Monday, August 30, 2010


My family has always been a musical one.  As a child, my father rode home from town, resting his head on his father's lap, listening as my Grandpa Roy sang Little Joe the Wrangler and Strawberry Roan.  My own childhood trips home from town were filled with much the same.  When we didn't sing these songs, we sand along with recordings of Bob Seager, Ian Tyson, The Eagles, Credence Clearwater Revival, and sometimes Garth Brooks..  My dad is a guitar picker, as are my brothers.  I don't play much by way of instruments, but I sing.  Incessantly.  In eighth grade, I tormented a girl by singing, "My Hat, It has Three Corners" for the better part of a day.  While I cannot say that I was disappointed to torment her, the singing was more of a compulsion or a reflex.  I couldn't help myself.  I sang enough in the halls of the college seminary to have it occur in the senior roast as I was leaving that place.  The same happened again as I finished my theological training.  The truth is, I possess an entire soundtrack that runs almost ceaselessly through my head, and the music changes to accommodate the situation.  Here is a sampling of today's fare:

I walked into the office of Shari, our youth director, and immediately, this song was playing in my head:

Later in the day, I went over to the school to repose the Blessed Sacrament, which had been exposed for adoration. The reposition hymn was with me for a while.

At dinner this evening, we ate broccoli over which one of the priests had melted velveta cheese.  It was a bit of a stretch but my mind finally happened on the right song for the moment (I'm not joking).

I looked at some football pictures from a recent game to the stylings of Bonnie Tyler.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How It Should Be

I write this with a certain degree of hesitation, as it reflects somewhat critically on an institution within Rapid City toward which many Catholics bear a great deal of devotion and zeal.  Moreover, it was recently suggested that I approach my relationship with said institution as though it were an enemy to be defeated.  Though I am deeply fond of the institution and possess a deep love for those associated with it, this assessment is not entirely false.  This topic has been weighing on me for some time; what I am going to say needs saying.  In reading this, one should not assume that I speak magisterially.  Such is not my role in the Church.  Mine is a particular reading of the teachings of the Church, and though I believe it to be true, reasonable, and supported by the teachings of the Church, it does not necessarily represent the opinions of those legitimately responsible for the philosophy and operation of the institutions about which I opine.

The foundation of all reality is the Holy Trinity.  This truth, so fundamental to all of Christianity, is the litmus test by which all Christian denominations determine who is and is not legitimately considered Christian.  It is a basic Dogma common to all of Christianity that God is one while simultaneously consisting in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  These persons are distinct from one another; they are not various modes under which a single God operates in his relation with man and the world.  Nevertheless, the thing which makes God the Father God is common as well to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  These three persons exist within a relation of love so intense that from this love flows all of creation upon which the Holy Trinity has left his fingerprints.  Creation - all of reality - is reflective of this God albeit in imperfect ways.  Among the things which reflect God is man, who, unlike the rest of creation, is made in God's image and likeness.

It is a fundamental assumption of Orthodox Catholic Theology and reasonable philosophies that all things exist for a purpose.  A thing is known by the purpose for which it is created.  One will always necessarily not know what a hammer is unless one knows first and foremost the purpose for which the hammer exists.  One need not know how a hammer is made, of what it is made, or by whom it is made to know that it exists for the purpose of driving a nail.  So it is with the human person.  We will never know ourselves until we know the purpose for which we are made.  Though the ink spilled in answering this question is voluminous, three short propositions seem sufficient to address the question.

1) God created man out of love.
2) God created man to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this life, and to be happy with him in the next life.
3) Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself, and in Christ, man discovers that he is only truly happy (thus, only truly what he is made to be) and only serves and loves God well when, out of love, he sacrifices himself for the sake of becoming a gift to another.  This sacrificial love is prerequisite to happiness in the life to come.

It is further an assumption of all reasonable philosophies that all actions of a thing are ultimately directed toward the final end of a thing.  In other words, the action of a hammer in being lifted, of being  swung, and of striking the head of a nail are intermediate ends that move the hammer toward its ultimate end of driving a nail.  So too with man should his actions all be deliberate movements toward his final end (service and love of God in this life and happiness with him in the next).  Man, unlike other created things, however, finds that besides the angels, he alone is free.  He alone is able to choose actions that do not coincide with his final end.  Such actions are the things to which we refer when we use the word "sin."  Man is devastatingly corrupted by the reality of sin in the world, and as a result, cannot, without the aid of grace (i.e. the presence and action of God in our lives) always choose those actions which direct man toward his end.  God, recognizing the plight of his creation, through his son, has created a conduit by which man can acquire the necessary grace.  This conduit is what Catholics commonly refer to as the Church. 

Most obviously, the Church attains this purpose in the administration of the sacraments.  The Church assists God's people, though, in other significant ways.  For this purposes of this writing, the Church assists in a significant way by helping people understand reality correctly.  Most specifically, the Church teaches people what is true.  This Truth she teaches is all directly consequent of the propositions suggested above.  As a result, the Church, in all of her institutions must, by her very nature, insist upon these propositions and all of their logical consequences.  Any institution, be it parish, hospital or orphanage, that does not reflect and teach these propositions in all of her actions presents an impoverished and inadequate representation of reality.

As a result of all of this, it becomes particularly incumbent upon a Catholic School to ensure that in everything it does, the foremost goal is always that every student would attain paradise in the life to come.  A Catholic School which is not determined to do this in every aspect of its life ceases to be Catholic.  Thus every aspect of Catholic Education must bear in mind creation's inherent reflection of its creator.  The Sciences and Mathematics should emphasize the orderliness of creation, and what can be known of God through these disciplines.  The liberal arts and humanities should focus on the reason for man's existence, his historical self-reflection on this question, and his historical response to his own answers.  When man has answered these questions incorrectly (e.g. Islam, Protestantism, the Enlightenment, Modernism), Catholic Education should not hesitate in saying so.  Moreover, the discipline of history should be addressed in such a way as to reveal God's Providence at work as he draws all of time toward its consummation.  Religion classes should be the centerpiece of a Catholic Education, and therein, the logical details of the propositions I noted above should be taught unflinchingly.  These lessons must be reinforced by the educators assigned to the other academic disciplines. 

All extracurricular activity should be designed to continue to promote the lessons taught within the classroom.  In a particular way, athletics should help students learn stewardship of the bodies God has given them, and more importantly, athletics should become the testing ground for character and virtue.  As a result, every coach must be an exemplary model of these same virtues.  The teaching and reinforcement of virtue should be a goal the precedes the goal of winning.  Likewise, with theater and the other fine arts, students should develop a deeper appreciation for beauty (beauty reflects truth, after all) which becomes a window through which one catches a glimpse of God.  Any other goal of extracurricular activity must be secondary to the first aim of Catholic Education.

Catholic education must be shaped by a Catholic Anthropology.  It must take seriously the teachings about who man is and how his life is to be lived.  Catholic Education must take seriously the Church's teachings as regards the differences between men and women and the complementarity (as opposed to the undifferentiated equality assumed by popular culture) of the genders.  Catholic Education must take seriously the fact that parents must always remain the principle educators of their children.  As a result, Catholic Schools should do everything in their power to insist upon a vibrant practice of the faith in the home lives of their students.  Finally, Catholic Schools must see themselves as a powerful agent of change and evangelization in a culture inimical to the aims of Christ and his Church.  As a result, the Catholic School must deliberately remove itself from the center of the culture, as the state run public school system has systematically placed itself at the center of culture.  A Catholic Schools should recognize that it is an agent of the Church but not the Church itself.  In other words, the Catholic School must not usurp the place of the local parish, which is the principle means by which the Church accomplishes her mission in the lives of lay Catholics.

It is therefore my opinion that, though well-intentioned they may be, Catholic Schools who do not share this vision and do not zealously attempt to implement it, even at the risk of losing tuition dollars, enrollments, and football or basketball games, misrepresent themselves when naming themselves Catholic and do a great disservice to Christ and his Church.       

Friday, August 20, 2010

It Sucks!

"It Sucks!"  I hear this refrain an aweful lot these days as the kids begin to read the books that they have supposedly been reading all summer long in preparation for the new school year.  I find that that more often than not, the kids are profoundly mistaken in their assessment of the texts.  The following is a list of books about which I have heard the kids say, "It sucks."

1) Silas Marner

2) 1984

3) The Pearl

4) Johnny Tremain

5) 1776
6) Jane Eyre

7) Night

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fr. Tyler's Advice for Men Just Leaving for Seminary

These are the things someone should have told me (or that I should have listened to) before I went to Seminary for the first time:

1) Do not presume that you are called to be a priest or that you deserve to be there. Remain open, and allow the Church to discern whether or not your call is authentic....

2) Forget everything you think you know. If you already have all the answers, there isn't much reason to go to seminary.

3) Do not presume to know more than your professors or formators.

4) Do not presume that the other seminarians know more than the professors or formators.

5) Do not presume that any class is unimportant.

6) Stay close to the guys from Rapid City.

7) Form good relationships with your classmates.

8) Avoid sarcasm.

9) Avoid negativity. If you find that your commentary about things is mostly in the form of critique, you need to have a serious talk with your spiritual director.

10) When challenged about attitudes or behaviors, do not build walls to defend them. Accept the criticism and then determine how to address the attitude or behavior within yourself.

11) If you feel hurt because you are being asked to change, then you are not being open. You have gone to the seminary because you need to be changed.

12) Pray every day.

13) Be humble. There are some things you may already know and there are some things you may already do well, but you are a work in progress. You are still a long way from priesthood.

14) There have been lots of seminarians before you, and there will be lots of seminarians after you. You are still a lay man, and as a seminarian, you have no special status in the Church. Do not adopt an attitude of entitlement.
15) Remember who you are and where you come from. Rapid City is not Peoria, nor LaCrosse, nor Winona.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And we're off

The formation season was inaugurated tonight as we hosted the first of two explanatory meetings for students and the parents of students seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation.  We set the dates for Safe Environment Training for the youth, and we started making copies of things.

Photocopies are the true sign that the new academic year has begun.
Get ready tree-pulpers.  The Cathedral is on the move.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

All Good Things . . .

"Father Time"
These days are marked by a bitter-sweet quality.  Over the last three months, I have spent a great deal of time with kids from the parish, seminarians, priests, and the bishop.  I have been out late at night to see the meteor shower.  I have been up early to celebrate Sunday Masses in the Cathedral Parish for the first time in weeks (months?).  I have spoken with college students home with their families for a short summer visit.  I have spent long night hours discussing big questions.  I met a gypsy, I cursed the motorcycles, and I traveled to the northernmost edge of the state.  I climbed Bear Butte and then I climbed Harney Peak.  With the help of good young people, I have grown my own peas and tomatoes, I have harvested sun ripened cherries, and I have seen a variety of movies I would likely never have seen otherwise.  I have watched some people achieve minor feats of heroism in battle with rattle snakes, disease, death, the changing natures of relationships, and the tumultuous world of adolescent romance.  I survived Watiki and Storm Mountain, and I have acquired a magnificent farmer's tan.  I have learned that I love fishing and I have shot skeet with more accuracy than I have ever shot before. I have discovered beautiful things about who God has created me to be and in many conversations, I have tried to articulate how I have been blessed this summer.  This summer . . .

The motorcycles have left the Black Hills, and they have taken the last days of summer away with them.  Next week classes will resume.  The seminarians with whom I have spent a great deal of time will be returning to the venerable halls of academia.  The summer jobs and frequent bouts of boredom that have  been the summer fare of high school students have already begun to be displaced by sports practices.  What were long hot days and cool free nights filled with speculation about the nature of goodness and truth will soon become short days burdened under under the weight of homework for the kids and religious education for me.  Afternoons in the sun will evolve into afternoons in the office.  Within a few days, Bishop Cupich will arrive at Rapid City Regional Airport with a suitcase in one hand, and a one-way ticket to Spokane in the other. 

These days leave me a little melancholy.  It is as though time has been paused for three months, and now, at heightened speed, I must make up that time, I must age.  

Today, however, I will go fishing.  For one more day at least, I will defy Father Time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

St. Max and Max

This morning, during one of the brief periods during which I was conscious long enough to hit the snooze button, I receives a text message from the Jacques Daniel Family.  "Father, we missed Mass this morning, and we wanted to bring Max.  Have you said Mass yet?  Will you be saying Mass?"

Eventually, bleary eyed, I got myself out of bed and remembered that today was the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the great martyr who gave his life in a concentration camp so that a Jewish father could live.  Jacques' son Max was named for him, so it was a pleasure, at 1:30 to celebrate Mass with them and to remind the kids that even now, like St. Maximilian, they can begin laying down their loves in love of others by sharing Legos and other toys and listening to their parents.  Following Mass I joined them briefly for Pepi's Pizza and began making some plans for my next fishing excursion.  (I am planning on spending a day or two fishing with my next younger brother in the first part of September.)

I don't know about Max Daniel, but I had a pretty good St. Maximilian Day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

St. Clare, the Evangelical Counsels, and Consecrated Virgins

During the month of January immediately prior to my priestly ordination, my classmates and I made a trip to Rome to study the missionary nature of the Church for a month.  At the end of the month, we made our way to Assisi to go on a week-long retreat prior to ordination as required by Canon Law.  Assisi is most famous as the birthplace and final resting place of St. Francis.  Only slightly less famous, however, was one of his followers, Clare, who dedicated her life to obedience, chastity, and especially poverty.  She founded a monastery after the model of Francis' own rule of life and remained superior of the community for some forty years.  Today marks her feast day.

The readings assigned to Clare's feast are all about abandoning the riches and niceties of the world in order to follow Christ more closely.  It was in Assisi, on retreat, that I really came to understand poverty and its relationship to the other counsels.  In prayer it became very clear to me that poverty was first and foremost a spiritual reality.  Poverty acknowledges that I am not in charge of my life.  Only God can ensure that I will take my next breath.  Only he will cause me to rise from sleep in the morning.  Only he can initiate the life of intimacy that I long to share with him.  Poverty, then, comes in my willingness to submit myself to him and to go where he may lead me without consideration of the cost or of my preferences or of my desires.  This relationship is prior to every other relationship in life.  Christ comes before family, neighbor, and friend.  Christ alone and union with him must be my most prized possession.  Resulting from this many choose to adopt physical poverty.  It is hard to focus my life on God's will for me when all of my money is being swallowed up in a financial crisis.  it is hard to pray when my Dodge pick-up is being beaten by hail.  It is hard to love God when I spend my day coveting the iPod or car of the guy down the street.

Chastity and obedience, though distinct counsels, are related to poverty.  In obedience, I submit my will to that of another person, believing the other person has been ordained by God to use me for the advancement of God's will and the mission of the Church.  In Chastity, I forsake the pleasures of a carnal relationship, preferring to dedicate myself entirely to the union with Christ that will be fully realized only in heaven.  St. Clare models these counsels in a heroic way.

Though Clare's feast is celebrated, today also marks the forth anniversary of Susan Safford's consecration to perpetual virginity.  Though not religious, Susan and those called to the vocation of consecrated virgin live these evangelical counsels in a real and radical way.  They, like priests, but as women, have already begun to live the life of union with God to which all of us aspire.  They live and work in the world, acting as leaven in their parishes and communities.  Their work is often unseen and silent, without the benefit of a religious community to support them and show them the way to holiness.  Though lived in various ways, consecrated virgins share a particular commonality; the most powerful work they do is accomplished in the time they spend praying for the Church, for priests, and for the world.  They haven't the benefit of a habit to protect them nor to suggest that the world should take them seriously.  They are armed only with the love of God which has pierced their hearts and penetrated their lives so deeply that their lives testify to the profound desire that God has to love each of us as his betrothed.  This testimony should spur us all to deeper love of God and a deeper desire for holiness.

This has been the effect of Susan's presence in my life.  She is a good and holy woman, and as only a woman can, she manages to point out how I am called higher.  Likewise, as only a woman can, she encourages me on the more difficult days.  As a seminarian, she was to me both taskmaster and mother.  Her role is not entirely different now that I am a priest.  She reminds me what I am supposed to be doing, and never lets me forget where my priorities should rest.  None of this is cruel or unkind.  It is often accomplished through a persistent witness to God's love and fidelity and a willingness to dedicate herself to prayer for me and for my intentions day after day.  At times she, with great precision, she demonstrates exactly how and why I am wrong in my opinion or approach to something.  She will not abide cowardice or laziness on my part, and reminds me from time to time that I could always sacrifice just a little more to be a better disciple.

I constantly remind seminarians of the debt of gratitude they owe Susan for the work she does in the vocations office.  I probably don't thank her often enough for the good she does for me.  So, happy anniversary, Susan.  And happy Feast of St. Clare.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Sweet Taste of Victory

Victory, I have discovered, tastes like trout cooked in butter and lemon pepper.  After a week's hiatus I returned to the scene of my last fishing trip, and finally broke the drought.  I can now add to my list of firsts "Catching a Trout in a Black Hills Stream" (as well as "Cleaned and cooked a trout by myself").  My comrade today braved poison ivy to bring me the stringer so that I could save the little devil.  By the end of the trip, I had caught two worth keeping, and had bites by several little ones.  He had caught just one little one which he threw back.

These were not trophy fish, but they were big enough to keep.  I suppose the larger was around ten inches.  Regardless of the size, I have scored a major victory for myself.  In my excitement, I have made Cabelas a great deal richer, and I can barely suppress the swagger when I walk.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Broken Bones and Manly Hearts

I returned from Totus Tuus on Friday afternoon, spent some time mini-golfing, and seeing a late movie, and then spent Saturday morning shooting skeet.  Confessions and a meal with a parishioner kept me busy Saturday afternoon and evening, and a day walking all over creation preparing for World Youth Day with the pilgrims from this diocese wore me out on Sunday.  Today was spent in one meeting after another, so that now, at nearly midnight, I finally have a moment to offer a synopsis of sorts on the Totus Tuus boys camp.

This was by far the most injurious camp I have yet attended.  Among the casualties were a seminarian who had a severe allergic reaction to something, a sixty year old man with a dislocated shoulder, a teenager who leaped into as opposed to over a bench, and a middle schooler with a broken arm.  I was most impressed with the middle schooler.  He fell and landed awkwardly on his arm, and though he was in obvious pain, he was able to rotate his arm and make a fist.  We compassionately suggested that he "man up."  We were slightly concerned that he was still favoring that arm the next morning, but did not decide to send him to the emergency room until he really freaked out when he tried to use that arm to prop himself up during a water game during which he was supposed to lie down on the ground.  We were rather astonished when he returned in a cast, and then deeply moved by his strength.  He had walked around with a broken arm for nearly an entire day and had complained of his pain very little!  What an incredible young man.

There is a certain paradox about Totus Tuus.  We spend the week trying to help them become men, while simultaneously giving them permission to play and act like children.  They sing ridiculous songs, they learn silly dances.  They swim and run and laugh and in the midst of all of this, they pray.  It is the prayer that reinforces their manliness.  It is an explicit expectation and firmly held conviction that young people have a strong spirituality and that they are capable of holiness.  We call them to sanctity.  We strive to demonstrate that a life in Christ is deeply compatible with life as a man.  We offer them the witness of the saints as a way to begin to see how true masculinity is necessarily focused on Christ, and we provide ample opportunity to discover the ways in which they have chosen the world's way as opposed to the Lord's way.  Throughout the week, most of them begin to see and express how deeply they desire to be strong Catholic men, and we assure them that they can.  It is beautiful.

Which is not to say that all is perfect.  A teenage boy remains a teenage boy.  He is still brash, frequently unthinking, sometimes brutal in his assessment of his peers, keenly aware of his own changing body, and mercilessly hopped up on hormones.  He still needs to prove himself, and he is filled with the boundless energy of youth.  His amygdala is doing all the thinking while his frontal lobe rests on its laurels.  So, it would be a lie to say that I wasn't glad for the week to be over.  It would be a bigger lie to say that I didn't love being a part of it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Totus Tuus

My first experience at a Totus Tuus boys camp (the name derives from JPII's papal motto) occurred the summer prior to my eighth grade year.  I was to ride with a group who were traveling to Rapid City from Philip, South Dakota.  They were to meet me at the Common Cents.  I waited for them at the Conoco, and after failing to find me, they left.  It was some time later that my mother came to retrieve me, terrified that I had been abducted because I had not arrived at the camp.  I had not bothered to call her, as this was a time before cell phones were widely in use.  I was afraid that while inside calling her, my ride would come to the gas station, and not finding me, leave.

The remainder of that summer's camp was much more fun, and it became the first of many such camps I would attend as an adolescent and then as a seminarian.

Last summer I missed the camp.  It followed on the heels of my ordination, and I could not justify taking a week away from the parish so soon after beginning my ministry there.  This year, for the first time in a decade, I will attend the camp voluntarily.  It promises to be a grand old time, but exhausting.  While this summer has afforded me many opportunities to go climbing about the paha sapa I can't say that such trips are events I relish.  I will be departing tomorrow morning.  The high school leaders will come tomorrow afternoon, and the kids arrive on Tuesday afternoon.  There are around 50 or middle school boys.  They have limitless energy except when asked to do something.  They also have the capacity for deep and serious prayer.  Needless to say, I will not be blogging for the next several days.

Until now, I have been a part of this only as a leader.  This year I go also as a father.  I can't wait.