“See I Make All Things New”

“See I Make All Things New”

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a new commandment:  love one another.  As I have loved you, so also you should love one another. (cf John 13:34)  The commandment to love others is not really new.  In the Old Testament, God asked that we, “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18).  However, Jesus has certainly stepped up the game, so to speak, to move us from loving someone else as much as we love ourselves to loving the other the way Jesus loves.  He is inviting us into a sacrificial love; one that always seeks the good of the other despite the cost to us. 

In reflecting on this statement of Jesus’, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make “ours” the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. ” (2842)  In other words, we can’t keep this commandment by ourselves, by “watching” Jesus and then by our own efforts attempting to imitate him.  We can only love in this way by loving others from inside the heart of Jesus, by being incorporated into His life and love, and living and loving through and with Him. 

How can we do this?  In the second reading (Rev. 21:1-5), we have the image of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.  The new heavens and the new earth, the Holy City are not something we create or can bring about.  They come to us from heaven, gifts from the hand of a loving God.  Gifts can only be received or refused.  As St. James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)  God gives and we receive and in doing so, we begin to live more and more within him.  “In him we live and move and  have our being.” (Acts 17:28)  

It is important to note that even as we are more and more incorporated into His love and life, we do not cease to be ourselves.  We need not fear that in striving to be receptive and receive this love from God, that it will cost us the loss of our independence or our uniqueness. For the One sitting on the throne says, “Behold I make all things new.”  God is not making new things, but making all things new.  This is a work of renovation and the result of the work will be that we will be made whole, we will become as Matthew Kelly often says, “the best version of ourselves.”   

Allowing our work to be God’s work, opening ourselves up to be more and more receptive to His love and His grace not only allows us to participate in the renewing of the world but we become fully alive and fully ourselves in the process.  Who wouldn’t want that?!  

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CHANCERY OFFICE

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Love Should Be Our Primary Motivation

Love Should Be Our Primary Motivation

“Don’t push where the Holy Spirit is leading.”

Fr. Charles Lachowitzer

On Monday and Tuesday the Bishop, the Chancery staff, most of our priests and many of those who work in parishes were here at Terra Sancta for Pastoral Ministry Days.  Our speaker, Fr. Charles Lachowitzer is the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.  He is a man of great wisdom and many of the things he said have me thinking.  There were several times over the course of the two days when I thought to myself, “This echoes our Stewardship initiative!”  For example, Fr. Charles often spoke of the importance of face-to-face invitations in the life of the parish.  In today’s world, the amount of messages we receive can be overwhelming and the face-to-face communications with others becomes even more important (and harder to come by!).  He also spoke highly of our Diocesan pastoral plan and of pastoral planning in general.  He said that parish leadership should have meaningful work that leads toward a vision that has been laid out in a pastoral plan and that a plan can be viewed like a “job listing”; a means by which we can call the gifts of the people forward and facilitate their participation in the mission of Jesus.  But there are two comments he made that stand out to me particularly:

“The people of God have the right to participate in the mission of Jesus and the structures of the church should serve that purpose.” 

Most often I hear pastors and parish leaders express a desire for more “volunteers”, more help in doing the work of the Church.  Often times we lament the lack of catechists in a parish, the reality that “too few people are doing too much of the work”.  But never have I heard someone speak of the right to participate.  What would happen in a parish or school if people stopped viewing requests from others in the parish as unpleasant obligations and instead began asking for the opportunity to exercise a right to participate?  That would be quite a paradigm shift.  And as Fr. Charles said, if all the people in a parish did that, would we be able to handle it?  I don’t know about you, but I would love to see us try!

Fr. Charles also said several times, “Don’t push where the Holy Spirit is leading.”  Hmmm.  Patience, I suppose, is what he is calling for here.  It reminds me of Jesus admonishing St. Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”.  I have often found myself in Peter’s position — I have grasped some truth, glimpsed clearly some part of Jesus’ mission.  Excitedly, I run full speed ahead with my new found knowledge or insight, only to be brought up short when Jesus gently reminds me that I have “run” right past Him and am no longer following the One for whom I am supposed to be working for.  More often than not, this happens when I become too focused on “doing something” to the neglect of loving and serving others.  Fr. Charles very wisely reminded us that often to slow down, to plan well, to take the time to make sure our plans are well communicated with everyone involved, saves a lot of conflict, tension, and chaos later. 

It was a good reminder to me that love should always be our primary motivation in all of our actions.  There is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in being efficient, in checking tasks off of a list; but if in the process we step on toes, ignore people, or exclude those who God may be calling to help, we have not served the mission of Jesus.  The most important “work” that is done in the midst of our “work” is to give and receive the love of God.  St. Teresa of Calcutta used to challenge her sisters to make sure that every person they encountered in the course of their day was better off for having seen or talked with them.  If we were able to do this well, we would surely be serving in the Lord’s vineyard no matter what other tasks and projects were filling up our time.  This seems to me to be the main thing.  And as Stephen Covey says, “the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”  That is my challenge.  Perhaps it is yours as well.

 

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

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CHANCERY OFFICE

606 Cathedral Drive
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 343-3541

CHANCERY ANNEX AT TERRA SANCTA

2101 City Springs Rd Ste 200
Rapid City, SD 57702
(605) 716-5214

TERRA SANCTA RETREAT CENTER

2101 City Springs Rd, Ste 300
Rapid City , SD 57702
(605) 716-0925
stay@terrasancta.org

SAFE ENVIRONMENT

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VICTIM ASSISTANCE COORDINATOR

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The Joy of the Resurrection is Coming!

The Joy of the Resurrection is Coming!

“Even now return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful.”

Gospel Antiphon, Tuesday the 3rd Week of Lent

Often when I am teaching as a catechist, I find myself saying, “In Catholicism it is rarely either/or.  We are a both/and faith!”  I was reminded of one more example of this truth this morning during my commute into work.  Fr. Michel Mulloy and Andy Shaw were interviewing another priest on Real Presence Live about Laetare Sunday.  Laetare means Rejoice and so on this Sunday, a bit more than half way through the somber season of Lent, the Church invites us to rejoice.  One of the interviewers rightly commented that it seems incongruous to rejoice amidst the penances, the fasting and the focus on the suffering and death of our Savior that marks Lent.  And I get that, but I also think about the many instances in life when joy is intermingled with great difficulty, suffering or sadness.  Take for instance the loss of a loved one.  There is much sadness at this time, but often there is also joy and laughter as family members gather, share memories and reconnect.  I recently read an interesting article on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in which the author proposed that one of its causes was the loss of the camaraderie a soldier experiences in the midst of his or her military service.  In the midst of very difficult circumstances deep bonds are often formed between soldiers and this article proposed that the isolation and loss of that after service contributes to the syndrome.  This is another example of goodness amidst difficult circumstances.  So I think in one sense we can see our liturgical life simply reflecting the reality of the rest of life, that rejoicing in the midst of this serious, grave, and solemn season isn’t unique to Laetare Sunday. 

Perhaps too, the Church desires to remind us of the reason for our Lenten practices, namely that all we are doing and experiencing during Lent are ordered toward Easter.  Our fasting, almsgiving and prayer should be helping to free us from the bonds of sin that hold us, to empty us of those things in our lives which prevent us from fully experiencing God’s love and mercy, refocusing our minds and hearts on those things that are most important and expanding our hearts to more fully give and receive love.  All of these things bring us joy and are cause for rejoicing.  Mother Church, in her wisdom, gives us this Sunday both as an acknowledgment that we can already begin to feel the good fruits of our hard work and also an encouragement to keep going — to persevere.  All the hard work of Lent is worth it!  The joy of the resurrection is coming!  Let’s prepare well so that we can truly experience the grace and love poured out to us at Easter.   


The use of rose vestments on Laetere Sunday probably stems from an ancient papal tradition of blessing golden roses which would be sent to Catholic heads of state in Europe on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
Photo by Providence Doucet on Unsplash

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CHANCERY OFFICE

606 Cathedral Drive
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(605) 343-3541

CHANCERY ANNEX AT TERRA SANCTA

2101 City Springs Rd Ste 200
Rapid City, SD 57702
(605) 716-5214

TERRA SANCTA RETREAT CENTER

2101 City Springs Rd, Ste 300
Rapid City , SD 57702
(605) 716-0925
stay@terrasancta.org

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Bartimaeus the Steward

Bartimaeus the Steward

In response to my email of October 11th, I heard back from several of you who shared with me some of the ways your parish is paying attention to the small details in order to be more hospitable.  Thank you! 

Here are a couple:

  • Last year we did a hoe down chili cook-off in January. It was nice to have a bit of fun in January, seems like a blank space in the calendar. 
  • The biggest impact OLBH has had on welcoming families has been to stock the nursery with various sizes of diapers and wipes and pull ups for the times you forget or run out of something while here. It is very inexpensive – we bought four small diaper packages a year ago and are just now running out – but it makes parents feel welcome.
I am sure there are many ways parishioners around the Diocese are finding simple but meaningful ways to extend hospitality.  It is a joy to hear of some of them.

This past Friday I returned from a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The whole trip was filled with grace and blessings and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go.  The pilgrimage was led by Fr. Jacques Phillippe and Sr. Magdalit Bolduc from the Community of the Beatitudes.  This morning I was thinking about something Fr. Phillippe said to us on the evening of our arrival.  He said that often times we believe that we really cannot change or be changed. “That is just the way I am”, we say to ourselves.  Fr. Phillippe said that attitude, although quite common among Christians, speaks of a lack of Christian hope.  We lack the virtue of hope in the power and work of God’s grace in our lives if we believe that we cannot change.

Both unconsciously and consciously I think we often live and act out of this belief, both in how we think about ourselves personally, but also about how we think about the institutions we are a part of, whether it be the workplace, school, or church.  We are dissatisfied and unhappy about the status quo, but feel a sense of hopelessness about it ever changing.  On the other hand, we also experience as Americans this almost blind belief that if something is new it must also be good and we relentlessly pursue the next best thing; in technology, in diets, in entertainment; in educational and parenting practices, in church programs. Interesting how we hold these seemingly contradictory extremes simultaneously in our daily lives; on the one hand thinking things will never change while at the same time, relentlessly searching for and trying new things, throwing out the old and moving from one new novelty to the next.  All the while remaining restless.

It is only in actively seeking Christian maturity and Christian hope that we can navigate between the tendency to move back and forth from these two extremes.  The mature disciple, like Mary, is open and docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and therefore, not rigid; but open to change.  At the same time, the mature disciple is rooted firmly in the stable rock of Faith; is growing in prudence and right judgment and so is not easily blown one direction and then another by quickly changing fads.

Both as individuals and as church communities, it is important to be watchful and attentive to staying within this balance.  On the one hand, we must hold firmly to the belief expressed in the Book of Revelation, “See I make all things new” (21:5), firmly rooting ourselves in Hope which frees us to be open to the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  At the same time, the heritage of the Church carries with it the wisdom of the ages and we must guard against absorbing a cultural disdain for anything “old” and a presumption that we are wiser than those who have gone before us.  As we talk about and discern how to move from “maintenance” to “mission” (p. i, Through Him, With Him and In Him), as we argue with one another about whether or not the church is changing too much or not enough, as we debate about this new program or that or about whether to abandon “programs” all together,  let us continue to encourage one another to do so always with fervent prayer and commitment to growth in virtue.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Bartimaeus provides us with just such encouragement.  He cries out to the Lord with great faith and with great persistence – a model for prayer.  In a gesture of great detachment, he throws his cloak (his only security in his current state of life) to come to the Lord.  Honestly sharing his desire with the Lord, he is healed and “followed him on the way” – literally, “followed in His footsteps”.  Bartimaeus is a steward and a disciple, a man of fervent, persistent, and honest prayer who trusts completely in the Lord and follows in His footsteps.  Let us all strive to do likewise.

 

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CHANCERY OFFICE

606 Cathedral Drive
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 343-3541

CHANCERY ANNEX AT TERRA SANCTA

2101 City Springs Rd Ste 200
Rapid City, SD 57702
(605) 716-5214

TERRA SANCTA RETREAT CENTER

2101 City Springs Rd, Ste 300
Rapid City , SD 57702
(605) 716-0925
stay@terrasancta.org

SAFE ENVIRONMENT

Click here to learn more

VICTIM ASSISTANCE COORDINATOR

Barbara Scherr (605) 209-3418

The Whole Point of Life is to Love

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.