached nearly 50 diocesan priest retreats around the U.S., as well as numerous retreats for seminaries, discernment retreats for men and parish missions.  He has taught a course on the Identity of the Diocesan Priest at The Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, NE for the last 11 years and he preaches an annual retreat for priests with The Theology of the Body Institute.  He is the author of two books: To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood (2010) and A Priest in the Family: A Guide for Parents Whose Sons are Considering Priesthood (2014).  Fr. Brannen is currently the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Savannah, Ga 

Register at www.gods-call.org/sayyes

February 3, 2017

Last week I was blessed to be part of the pilgrimage to Washington, DC for the March for Life 2017: The Power of One. It was an amazing five days, filled with so much hope and promise. I was especially inspired by being surrounded with so many high school and young adults so fired up about protecting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. It seemed that the majority of those marching for life where youth and young adults with many of them carrying signs saying “I Am the Pro-Life Generation.”

We had six high school kids and two young adults from our diocese that joined up with the Diocese of Sioux Falls, who had about 60 plus high school and young adults with them. The University of St. Mary’s, together with the Diocese in Bismarck took 11 buses with over 500 young people to participate in the March, and several of them were from our diocese, so the Diocese of Rapid City was well represented.

At the Thursday night youth rally before the March on Friday, Mark Hart, the Executive Director of Life Teen, gave the keynote addressing the mediocrity of our own lives. He said often we are simply breathing rather than truly living the message of the Gospel. When one truly begins to live the message of the gospel, then we are willing to make sacrifices to lift up the sacredness of human life; especially those, like the unborn, who cannot defend themselves.

I was struck by the two freshmen boys who went with us: Liam Yantes and Isaac Rangel.  When Isaac and Liam heard on the evening before we were to leave that I-90 was closed because of weather and that we might not be able to get to Sioux Falls in time to meet up with the Sioux Falls bus, they decided to sleep on the floor rather than on their beds as a way to make a little sacrifice and offer it up in prayer to the Lord.

We decided to leave later on Wednesday morning hoping to make it to Sioux Falls in time to catch the buses for Washington DC. We ended up making it to Sioux Falls, partly I think because of the sacrifice that Liam and Isaac made the night before. I found that many of our youth and young adults Marching for Life are willing to make little sacrifices to stand up and proclaim with great joy and great peace the sanctity and dignity of human life. They truly are The Pro-Life generation in the making.

When it comes to being pro-life, are we simply breathing or living? Are we willing to make the sacrifices needed to live the pro-life message with great courage, strength and hope? Throughout our pilgrimage we prayed this prayer to end abortion and I would like to share it with you:

Prayer to End Abortion

Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life,
and for the lives of all my brothers and sisters.

I know there is nothing that destroys more life than abortion,
Yet I rejoice that you have conquered death
by the Resurrection of Your Son.

I am ready to do my part in ending abortion.
Today I commit myself
Never to be silent,
Never to be passive,
Never to be forgetful of the unborn.

I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement,
And never to stop defending life
until all my brothers and sisters are protected.
And our nation once again becomes
A nation with liberty and justice
Not just for some, but for all.

 Through Christ our Lord. Amen!

January 24, 2017

This past weekend I was blest to be part of the Refuel: Diocesan Religious Educators Conference at Terra Sancta. The theme this year was Desire: Catechesis in the Heart of Jesus. The speaker was Jessi Karry, AO, who is a member of the Pontifical Secular Institute of the Apostolic Oblates and has taught at the Institute of Priestly formation and the Archdiocese of Omaha Diaconate program.

Several years ago when my faith was pretty lukewarm as a priest, I returned to spiritual direction after taking sabbatical from it for a number of years. My spiritual director would say to me: “Fr. Mark, just pray that the Lord Jesus will make everything clear, simple, and easy for you.”   I have been praying that prayer ever since.

Because of this, one of the conferences on Saturday was truly an affirmation for me.  It was entitled Clear, Simple, and Easy: Letting Jesus do the Heavy Lifting.  As part of this conference Jesse handed out a tool for Apostolic Review, which is basically a series of questions. 

  • What is the most prominent way I encountered Christ this week/month/season?
  • How did I stay with that encounter; how was I docile to receiving more?
  • In what way(s) did I resist or pull back from a deepening of that encounter?
  • Where did I experience Jesus doing the heavy lifting? What part of my missionary experience was clear, simple, and easy?
  • What things in my life help me to allow Jesus to continue to do the hefty lifting?
  • What things took me out of that?
  • Where in my missionary experience did I experience difficulty, stress, being overwhelmed, tiredness, a lack of desire or initiative, lack of expectation, frustration, or annoyance?
  •  What fueled that? Have I brought it to God? How have I prayed with that experience?
  •  What do I want to have happen? Have I asked for that explicitly and persistently?
  • Where is Jesus inviting me to live in the next week/month/season? What is his plan? What do I want him to accomplish in me and through me and for me?

This week I encourage you to use this Tool for Apostolic Review in your life and then to share your reflections with a family member or friend.

January 20, 2017

This past week I was having lunch at St. Thomas More High School, practicing some relational ministry. While in the lunch line, I said a quick prayer asking the Lord to guide me to a spot where he wanted me to sit today. As I went through the lunch line, I knew it was going to be was going one of those Lipitor lunches — chicken fingers with curly fries.

With tray in hand, I glanced around the cafeteria to find an empty seat. I ended up sitting with two high school seniors, one who played on the boys’ basketball team and the other played on the girls’ basketball team.  I shared with them that I was able to see part of both their games the night before and I was impressed with the level of their play. I also gave them a hard time, saying that the real reason I went to their games was to pick up a few basketball pointers for the Men In Black basketball game, coming up on Monday January 30. We had a few good laughs over that one. The Men In Black basketball game is where the priests of the diocese play the high school seniors. In the past, the priests have always won, with some “divine” intervention coming to us by way of the referees and scoreboard official. However, last year we ended up in a tie.

It was a great lunch, in which we talked mostly about sports. I found out that one of them is going to play football at Northern State College in Aberdeen and the other one, is going to play basketball at the University of Utah. Both these seniors were very welcoming, hospitable and easy to visit with.  So welcoming that they sat with me through the whole lunch hour even though had they had already finished eating themselves. They waited patiently for me to finish my food. It was only when I picked up my tray that I realized that they had waited for me for me to finish my lunch before they left. As I picked up my tray they picked up theirs and said, “See you later Fr. Mark!” It was at that moment that I realized how generous they were being to me by sitting patiently with me without ever giving me the impression that they wished I would hurry up.

Even though our focus is on lively faith this year, we never leave generous hospitality behind.

January 12, 2017

One of my favorite ways to pray is using what some have called, “the Pirate Prayer: ARRR!” These four letters stand for: Acknowledge Relate, Receive and Respond. We acknowledge the Lord’s presence in our lives, we relate our feelings, thoughts and desires to the Lord, we receive from the Lord what he wants to give us and then we respond to what we have received from the Lord in action. It is important that we acknowledge the Lord’s presence in our lives. What he is doing in and through us.

I thought about this acknowledge piece of the prayer often this Christmas season, especially when I would receive a gift.  Perhaps it was a check, a free trip to the car wash, or a trip the bookstore or the movie theater. Whatever gift might be, it is important that I acknowledge that gift and in doing so, I acknowledge the person who sent it to me. I acknowledge them with a grateful heart for simply taking the time to think of me. However, I find this easier said than done.

This is one of my New Year’s resolutions once again! As a matter of fact, I think it has been one of my New Year’s resolutions for several years now — To acknowledge the gift and the giver, which again should spring from a grateful heart within us. I am grateful that someone has taken the time to simply think about me.

Several years ago when I went to the Diocese of Wichita to learn more about stewardship, the director said, “The heart of stewardship is having a grateful heart.” He said something like this to me, “Every Tuesday afternoon I exercise that grateful heart by blocking out time in my schedule to simply write thank you notes.  It has brought me so much freedom.” His discipline shows that fostering a grateful heart takes intentionality and discipline.

I have heard it once said that the two main reasons why people do not write thank you notes are: one, they do not have thank you notes on hand and secondly, they simply do not take the time. For all of us it is easier said than done. I know I have the best intentions but sometimes I simply do not follow through.  I am fearful that this perhaps gives the impression that I do not have a grateful heart.

I need to get in the habit of writing thank you notes on a regular basis.  Perhaps the best way to start by putting it on my schedule.

Sometimes we need help as well. This past year, Shawna Hanson, the Administrative Assistant for the Office of Stewardship and Vocations has helped me in this regard.  I let her know the list of those I want to write a thank you note or a follow-up note to and she addresses the envelopes and sets the notecards on my desk.

Do you have any thoughts on writing or receiving thank you cards? What is your secret to getting them out?

January 5, 2017

Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. As I pondered her life, I thought of our stewardship initiative right away — generous hospitality and lively faith. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton received two invitations and she accepted them both. In doing so, the fundamental direction of her life changed forever.

The first invitation came in the form of generous hospitality from Italian friends, who invited her and her daughter to stay with them in their home after the death of her husband William Seton, who died of tuberculosis. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton grew up Episcopalian, but was moved and consoled by her friend’s Catholic faith, especially the witness they gave her in the certain faith they had about the Real Presence of the Eucharist. It was this invitation from her Italian friends and their clear witness of faith that gave her the impetus to convert to the Catholic faith.

However, living her Catholic faith was not easy for her because of the anti-Catholic prejudices and attitudes she experienced after returning to America, especially among her family and friends. Despite these difficulties she was encountering, she did not abandon her new found faith, but lived her faith with greater fervor and zeal.

Finding herself isolated and penniless, she accepted her second invitation from a Sulpician priest in Baltimore.  He asked her to open a school for girls.  This school, and the community of teachers that later came to work with St. Elizabeth led to the founding of the congregation that became the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. It was this invitation and acceptance that the American parochial school system came to be through the faith and prayer of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

In this New Year, take the time to reflect on the invitations that you have received that have changed the direction of your life of faith. Who might Jesus be calling you to extend an invitation to?  How is He calling you to witness the Catholic faith as St. Elizabeth’s Italian friends did? You might be surprised by what that one simple invitation can do.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.