As Lent begins, I return to Christmas with my annual letter.
It is uncommon to hear the voices of angels singing. Not so rare, however, that I was not tempted to stop as I drove between Kadoka and Martin on Christmas Eve as the moon shone full on the snow covered Badlands and prairie lighting them in hues of silver and indigo. Surely had I paused, I would have heard them celebrating the Holy Night when Christ was born. But I hurried onward. The Holy Mass is delayed for no one, not even melodious angels.
I arrived in my new set of parishes six months ago excited and anxious, with vigor and with trepidation, grateful for the prairie and sad to leave the hills. A half year later, the angst has disappeared, and a routine of Mass, confessions, teaching, and driving has taken its place. With around a thousand miles to drive for ministerial purposes each month, I am glad for the natural beauty of my new home. I am less glad for the kamikaze deer, suicidal pheasants, and AWOL cattle. These creatures and I are engaged in a cold war, deterred from armed engagement only by our shared acknowledgement of mutually assured annihilation.
No such friction exists between the bipedal residents of my parish and me. The Lord has blessed me with kind and generous people who are eager to help me, gentle in chastising me, and willing to try new things (or at least not to complain much when I decide to try new things). The Lord constantly catches me off guard with moments of grace as I come to know my new people more deeply. I find myself awed at their own experiences of God’s love. In truth, I find myself caught off guard by God’s love more often than I ought. By now I should know that he is generous giver, and yet I was still moved nearly to tears during my annual retreat as he once again reaffirmed his love for me despite my own inadequacy.
Driving recently, I contemplated the question of when one actually becomes an adult. Two conditions, I concluded, must be met. One must possess an armchair of one’s own, and one must have spent Christmas Day apart from one’s family. Early in my priesthood, I had already met the second of these conditions. It was strange, nevertheless, to come home to an empty house after sharing Christmas Dinner with Deacon Cal and his family. My chair, however, was eager to welcome me.
To own an armchair was something I achieved only in my second month in Martin. It is brown, it appears to be leather, it reclines, and when I sit, it embraces me with a tenderness usually reserved to lovers. It has become, as it were, the sign of my ascendancy. It troubles me that I occasionally find myself speaking to it. Even without the chair, though, I would be happy. In spite of icy roads, snowy drives, and the lack of a stream to fly fish for trout, I find myself exceedingly content and filled with gratitude that God has entrusted the souls of this place to me. Martin and Kadoka have become home.
There is a great deal for which I thank God these days. Among the gifts he has given me is you. Thank you for your kind words and deeds, and all your generosity toward me. Know that I am praying for you. May all of God’s richest blessings be yours in this New Year.