Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Indelible Marks

June 1 marked two important events in the lives of my two parallel families.  At the Dennis Ranch, as we have done more than 100 times annually, we branded calves.  At the Parish of Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Newell, we confirmed fifteen young men and woman.  These two events, I reflected while returning to Spearfish from Newell, are not entirely dissimilar.

Lazy C V

Branding calves is a necessity of life in rural South Dakota.  The wind-swept plains are prevented from extending into infinity only by irregular intervals of  three, four, and five strands of barbed wire and the chalky white gravel roads that intersect with the paved state highways.  The lengths of barbed wire are, from time to time, interrupted by two wooden posts, snugly attached to one another by a fixed loop of wire near the ground and a loop that can be lifted off the shorter of the posts when two are squeezed closer together.  These gates are sometimes near the property owner's home, but just as frequently, are miles away.  Anyone traveling along the road could enter a pasture leaving no evidence but a set of tire tracks across the prairie grass.  An enterprising thief could, with relative ease, drive into a pasture and abscond with several head of cattle and never be caught.  A brand, however, marks an animal with a permanent sign of ownership.  A thief might take an animal, but a brand proves he does not own it.

So it is, that every spring, cattle owners in Western South Dakota bring together their neighbors and family to gather the livestock and apply the owner's brand.  This brand remains with the animal until the end of its life.  Even if it is sold, an observer can quickly discern from whence it originated.  Once branded, cattle always bear the mark of their owner who fastidiously worked to ensure their existence.

My Students from Newell

In the sacrament of confirmation, one is similarly marked.  From confirmation forward, one is permanently and irrevocably consecrated in a manner enduring unto eternity.  The Seal of the Holy Spirit, imprinted on one's very soul, becomes, in a sense, proof of ownership.  He who is confirmed belongs to God.  Though Satan try to steal him, though sin and folly mar his seal, though the one confirmed himself come to resent the mark, no matter where he roams in the world, he will always be marked as God's own possession.

Branding is a communal event.  It is never done without help.  The men and women who gather to assist do so without complaint.  Branding is a celebration.  It marks success, it mocks the struggles of the spring, and it bespeaks hope for the year to come.  With each successive branding, the men and women who attend are reminded of who they are and they silently (sometimes grudgingly) admit that they could not be as they are except for the support of a community.

Confirmation too, is a community affair.  It brings hope that Christianity is still young and that the Church endures.  Parents are reminded that they need help when sponsors present their children to the Bishop.  Confirmation has a way of renewing and rejuvenating a community, stoking the Holy Spirit within those who have already received the sacrament.  Confirmation reminds those present of their own call to follow Christ with zeal.

A brand is applied with a hot iron heated in fire.  Confirmation is accomplished by the flaming tongue of the Holy Spirit.      

Confirmation is, as I told my students in Newell, the spiritual equivalent of branding calves.  Yesterday, I was blessed to attend brandings of both varieties, and like the communities present at both, I was reminded of who I am, and where I come from.  I am indelibly marked by both.


  1. Outstanding! I'd never thought of this but you made it perfectly clear.. nailed it!

  2. Wow. I've been scarred! Cool. Thanks for the powerful visual Father D...

  3. Ha! I really like this analogy. I'm glad I wasn't yelping and bawling like a calve when I was branded. ;)


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