Sunday, June 17, 2012

Things I Learned From My Dad

1) Be honest. You can't cheat an honest man, and a liar is worse than a thief.

2) There is no shame in any work if it is work that is well done.

3) People are people most everywhere you go. Do not be afraid to try to get to know them. Chances are that you will like them.

4) Help your neighbors when they need it without expectation of repayment.

5) Wrestle with God if you must, but know that He will win.

6) If your brother is in a fight, help him if he cannot win alone.

7) Always take a coat.

8) Be punctual.

9) It is good to be independent, but sometimes it just makes sense to pay someone to do the job for you.

10) Marriage is permanent.

11) Don't kick a man when he is down.

12) Be more critical of your own work than that of others.

13) Avoid dropping tools down a well.

14) Certain vocabulary may be appropriate in one context while it is not in another.

15) Change is inevitable. Don't cling to things as they were.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Who am I?

This was my first and remains my favorite bulletin cover from my time at Blessed Sacrament. It also marks the last in this series from the archives.


When Pauline reminded me that it was my turn to write the bulletin cover, Fr. Brian mentioned that it might be a good idea to say a little about myself. That recommendation, along with the recent ordination of Fr. Sparks and my memories of my ordination two years ago prompted me to reflect: Who am I?

The biographical details of my life are simple enough. I was born the oldest of three brothers and the son of a rancher in Central Meade County. I attended a country school until eighth grade before moving to the big town of Wall where I graduated in 1999. I entered the minor seminary in Winona, Minnesota immediately out of high school, and later attended the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota for my immediate preparations for ordination. Along the way, I acquired a decent grasp of the Spanish language, a penchant for writing, an infatuation with pheasant hunting, and a taste for fresh-caught trout. These details, though true, fail to get to the root of the question, “Who am I?” To answer that requires a bit more deliberation.

Fundamentally, I am a priest of Jesus Christ. By him, I was chosen to serve as another Christ for his people in the Diocese of Rapid City. By his grace, received through the imposition of Bishop Cupich’s hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the day of my ordination, I was commissioned to express for God’s people the same love that Christ demonstrated on the cross. I am called to do this in many ways: through my preaching, through the administration of the sacraments, and through my prayers with and for you. The most significant thing that I do, however, is my faithful celebration of theEucharist. Each time I celebrate Mass, in a very special way, I am able to make the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross present once again for the salvation of the world. In that moment, I bring the sacrifice of every Catholic, especially those present at the Mass, and I offer them in thanksgiving to the Father. In return, through the worthy reception of Holy Communion the Father unites us to his Son, and in doing so, unites us to one another in bonds of peace and love even more profound that those shared between parent and child. This, at the very root of it, is who I am.

And yet I am first to admit that the expanse between the ideal of my vocation and the reality of it lived in my life is quite vast sometimes. I do not always live my priesthood perfectly ,nor even sometimes well. Regardless of that fact, from now until eternity, I am called to love God and to love his people as Christ loved them. I mention all of this simply to say that in the time I spend in this parish, I will strive to love you with the heart of Christ, and I will make every effort togive my life for you just as Christ gave his life for each of us.

I hope that you will often remind me of this promise. I hope that you will insist that I be holy. I hope that you will demand from me the very best I have to give. In the meanwhile, I will do the same for you. God willing, by the time I have reached the end of my tenure in this parish, we will all find that we are a great deal closer to Heaven.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Thoughts on Reverence

From the weekend after First Holy Communion in the parish . . . 


Celebrating the sacraments with children and young people is always an event accompanied by joy for me.  It is beautiful to witness them encounter the Lord in such powerful ways.  A particular joy is seeing the happiness and reverence with which children receive their First Holy Communion.  You can tell that they are really trying to do it correctly.  I think that we can all learn something from that experience.

Those receiving First Holy communion must learn how they ought to receive the Eucharist.  The Church instructs us that there are two methods available to us.  The most common is reception of Holy Communion on the hand.  This option, while ancient in origin, was not practiced in the Church for centuries.  It was restored following the Second Vatican Council.  When receiving the Eucharist on the hand, we are instructed to place one hand beneath the other and cup the uppermost hand slightly so as to fashion a sort of throne upon which the priest or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may place the host.  The priest is instructed to say, “The Body of Christ,” while the recipient is instructed to respond, “Amen.”  After the host is placed on the hand, the recipient uses the fingers of his bottom hand to gently grasp the host and place it in his mouth for consumption.  He does not plop it into his mouth as though he were swallowing an aspirin.  Afterwards, the recipient should examine his hands to ensure that no fragments of the consecrated host remain.  If there are fragments, these should also be collected and consumed.  It is gravely irreverent to shake or wipe these fragments onto the floor.

If a person is unable to receive Holy Communion in the manner described above, his other option is to receive the host directly on the tongue.  This practice is also of ancient origin, and was instituted so as prevent any sacrilege against the Eucharist from occurring.  In this practice, one approaches the priest or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in the usual manner, and after responding “Amen,” opens his mouth and extends his tongue slightly so that the consecrated host may be placed directly on the tongue.  

While Mother Church expresses no preference for either of these options, it should be noted that these are the only options.  If one is unable to receive the Eucharist with both hands, as, for instance, when carrying a child, one should receive directly on the tongue.  Likewise, if one cannot use his bottom hand to transfer the consecrated host from his hand to his mouth, he should also opt to receive on the tongue.

Again, the Church does not express a preference for either option.  I would simply note that prior to my ordination, I chose to receive on the tongue.  I did this for several reasons: There were no fragments left in my hand.  It required humility of me to allow a priest to place the Consecrated Host on my tongue.  It ensured that I would not be responsible for accidentally dropping Our Lord’s Sacred Body.  While it is a practice that was awkward for me at first, I found it to be deeply spiritually fruitful after time.

In either case, this point should be remembered.  When approaching the altar for Holy Communion, we always receive.  We do not dare to take the Eucharist.  It is something given to us.  We do not grasp it from Him.  We must never presume to grab the host from the person distributing it.  Following the example of our new communicants, perhaps we can all be a bit more observant in trying to receive the Eucharist more reverently and properly.    

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Gentle Reminder

Last Autumn,  we heard the news that one of the priests of the diocese had succumbed to a tumor that had been rapidly growing in his brain for several months.  Aside from the trauma of his death, it created something of a personnel crisis.


I like to believe that my own vocation to the priesthood is the result of the fact that our diocese has been praying for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life for nearly as long as I can remember.  Indeed, over the course of the last ten years or so, the Lord has been generous to our diocese.  Compared to the rest of the nation, we have a very young group priests in Western South Dakota.  We also have a significant group of truly exceptional young men who are currently in the seminary discerning priesthood for our diocese.  In a similar way, several young women have recently left the diocese to discern vocations with various orders of religious women.  God has richly blessed us.

Though these things are true, we must remain ever vigilant in our effort to encourage young men and women to consider religious and priestly vocations.  The recent death of Fr. Brian Fawcett was traumatic for the priests of this diocese in many ways.  Not insignificant to us has been the reminder of exactly how precarious our situation is.  The loss of any one of us places us in a near-crisis situation.  Though we have good, young priests, we are still in need of more.  This is a reality with profound implications for every Catholic in the Diocese of Rapid City.

 Priests and sisters do not magically appear.  They are not produced in gardens and distributed throughout the world.  Instead, they come from real families in real communities.  They rise out of the same circumstances in which all of us find ourselves.  This means that your child could be called to one of these vocations!  There is every likelihood that your son, grandson, or brother is called to the priesthood.  There is every likelihood that your daughter, granddaughter, or sister is called to religious or consecrated life. 
I have the privilege this year of instructing the young men and women who are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation.  These forty-two students are comprised of nearly equal numbers of men and women.  It seems likely to me as a result, that two of them are called to the priesthood and two to the religious or consecrated life.  If I were to ask them, however, I suspect that almost none of them have ever even considered either of these vocations as a possibility for themselves.  They are good kids, and most of them are serious about their pursuit of a deeper relationship with Christ.  Why then, has it never occurred to them that they might be called to a vocation other than marriage?  I suspect that largely, none of them has ever been encouraged to think about vocations priesthood or religious life at home.  Parents have a profound impact on the decisions their children make; if vocations are to flourish in our diocese, it will be because generous parents who offer their children to God in this way are also flourishing.

So, perhaps the short way of saying this is that when we pray for vocations each Sunday, we are not praying for someone else’s child.  We are praying for your child.  We are praying that you will have that faith, love, and spirit of sacrifice that encourages you to offer your children to God’s service.  Such generosity will not go unrewarded. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

10 Reasons To Go To Confession

From Advent . . . 


1)  The Church is the continued presence of Christ on earth, and Christ has given the Church his own authority. With this authority, the Church has determined that making a thorough confession to a priest is essential for the forgiveness of sins.

2)  Throughout Christian history, it has been necessary for one to make some "public" reparation for one's sins. In the earliest days of the Church, this sometimes took years. Today, it just takes a few minutes.

3) Sacraments work. God has promised that the sacraments will do what the Church say they do. In other words, the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ, whether I believe it is or is not.  Baptism washes away Original Sin whether the person receiving baptism knows it happens or not. In confession, sins really are forgiven, even if I don't feel it. On what basis does one making a confession directly to God know his sins are truly forgiven?

4) Sin is not only personal reality. All sin has public ramifications. They do damage to the entire Body of Christ. Just as the priest stands in the place of Christ and pronounces a sin forgiven, so too does he stand in the place of the community, forgiving on behalf of the entire community.

5) How often has one actually knelt down before God and confessed one's sins? How often has one really, honestly, and thoroughly articulated to God the exact nature and extent of one's sins. I am willing to bet that more often, one goes before God with an indeterminate vague feeling of having "been bad." Feeling bad and telling God you are sorry does not constitute a confession of sins.

6) Confession is therapeutic. Ask any addict in recovery. They will tell you that part of the healing process is admitting to another human being the extent and nature of the ills one has committed (typically called the 5th step). Recovery cannot proceed until this has occurred. Many people will repeat this examination of life with their sponsor from time to time as a way to maintain accountability with oneself.

7)  Another person can give me perspective. Sometimes I am too hard on myself, and sometimes not hard enough. The priest helps me have the proper perspective.

8) Telling someone else makes it harder to commit the same sin again. If I go to a regular confessor (and I should) it is hard to have to confess the same thing time after time.

9) A priest is the doctor of the soul, and sin is a soul sickness. Not going to confession and speaking directly to God is a bit like going to the pharmacist before seeing the physician.

10) I need to hear someone say, "Your sins are forgiven." These are typically the last words spoken in the confessional. God seldom speaks so clearly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Creating a Catholic Home

I am nearly finished with these posts from the archives . . .


One of the primary assumptions of the Church with regard to the education of children is that the primary responsibility for teaching a child rests upon the shoulders of his or her parents.  This is a call that is found repeated throughout the Church’s magisterial documents regarding youth and catechesis.  In our own culture, this call can seem a bit frightening because we are all so used to expecting education to occur within the confines of a school building.  Math teachers will show my kids how to do algebra, English teachers will hopefully make them literate, and religious education teachers will make them Catholic.  The fundamental flaw with such an assumption, however, resides in the fact that unlike literacy or algebra, Catholicism is not accomplished simply by amassing a body of knowledge which can then be regurgitated at will.  Catholicism, rather, is a way of life, and, to be acquired, it must be practiced from infancy onward.

One must admit that there are certain things a Catholic should know.  He or she should be able to recite the Ten Commandments.  He or she should know the seven sacraments, and have a basic understanding of the importance and effects of each.  One should be able to describe the precepts of the Church and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These are things which can and should be discussed in a religious education classroom.  Each of these lists, however, is meaningless if they do not find practical application in a home.  What is the point of knowing that we are commanded to keep holy the Sabbath if my family has a pattern of skipping Mass to go to the lake over the summer, or if Dad habitually skips Mass to go hunting with his buddies?  Of what value is knowing that the Church says we need to go to confession at least once each year if it has been twelve years since Mom received that sacrament?

The long and the short of it is simply that to accomplish a Catholic education, parents must shoulder the load.  They must be the primary examples of how one lives the faith, and they must be willing to become something of an expert in matters of the faith so that they are able to answer their children’s questions and to parent from a Catholic perspective.  This, in turn, requires that each parent believes as an individual, that there is something distinctly important about being Catholic.  It likewise means discovering how and why a Catholic family is different than any other family on the block.  

Unfortunately, parents often look at a task such as this, and, overwhelmed already, decide that a mediocre introduction to Catholicism is better than none at all.  Perhaps with all of the other business of life, they ask, “How am I to devote myself creating and raising a Catholic family?”  It seems sufficient to suggest that our own growth in holiness and commitment to becoming an ever more faithful Catholic is the first step.  Go to Mass every Sunday without fail, go to confession regularly, and learn how to pray every day (prayer is more than just asking God for things, after all.)  These three things will begin to make a world of difference.  These three things will begin to transform any family into a truly Catholic family.        

Monday, June 11, 2012

High School Dating

More from the Bulletin Cover Archives . . . 


Boys are supposed to like girls.  Girls are supposed to like boys.  This is known as general attraction.  It only becomes a particular attraction when a young man or young woman enters a relationship with a person who has the potential of becoming their souse.  We do no favor to adolescents when we encourage and permit them to enter into romantic relationships too early or for purposes other than seeking a spouse.

In a recent conversation with teens I know rather well, I asked how long they thought an average high school couple waited before the relationship became sexual. Their answer: generally one month, not longer than three before sleeping together.  Other varieties of sexual expression begin even sooner.  I would like to believe that these answers are anecdotal and the result of locker room braggadocio, but experience in the confessional demonstrates that these teens are correct; the interval from the time a boy and a girl start “going out” until the time they have sex is very brief.  This fact reiterates an obvious truth: dating is for mating.  Unless your teenager is looking for a spouse, he or she should not be dating.

Popular media has done its best to convince us that “going out,” is necessary for healthy teens.  As a result, instead of virtuous friendships with members of the opposite sex, teens are entering into exclusive romantic relationships built upon a foundation of emotional and physical attraction.  The attraction is natural, but must be appropriately directed and expressed.  Such direction and expression can only be achieved through virtue and self-restraint.  Parents too often allow their kids to skip this step, and as a result, “feelings for one another,” generally remain precisely that – feelings.  And a feeling is a poor foundation for a good relationship.  Already a flimsy foundation, these feelings become more intense as the relationship progresses.  Because dating, by definition, permits certain physical expressions of feelings, the two parties almost immediately try to communicate their affection through kissing and sexual touching.  Unfortunately, if the two remain a “couple” for very long, their feelings will intensify, and they will desire to manifest them in a more intensely physical way.  Viola!  Three weeks later, they are in bed together.  Both use one another for emotional affirmation thus assuring that neither, upon the time of the nearly inevitable demise of the relationship, will be able to look to the other with any degree of respect or even as a friend ever again.  This sort of high school dating is as cute and harmless as C2 strapped to a suicide bomber’s chest.

So, if teens should not date, how can they learn to relate appropriately to persons of the opposite sex?  This learning should occur under the watchful tutelage of parents.  For instance, a young man might invite a girl he likes to share a meal with his family and join them for a family activity.  He might ask her to accompany his family to Mass.  He will most certainly ask permission of a girl’s father before doing any of these things.  Her father will insist on meeting the boy and perhaps his parents before giving permission.  Parents will permit their teens to attend events with other teens of the opposite sex only when they are in a public venue, or when they are supervised by adults that the parent knows and trusts.  Parents will set and enforce strict curfews.  They will check on their kids periodically, making phone calls to the child and supervising adult.  Parents might permit young people to have time alone on occasion, but only in the home of one or the other, only when a parent is present, and never in a bedroom.  Parents will insist that guests of their teenagers go home at a reasonable time.  Parents will forbid their child from bringing a person of the opposite sex into their home unless they are present, and they will forbid their children from going to an unsupervised home after school.  They will do all of this not because they are Puritanical tyrants, but because they love their children, and do not want them to become bitter, jaded, angry, and broken for the sake of a cute prom photograph.  If you want your child to be happy, emotionally mature, and prepared to truly enter into the demands of married life, do not let them date in high school. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

For Corpus Christi

Once again from the archives, and a foll-up to yesterday . . . 


I wrote yesterday about the dignity and value that God assigns human sexuality precisely because of its capacity to reveal love as the self-same reality expressed by Jesus Christ on his Cross.  The mutual self-giving of a married couple is a sign to the rest for the Church of God’s love for us.  The love that is expressed by married people in symbol is the love the each of experiences in reality upon worthily receiving the Eucharist.

The parallels between marriage and the Eucharist are abundant and beautiful.  In the marriage bed, the bridegroom offers himself to his bride in complete surrender to her.  On the bed of the altar, the sacrifice of Calvary is made present to the Church once again, and Christ, the bridegroom, offers himself to his bride, the Church, in complete surrender.  In the context of marriage, the flesh of the groom and the flesh of the bride comingle so as to create a single body.  In the Eucharist, the flesh of the Christ enters into the flesh of his bride, the Church, as we literally consume his body and blood Sunday after Sunday.  This mutual act of giving creates life for the married couple.  In the Eucharist, we, as the bride of Christ, receive new and refreshed divine life within ourselves. 

As with love, the consequences of sin are similar in marriage and in our relationship with God.  In marriage, to properly love requires fidelity.  How can a man, cheating on his wife, offer himself to her completely and with surrender?  Each time he offers his body to her, he tells a lie to her.  If she is cheating, by receiving him, she tells a lie with her body.  Their infidelity is destructive to bride and groom alike, and they fail to serve as the image of Christ’s love to the world.  So too in our relationship with Christ – a relationship mirrored by marriage – do we do serious damage when we receive our groom unfaithfully.  Every time we receive the Holy Eucharist knowing that we are guilty of mortal sin, we tell a lie.  We are saying that we are in communion with out groom, Christ himself, and that we are in communion with the Body of Christ, the Church.  The fact is, however, that our sin has of necessity separated us from union with God and His Church.  We have been an unfaithful spouse, and we are in desperate need of reconciling ourselves so as to return to communion.

Luckily for us, to be restored to communion with Christ and his Church is much easier than healing a marriage that has experienced infidelity.  Christ, who is infinitely forgiving, invites us to that experience of his love, his forgiveness, and restoration through the sacrament of reconciliation.  There is a catch, though.  We do not get to decide the terms upon which he forgives us.  We do not simply get to say that I have asked Jesus for forgiveness in my heart, and he has forgiven me.  Christ himself decides the terms of our forgiveness, and he has been very clear about it.  If we are to be restored to communion with him and the rest of the Church, we must go to confession when we sin.

Allow me, in this final paragraph, to be very clear about the constant teaching of the Church in this regard.  If one willingly and knowingly breaks any of the commandments or defies any clearly defined teaching of the Church, he has committed a mortal sin.  He has ruptured his union with God and with the Church.  While suffering under the burden of this sin, he is not free to receive Holy Communion, and commits further serious sin if he does so, until making a good confession.  Stop cheating on our Groom.  Go to confession.  Get right with God.  Get right with the Church.