June 23, 2017

Last week, I had an amazing time at Girls Totus Tuus. This year’s theme is Fearless: Perfect Love Casts out All Fear (1 John 4:18). We were blessed this year with the most religious sisters we have ever had at summer camp—25 sisters from 13 communities, including Srs. Yvette and Samantha from St. Martin’s and Srs. Jacque, Brigitte and Mathilde who are currently working on the Standing Rock Indian reservation in McLaughlin.

I received this beautiful note from one of the “disciples”[i] that gave generously and sacrificially of their time to make this camp possible: “The sisters were all like a silent cloud of witnesses as they radiated love, joy, freedom, humility, gentleness, and the zeal for God that runs deep into the core of who they are. Without chastising or preaching, they taught modesty, abandonment to Divine Providence, and perhaps the most important lesson for girls at this age, that there is lots of room for fun, silliness,  laughter, friendship and much joy in a life of faith.”

One of the young adult women serving on one of our Duc In Altum[ii] teams said of her time working behind the scenes at camp, “I have never worked so hard in my life!” Another disciple/volunteer of the Lord thanked our Totus Tuus team for all of our hard work and commitment to teaching our young girls about God’s call for each of them in their life.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of tenacity and commitment on our parts. We are called to let Jesus work in and through us, through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we also called to give it our all.  St. Ignatius said, “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.” If we choose to give it our all, despite our weaknesses, failures and shortcomings, the Lord is able to do amazing things and will constantly surprise us with abundant fruit. This reminds me of the feeding story of the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel (John 6:1-14). Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” Andrew offers the five loaves and two fish belonging to a young boy, but adds, “what good are these for so many?” Jesus gives thanks and blesses the five loaves and two fish and then feeds over 5000 people with the small gift.

As St. John Paul, Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis all have reminded us, we are not made for mediocrity; we are made for excellence. Jesus is simply asking us to give all that we have and he will take care of the rest. I am amazed at what Jesus did this past week in the hearts of our middle school campers, high school junior leaders, Sisters, and myself. When you work hard and truly give of yourself, without holding back because it’s too difficult, too much work, or thinking I do not have the skill set, Jesus blesses and fruit abounds abundantly.

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[i] As Bishop Gruss reminds us, in the Church there are no “volunteers”.  Rather, there are disciples who give generously of their time and talent to serve in the name of Christ.

[ii] The Vocations Office provides two teams of seminarians and other young adults each summer who travel throughout the parishes in our diocese offering a week long catechetical program for children, middle school and high school youth.  This program is called Duc In Altum.

June 15, 2017

The wedding season is upon us and I am sure a lot of us have been invited to a wedding to share in the joy and the beauty of the groom and bride becoming one in Christ. The wedding reception can be a challenge at times, especially as the night rolls along. I remember several years ago, right before the toast, one of my parishioners said, “We will see you later Fr. Mark!”

I said, “You’re leaving so soon?” And his response was, “Yes, I am leaving before the debauchery begins!” However, I think the wedding reception offers us a chance to bring the light of Christ, our lively faith and our missionary zeal for the Lord to the dinner table.

Several weeks ago Shawna Hanson, who works with me in the Office of Stewardship and Vocations, was sharing with me a great dinner conversation she had at a wedding reception recently. I asked Shawna to share her story. It shows that even those sometimes awkward and difficult times can turn into a blessing if one is open to lively faith and godly conversations.

“My husband and I were invited to a wedding of a lovely young couple from our parish, but we don’t know their families very well and so we walked into a room full of strangers at the reception. As the room filled up, so did our table and we found ourselves seated next to a young couple living in Brookings.  We exchanged introductions and polite conversation and when it came out that I worked for the Diocese, the young man said very boldly, “So, may I ask – why is it that you take your faith seriously?”  I briefly shared with him some of the major people and events that have touched my heart and enlivened my faith and then turned the question back to him, “And how is it that you came to take your faith seriously?”  He shared this beautiful story with me.  The summer before his senior year in high school he was very disillusioned.  He was a successful athlete, a good student and popular with his classmates.  But life had become for him a series of boxes to check – got that, did that and he found himself thinking, “If this is all there is, life isn’t really that great.”  His mom had encouraged him to attend one of the Discipleship Camps sponsored by the Sioux Falls Diocese for years, but he had never been interested.  On a whim, he decided to go.  He encountered people there who were not the most talented athletes, not the best students, not the most popular, but who had a deep sense of joy.  A joy he didn’t have.  And he thought to himself, “I want what these people have.”  He entered fully into all of the activities of camp, made “my most sincere confession ever, next to a pool table”, and most importantly, went to Eucharistic Adoration with an open heart.  As he sat in Adoration, he heard Jesus say clearly, “You are my son and I love you.”  In his words, “After that, nothing was the same.  After you have truly encountered Jesus, your life is different.  From then on, I was all in!  Jesus, whatever you want me to do, I am all in.”  He seriously considered priesthood, but eventually discerned that he was called to marriage.  He just graduated from college, is newly married and he and his wife will welcome their first child in October.

“Always be ready to give an account for the hope that lies within you.”  (1 Peter 3:15)  This young man was inspired by other young people at D-Camp that shared a sense of joy and in turn he inspired me by sharing the joy he has found in Christ.  Fr. Tyler Dennis encourages students at the Veritatis Splendor Institute to prepare an “elevator testimony”, a short account of how the Lord has led you to a deeper faith.  I would encourage you, if you haven’t already, to think about this.  How would you have answered the young man, ‘How is that you take your faith seriously?  What ‘great things’ has the Lord done for you?’”

June 6, 2017

I wanted to share some good news with you!  After many months of work, the Office of Stewardship sent out a document called, “The Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish” to every pastor in our Diocese.  This document outlines characteristics that an ideal parish, who is committed to living Stewardship as a Way of Life, would have and is the first step in meeting one of the goals outlined in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan (“To increase by 5-10 the number of parishes who have met the criteria to be recognized as stewardship parishes.”) This document strives to paint a picture of the ideal parish, a vision of what a parish could be.  As Tom Corcoran shared recently at Pastoral Ministry Days, a vision is often seen as unrealistic and hardly attainable, but worth pursuing as it can impel us to live more fully the life Christ is calling us to.  I think all parishes in our diocese will find characteristics contained in it that they are already doing well and also many that challenge them.  It is our hope that parishes will look at these characteristics as providing helpful assistance in long-term planning.  When Bishop Gruss approved this document, he said again something that I have heard him say many times.  Namely, that it is his greatest desire that our people fall deeply in love with our Lord.  He is hopeful that this document is looked at as a means to that end.  If it serves to help parishes more effectively bring people into a deep encounter with Jesus, then it will prove its usefulness, whether or not in the end we have five or fifty “Stewardship Parishes”.

In my letter to pastors, I suggested the document be used in this way:

  1. Meet with the leaders in your parish and ask them to read it, pray over it and then begin by using these characteristics to form an honest and realistic picture of your parish.  This becomes baseline for where your parish is at today.  Basically, what are the parish’s strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Know that these characteristics build on one another and that if there are weaknesses in the foundational structures, these should be addressed first.  In the areas of Hospitality, Lively Faith and Dedicated Discipleship, there are both simple and complex criteria expressed.
  3. Then, use this baseline to set some realistic goals for growth and development, remembering that stewardship is a way of life, not a program and that it is always an ongoing process of growth. Some questions to think about:
  4. How do these goals align with our mission statement?
  5. What are going to be the markers that we can point to in meeting these goals?
  6. What does success look like – in particulars?
  7. Commit to an annual assessment of these goals.
  8. Choose to pursue formal designation through the Office of Stewardship.

The Office of Stewardship is here to serve the Diocese and we are happy to assist in this process in any way we can.  I will be working to develop a way to assess parishes and a system for designating parishes as Stewardship Parishes.  I believe that a tiered system best encourages us to keep working towards achieving this lofty vision as well as conveys the reality of stewardship as a Way of Life.  The first step in achieving the designation of Stewardship Parish will be to be designated as a Foundational Parish, indicating that your parish has in place all of the foundational structures necessary to begin fostering Stewardship in your parish.  After this, there will be three additional benchmarks, each of them more challenging than the previous, requiring a greater number of criterion be met.  Those parishes meeting these benchmarks will be designated as Hospitable Parishes, Lively Parishes and then, finally, Stewardship Parishes.

If you would like to see this document, please ask your pastor for a copy or call my Office and I can send you one.

May 24, 2017

One of my favorite events at Clergy Convocation Days is celebrating Mass together honoring the Jubilarians. This year we had three Jubilarian; Fr. Bob Baden and Fr. Arnie Kari, both celebrating 40 years of priesthood, and Fr. Leo Hausmann celebrating 25 years of priesthood. Father Leo was the homilist and I know the Lord was speaking through him in his great humility and desire to be a good and holy priest.

Father Leo shared with us his experience this past Lent when a number of the priests in the diocese read together Thirty Three Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC. Fr. Leo said: “I have found the book to be very helpful in finding a deeper understanding of God’s mercy in my personal life, as well as a deeper understanding of how living merciful love is essential to my vocation as priest.”

Father Leo also shared with us that in the last 25 years, he has never thought about giving up his vocation as a priest. I would like to share the last part of Fr. Leo’s homily with all of you because it speaks so powerfully about the call to “lively faith” and “dedicated discipleship” in which were all called live in great humility and trust in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and also to the reality of how the evil one works to draw the faithful away from the Lord.

“I have fallen too much in love with what God has called me to. I have come to love too much the joy and satisfaction of doing all the special things that a priest is called to do and be, and the special place a priest has in the life of the people he serves.” No, I would never willingly give up my vocation as priest. It is branded on my soul and has come to be my identity. If I were no longer priest I would no longer know who I am.

Still, I say that always lurking in the background is the temptation to go back to that empty place I once escaped from. That is, not to go back in a leap, but to go back by small increments. A little selfishness here, a little self-centeredness there, a little self-serving somewhere else.

It is the temptation to let in a little materialism in here and there to erode my focus on the Kingdom of God and to focus instead on building a kingdom of Leo. It is, to let the temptation of the lure of worldly pleasures to draw me away from reveling in the delights of God’s beauty. It is to let the temptation of human praise to weaken my commitment to please God in all things. It is to let the temptation of making excuses for myself not to pray or do my spiritual reading because I am too tired or busy or whatever else, weakening my friendship with Jesus.

That is how the tempter works in my life, tempting me away, not from priesthood per se, but away from a fruitful priesthood. The devil is a big liar who, when he knows we won’t fall for the big lie, tells little lies tempting us through increments away from a whole hearted commitment to our vocation.

If he is successful at refocusing us inward to self-centeredness and self-serving, he knows that then he has spiritually damaged not only the personal life of the priest who had grown lukewarm in his vocation, but he has brought spiritual damage to all the souls that that priest will not help because his fruitful priesthood had at some point died on the vine.

By increments the big liar has changed the fervent priest to have little awareness and little heart for the spiritual suffering and sickness around him, and not much enthusiasm for partnering with the Advocate to bring God’s merciful love to the lost souls God intended the priest to minister to and save.

I think the Tempter has the goal of taking every fervent priest back to that empty place so he can work unimpeded in his work as tempter and accuser.

Mary played a big part in my life to pull me out of that empty place to serve her son as priest. May she intercede to keep all of us fervent in our vocation and co-advocates with the Holy Spirit defending souls by pleading God’s merciful love for them.”

Thank you Fr. Leo for preaching from your heart!

May 19, 2017

On Wednesday, I was at confirmation at Blessed Sacrament in Rapid City for my godson Jacob’s confirmation. In visiting with Bishop Gruss before the confirmation, he said he had only six confirmations left for this spring and several coming up in the fall to finish up another confirmation season. Bishop Gruss alluded to the fact that confirmation is one his favorite things to do as a Bishop.

Bishop Gruss is very passionate about confirming young people and preaches with great zeal, pressing upon the need for a strong and confident “I Do” from the confirmands as they renew their baptismal promises.  He shares, “The devil, the evil one, will take notice of a lukewarm and tepid ‘I Do.’  Instead, it is important to give a strong and heartfelt “I do” so that the evil one will take notice and know that you belong to Christ and Christ alone!”

I know that this year’s confirmation is over for most of the parishes. Nonetheless, I wanted to share the text of the interview Father Brett Brennen does with his eighth grade students who preparing for confirmation. Fr. Brannen spoke when he was here in April of how powerful these interviews are for his students.  Many who attended his workshops have asked for a copy of the questions he asks. Please see the document attached and please consider incorporating his ideas into your own parish’s confirmation preparation in some way. If you would like to watch or listen to one of Fr. Brannen’s presentations, they are available here:

Video:  www.gods-call.org/events

Audio:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/official-podcast-for-the-diocese-of-rapid-city/id1127485294?mt=2
-or- simply search for the Diocese of Rapid City in the Podcast app

May 11, 2017

Yesterday, I was struck by the daily reading from the Acts of the Apostles, when we hear “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.”

In my Lectio Divina, the word that hit me was “fasting”– something we don’t usually associate with the Easter season in which we feast and bask in the newness of the resurrection of Christ instead. We typically associate fasting with the penitential seasons of Advent and in particular the season of Lent. However, the church has had a strong tradition of fasting not only in these penitential seasons, but also on Wednesdays in which we remember the denial of Jesus and on Fridays in which we remember the death of the Lord.

If we want to grow in lively faith and dedicated discipleship, then fasting ought to become a regular part of our weekly life as followers of Jesus and not something reserved only for Advent and Lent. St. Peter Chrysologus sums up the New Testament teaching on fasting in this way: “Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petitions of others.”

The apparitions of Our Lady of Medjugorje encourage fasting on both Wednesdays and Fridays.  Our Lady says praying without fasting is like a one-legged soldier, always easily defeated. I know that there are number of people in our diocese who are also fasting on Thursdays as a way to pray and intercede for more vocations to priesthood and religious life.

Praying and fasting are an incredible combination as a way to grow in in holiness and to seek the Lord more deeply in our lives The two together help us to be more merciful and more loving to one another. Even though we are in the Easter season, I encourage you to add some fasting to your weekly routine of prayer as a way to grow in the spiritual life. I promise you will not be disappointed!

Fr. Mark

May 5, 2017

Last week, Fr. Brett Brennen, a priest from the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia did several workshops for us on creating a culture of vocations. He told a powerful story about the challenge of receiving an invitation and the power of responding to an invitation. Fr. Brett heard this story of “an invitation” from Cardinal Bevilacqua, at a National Conference for Diocesan Vocation Directors.

“A newly appointed Bishop made this decision early on in his episcopacy: before every confirmation he would have dinner with the pastor. The Bishop also asked every pastor to invite five young men that he could visit with after dinner. The Bishop asked that these five young men be faithful to Sunday Eucharist and simply love the church. This was the only qualification the Bishop gave to the pastors.

In one small rural parish, the Bishop and the pastor had a wonderful dinner with each other before the confirmation.  After the dinner, the Bishop asked the pastor where he was supposed to meet with the five young men.

The pastor said, “Oh Bishop, this is a small town and we do not have any young men who are interested in the priesthood from the parish.”

The Bishop said, “I did not ask if the young men were interested in the priesthood.  I simply asked you to invite five young men who were faithful to Mass and loved the church.

The pastor repeated again, “Bishop this is a small parish and we do not have any young man who are interested in the priesthood.”

The Bishop then replied, “Unless I talk with five young men, there will be no confirmation.”

This really startled the pastor, who began to complain to the Bishop that everybody was in the church and were ready for the confirmation. “They are set to get their picture taken with you, Bishop. What am I supposed to do?”

The Bishop reiterated his request and said to the pastor, “If I were you, I would get to the phone and start calling some young men.”

The pastor left grumbling and talking under his breath. He made two phone calls to a couple of faithful families who had sons and within a short period of time he had five young men in place to visit the Bishop.  The reality is, he hadn’t even tried. We know from our stewardship initiative that generous hospitality is so important and really foundational in helping our parishes to live out lively faith and to become dedicated disciples of Jesus. We must overcome our hesitancy in extending an invitation to deeper faith.

There is great power in an invitation.  The Bishop ordained three of those five young men to be priests for his diocese. The Holy Spirit always surprises us when we step out in faith. If we’re going to truly create a culture of vocations in our families, our parishes and in our diocese, it is going to take all of us regularly extending invitations to our young men and women to seek God’s plan in their lives. My friends, be not afraid to extend the invitation to others to follow Christ!

Let us be faithful stewards, living a Catholic Way of life through generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship.

Fr. Mark

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 21, 2017

This week I am in Jamaica with St. Thomas More’s Mission Team.  We have come to work with Mustard Seed Communities, an organization founded in 1978 by Msgr. Gregory Ramkisson.  Mustard Seed’s mission is:

“Inspired by the healing and caring Ministry of Jesus Christ, we aim through the positive interaction of caring, sharing and training, to uplift the most vulnerable members of society, especially disabled and abandoned children, and marginalized communities. We are committed to the fostering of homes and communities, which will lead us all to loving service and mutual respect and which will bring us joy, hope and dignity.”

They are an international nonprofit dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable populations throughout the developing world.  Mustard Seed began with one home for a handful of children with disabilities who had been abandoned to the streets of Jamaica and has grown to serve more than 600 adults and children in five countries. To learn more visit:  www.mustardseed.com.

During our time here, we have worked at two Mustard Seed Communities, Blessed Assurance and Jacob’s Ladder and we visited two others: My Father’s House and Jerusalem.  One of the things that April 21, 2017has struck me is that in every Mustard Seed community, the church is at the center of all the buildings and cottages for the residents.  The Mustard Seed Communities have the Eucharist at the center of all they do, and they reflect and remind themselves of this by intentionally structuring their communities so that Jesus is literally in the center.

This picture shows the sanctuary at Blessed Assurance with the tabernacle in the center and the words, “Thank you Lord” to the right and “He is here” on the left.  These words are present on the sanctuary walls of every Church run by Mustard Seed; it reminds me of the words ‘I thirst’ which are painted next to the crucifix in all of the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity.  For both St. Mother Teresa and for the staff of the Mustard Seed, these statements are interwoven into everything that is done within the community.  I saw the Community’s 2017 theme posted throughout the different communities we visited as well:  “Let everything that breathes praise God!”

Thinking about Stewardship alongside my experiences here in Jamaica has led me to ponder:  do we have our parish mission statements posted and do we refer to them often?  Do they guide our work and center us on Jesus like these statements do for the caretakers and residents in the Mustard Seed Communities?

For more pictures of our time here, please visit the STM Mission Jamaica Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/STMMissionTrip/

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