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As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you are anticipating time with family and friends, or at least, some way to celebrate your gratitude for God’s many blessings in your life. It is good that our nation has the wisdom to set aside a day to give thanks to God for his many blessings, as a nation, as families, or as individuals.
Among the many things for which we are most grateful are freedom, family, health, faith, and, especially on this feast of Thanksgiving, food! In a world where hunger is a daily struggle for many, it is particularly important for us to reflect upon our many blessings.
Going back to the days of the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving has been a time to give thanks for another year’s harvest, and for a stable and safe food system in our country. Perhaps we could look a little deeper behind the food that we will enjoy this Thanksgiving and reflect upon the many men and women who work to put that food on our table.
Here, I am thinking of the many farmers, ranchers, growers, and field laborers who produce our food. For while we are certainly thankful for their tireless work, the circumstances in which many of our food producers labor don’t always reflect this gratitude: migrant farm workers are sometimes exploited by their employers, exposed to demeaning and harmful conditions and paid less than a livable wage; small family farmers are threatened by powerful economic pressures and are often forced to give up their way of life for the sake of “efficiency” and consumerism; and beginning farmers, those who wish to dedicate themselves to producing for others, are often faced with near-insurmountable obstacles when getting started.
This Thanksgiving, perhaps we can take the time to pray for all of them, particularly those laborers who suffer unjust working conditions. And perhaps we may be moved beyond gratitude to some practical actions that could bring about a more just food system.
Here are five suggestions:
- Buy local. The best way to support food producers, especially ones with smaller operations, is to do so directly with your dollars. Join a CSA or become a member of a local food co-op. Or, use a directory like Local Harvest to identify food producers in your area and make a visit!
- Volunteer. There are a lot of organizations out there working for a more just food system, and they need your help. Check out volunteer opportunities with groups like Food Tank, Migrant Worker Justice, and the National Young Farmers Coalition.
- Communicate with policymakers. There are some great initiatives seeking justice in our food system, but they won’t go anywhere if our policymakers don’t know they have public backing. If you want to see a food system that’s more supportive of food producers and protects the dignity of farm workers, tell your elected officials!
- Support dedicated organizations. Groups like Catholic Rural Life are dedicated to applying Catholic social teaching to issues in agriculture. Consider supporting their good work by making a donation.
- Spread the word! Many people are simply unaware of the need for justice in our food system. Help change that by spreading the word via social media about the importance of being grateful for and supportive of our food producers (You can start by sharing this post!)
God bless you and your loved ones this Thanksgiving!
Every two years, there is a national gathering of high school age youth, known as National Catholic Youth Conference, or NCYC. Once again this year, I’m in Indianapolis for this year’s gathering. I’m told around 21,000 youth are present, including approximately 25 from Wyoming.
I missed last night’s opening session, but was present in Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts) for this morning’s session.
There is something about these large gatherings that give our youth an experience of the larger Church. It makes it very visible, and tangible; they are not alone in their efforts to follow Christ and practice their faith.
The music is very good, and over the years, the opportunities to pray have also become very powerful. The ‘warm up’ this morning with nationally known Catholic musicians spontaneously unites these mostly total strangers into brothers and sisters in Christ. They know the music, the words, and in short order, learn the ‘moves’ to pray and celebrate their faith as the one body of Christ. It is quite inspiring!
Another inspiring component of these gatherings is that there generally are about 30 bishops who take the time to spend a day or two with our youth. Normally, during the opening Friday morning session, the bishops are paraded onto the stage and introduced to the audience. One of my own youth told our youth coordinator: “There are not many bishops present.” She was impressed that I was one who was.
That tells me something. We do not have to do much to support our youth. Just showing up, like most of life, goes a long way, and presence alone tells these young people that they are important and appreciated, and most of all that we need them, their faith, their gifts, their energy, and their joy. Christ calls each of them, and they are a vibrant part of the Church today!
There is also a catechetical component to the gathering. Throughout the two days, there are many sessions the young people can attend to learn more about the faith. The Conference Center also houses a large section filled with just about every Catholic vendor imaginable! Just about every religious community has a booth, hoping to convince young people considering religious life and priesthood to join up with them.
This morning I was particularly pleased to see the morning session promoting our faith in the Blessed Mother. After the main presenter, there was a brief Marian procession, with beautiful hymns to Mary being sung. Our youth clearly joined in, and were moved. Devotion to our Blessed Mother is so important, and it was nice to see it re-introduced to the next generation in such a respectful and tasteful fashion. Thank you NCYC!
I ask for your prayers for all of our young Church. I also ask you to prayerfully consider what you can do, in concrete ways, to accompany our young Church, and help them know they are loved. Help them find their meaningful place in the family of the Church.
I am presently in Baltimore for our annual November Bishops’ Meeting. This working session of the entire body of US Bishops takes place every year in Baltimore. Our meetings are basically broken up into three parts; regional meetings, public session for the whole body (Monday – Tuesday), and executive session, (Wednesday) which is closed to the public cameras and observers. Thursday morning will allow some time for the bishops to pray together. This year a retired bishop will offer a reflection. There will be time for Eucharistic Adoration, and a good group of confessors will also be on hand to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (Yes, even bishops ‘go to confession!)
Monday began with regional meetings. The country is divided into fourteen regions, Wyoming being in Region XIII. There is also a fifteenth region made up of the Eastern Right Eparchies. Our topic of discussion focused on the Protection of Children and Young People. We had a good discussion of the annual audit process, which reviews how effectively each diocese follows the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
We also had some good discussions regarding the use of Review Boards, whose purpose is to offer counsel to the bishop regarding the credibility of accusations of abuse. Our region felt strongly that review boards should meet at least annually, not only for the review of any present allegations of sexual misconduct, but also to review the Safe Environment Programs and other ways to remain vigilant in maintaining our responsibilities to protect our youth and vulnerable adults. We also discussed the importance of review boards reviewing all allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
There was also time during the regional meetings for the election of regional representatives to various USCCB committees.
Our Wednesday morning regional meeting devoted much time for discussion of a national convention, scheduled for Orlando, Florida in July 2017. The goal of this gathering would be to allow dioceses to put together teams of people to attend a high energy convention to better equip and train them for the work of evangelization. The title of this convention is proposed to be “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”
I think most of the bishops would prefer we do more work in regional meetings, as it allows for a higher level of participation than the general session.
Once convened for the general session, we heard an address from our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano. More than likely this will be his last address to the body of bishops, as he turns 75 in January. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has indicated his intention to accept the retirement of bishops upon turning 75. Archbishop Vigano made a strong appeal that Catholic Schools, particularly of Higher Education take their Catholic identity seriously. We also heard from our President, Archbishop Kurtz in his annual address to the body of bishops. He developed an instruction from Pope Francis during his September Pastoral Visit to the United States that bishops are to remain close to their people.
The General Session offers various Bishops who chair committees to update the bishops on recent work, or seek approval to advance new initiatives. There are various other speakers who have particular needs to present to the bishops. Over the course of this year’s meeting, the bishops approved the next set of priorities and plans for the Conference. We approved a statement, more like an instruction on the threats to society from pornography. I would encourage you to keep your eyes open on the website of the USCCB for information on this document; Create in Me a Clean Heart.
Perhaps the most intense discussions of this session centered around the bishops’ desire to revise a present document many of you would be familiar with. Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship. First published in 2007 prior to the 2008 election year, the document was in need of updating, to better reflect the issues that have changed in society, as well as capture some of the papal teaching that has occurred since then. In the end, the revised draft was approved.
Another challenge that has become very clear to me in my six years as a bishop is that with the USCCB being such a large organization, it is difficult to both have long term priorities and plans in place, while also having the flexibility to address new realities as they surface. I am encouraged that the bishops desire to exercise such flexibility in better incorporating the priorities of Pope Francis into our priorities.
One other piece of business was the approval of the publication of a liturgical book, entitled: Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair: Approved. The discussion reflected desire for a smaller book, that is easier to handle for the presidential prayers. It also however raised the question of whether the time had come to revisit the language of the new revisions, and how well they are being received. (That request from the floor received no traction.)
As with any other organization, the USCCB also must contend with budgets and finances. We approved the next year’s budget, but the vote to increase diocesan assesments failed to reach 2/3 approval, so the conference will mail a ballot in order to reach the required number of votes for approval. One humorous and laborious moment this year was the failure of our electronic voting system. Our poor staff members had a lot of ballots to count!
One of the more interesting moments of the meeting was an opportunity to hear from the delegates who represented us at the Synod of Bishops on the Family held in Rome this past October. There were 270 bishops present, approximately 80 % were elected by their episcopal conferences, others were appointed by Pope Francis, and there were also lay people and married couples who spoke. There were difference of opinions, but not battles; there was a great deal of fraternity expressed and experienced during the three weeks.
One delegate mentioned the different style of this synod, which began with the 2014 synod. The Pope’s desire clearly was an opportunity for the whole church to be more active and engaged. The 2014 synod talked about challenges faced by families. Bishops’ Conferences were then asked to use this material for reflection in preparation for the 2015 synod. Out of this came the working paper for the 2015 synod. This reflects effort to listen and hear what the church is saying universally about family and the gift of family life.
This structure was a great improvement over what has happened in previous years.
The final document of the 2015 Synod comprises 94 paragraphs, all but two received at least 94% approval, and the other two received 2/3 approval. The final document looks a lot like what our Church and families are dealing with today. Our delegates saw encouragement by the presence of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has indicated he will issue a post-synodal exhortation.
Early in the process, Pope Francis encouraged the synod fathers to speak boldly and listen with humility and invoke the Holy Spirit. During the synod, there was genuine conversion that took place, because of listening to one another. A synodal church walks together. This is a model for us as a conference, to speak boldly and listen humbly and invoke the Holy Spirit.
One delegate saw a clear understanding of the importance of the family as the basis of society and as domestic church was the primary concern of the synod. Now, how do we strengthen the family? Africa and India still have strong family units, and expressed concern about being exposed to growing consumerism and ‘screens.’ We should listen to people who are struggling to live out what the church teaches. (Pope Francis) this is more important and urgent than changing church teaching.
With the end of our General Secretary’s term approaching at the end of this November meeting, the bishops elected his successor, Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He will serve in this capacity for a five year term. The bishops also elected new chairmen for the following positions:
Conference Treasurer, Archbishop Schnurr from Cincinnati; Chair of Committee on Catholic Education, Bishop George Murry; Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Archbishop Joseph Tobin; Committee on Divine Worship, Archbishop Wilton Gregory; Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Frank Dewane, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Archbishop Charles Chaput; and Committee on Migration, Archbishop Gomez.
The bishops also elected new board members for Catholic Relief Services.
Many of you may also be glad to know that the bishops enthusiastically supported the request to have a national collection to complete the mosaic works in the upper basilica of our National Shrine. The 100th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the Shrine will be in 2020. The proposed mosaic work will bring the work of building this shrine to a beautiful completion. The anticipated cost of this work will be $20,000,000.00.
Without much further elaboration on my part, the meeting included presentations from Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the approaching Year of Mercy, World Youth Day in Krakow, 2016, and the 50th anniversary of the collection for support of the Church in Latin America. For good measure, presentations were made seeking the approval of the body of bishops to begin advancing the cause for sainthood of three causes around the United States, Fr. Aloysius EllaCuria, CMF, Antonia Cuipa And 81 Companions, and Fr. William E. Atkinson, O.S.A.
On top of all these meetings, there are numerous other events held during breakfast, lunch, and evening gatherings. For instance, I attended events for Catholic Extension Society, The Amazing Parish, Notre Dame University, and
St. Meinrad School of Theology. Of course, there are also committee meetings held during lunch or evenings, or the weekend preceeding the general session. To say the least, I’m glad it is Thursday morning! I depart Baltimore today for Indianapolis for a great celebration of this year’s National Catholic Youth Conference. I am looking forward to seeing our Wyoming contingent of youth!
As is the norm, the readings from these final weeks of the Liturgical Year remind us that all that surrounds us in this world will one day pass away. The Psalm selection today puts it well in stating clearly that the LORD is our inheritance. Even Jesus in Mark’s Gospel tells us that the heavens and the earth will pass away. I’m not sure the statement that even heaven will pass away ever caught my attention as it did this morning. Even heaven will pass away!
This causes me to recall a comment from Pope John Paul II, now a saint, that heaven is not a place; it is a relationship. Heaven is being in the presence of God, the Creator of all things, for the rest of eternity. It seems the reality of eternity is even more intimate. eternity will allow not just to be in God’s presence, but, In God Himself. After all, before the existence of all things, we were drawn forth from God; from the love of God. It is not surprising that this is to be our final destiny.
God created the earth, the entire universe, and called it good. Then, he created man and woman, placed them upon the earth, gave them dominion over all He had created, charging them to till and keep the earth as its stewards. All that exists was drawn forth from the immense reality of God. All created things sing the praise of God. Some day, which only God knows, all will return to Him.
This life journey is a pilgrimage of faith in God. In this world and this life, we learn to discover the Creator from all that He has created. In this life, we learn to live in justice with one another, in a proper co-existence with creation, and in an ever deeper, life-giving love with God Himself.
The close of every Liturgical Year also reminds us of a coming judgement, when God will honor the choices we have freely made in this life. God honors our “Yes” to Him and calls us into life eternal. God will also respect those who say “No” to Him, and they will find themselves outside of His coming Kingdom. Ours is not to judge. Ours is to freely decide, in every aspect of life, whether we will live in justice and peace with God, one another, and all of creation, or not.
These truths are meant to inform us about how we are to live day-to-day. In the end, we own nothing; all has been entrusted to us for a short period of time. In the end, all that matters is serving the Lord, fulfilling His will, which also entails loving one another.
Well, the boarding process is beginning, and a new week awaits. Please know of my prayers for all of you. Please keep the bishops in your prayers as we gather for our annual November business meetings this week.
Despite my best efforts, I’m unable to post the actual letter which I wish to share with you. Never-the-less, I’m happy to announce that the Diocese of Cheyenne will no longer charge Tribunal fees associated with petitions for the declaration of nullity of marriage. The official letter is linked below.
Last Friday I started a ten day road trip. I flew into Indianapolis, where I gave a talk and presided over Mass and a Holy Hour for the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference. Well over 600 men gathered from around the state at the Indianapolis Convention Center. It was good to see numerous former parishioners as well as men who are presently parishioners of my two brother priests in the Diocese of Evansville. We celebrated Mass at St. John’s which is right across the street from the Convention Center.
It was quite inspiring to see so many men taking their faith seriously. It was also uplifting to have a full church filled with so many voices singing God’s praises. Other presenters for the Conference were Dr. Edward Sri and Mr. Randy Hain.
The time in Indianapolis also provided opportunity to reconnect with a few friends, and to spend a Sunday with my sister, Sr. Nicolette, OSB. We went for a hike in one of the state recreational areas, and enjoyed the beauty of what has been an exceptional season of fall colors.
From Indianapolis I flew to St. Paul, Minnesota for a couple days of board meetings with Catholic Rural Life. One of the more enjoyable aspects of my episcopal ministry is serving as President of Catholic Rural Life and working with such a fine group of people. For the past two years, we have worked hard on a joint venture with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, writing a companion piece to their Vocation of the Business Leader. Hopefully, by the end of this year, we will publish The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader.
Another exciting initiative is an effort to start an Institute on Agriculture and Environment. At our June meeting, the Board approved initial efforts to establish an advisory board for the Institute, and at our November meeting, we received an update on their work, and approved further steps to define the structure and scope of the Institute.
Our time together concluded with a reception in downtown Minneapolis to develop our base of donors and spread the word about the great work and mission of Catholic rural Life.
Finally, while back in the Midwest, I am wrapping up my trip with a visit home to southern Indiana. I took a few hours yesterday to visit one of our seminarians, Clark Lenz at nearby St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary. We took a nice walk and had a very good visit. I am very grateful for everyone of our seminarians, as well as for the great work of St. Meinrad in forming and preparing young men for service to the Church as priests.
Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, and this incredibly extended fall season is now finally giving way to more seasonal temperatures. I appreciate the opportunity to make a visit home to spend a little time with my parents and family. My mother continues to decline in her battle with Alzheimer’s. Pop is faithful and patient as he daily cares for mom, and my siblings are doing their best to drop in on a regular basis to provide support. God has blessed our family in so many ways, and the love grown over the years now continues to bear fruit as our family heads into a new stage of family life.
May God continue to bless all of you and your families!
OK, so I know this blog has been very quiet during this month of October, but ministry has been in full gear! There have been many meetings and appointments to occupy my days. These past two weeks, the evenings have also been full with a round of Confirmations. Last week I celebrated Confirmation in the three parishes in Cheyenne. This week, I am on the road. Monday night I had a full day in the office and then travelled to Torrington and back home that night. Yesterday, again in the office, and then to Douglas. From Douglas I travelled to Casper to spend the night, as today, I travel on to Cody for the final Confirmation of this fall season. From Cody it is a six hour drive home on Thursday. Friday, I leave early for the Denver airport, and will be in Indianapolis, then to St. Paul, and finally into Southern Indiana for a few days with my parents and family.
The middle of the month I had the pleasure of covering St. Stephens Indian Mission on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Wind Rivers are such a beautiful part of the State, and the people are quite enjoyable to be with. There are three parishes on the Mission at Ft. Washakie, Ethete and St. Stephen. I had a rare opportunity to visit with one of the Native families after the final Mass on Sunday. The elder of the family was celebrating her 93rd birthday! I believe this celebration was entering its second week!
Before I left her home, she shared with me an interesting bit of family history. She told me that her great grandparents were living at St. Stephen’s when the first Jesuit missionaries arrived. That would have been around the 1850′s. They were a young couple at the time, and were both baptized and given the names Adam and Eve. Her great-grandmother was a Sioux, and I believe she said her great-grandfather was Northern Arapaho. During the visit, there were many stories, and many requests for prayers and blessings. It was a distinct pleasure to bless the outdoor shrine that was built in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
This past week, I was able to ‘get off grid’ for two days to do some hunting. I know the ‘anti’s’ dislike my sharing these stories here, so I’ll spare you the details and pictures, but it was a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, fresh air, good company, and the beauty of God’s creation. And yes, it was quite a successful outing!
As many of you I suspect, I spent much time these past three weeks trying to keep up with the Synod on the Family that recently wrapped up in Rome. Despite reports of intrigue, I believe our Holy Father, Pope Francis is making progress in both maintaining the traditions and doctrines of the Church, while at the same time helping us see clearly the realities of our world for what they are. He is continually calling us to be a more merciful and compassionate Church, better capable of accompanying God’s holy, faithful people in the day-to-day realities of their life. He is calling all of us to a more vibrant expression of faith in the way each of us live our lives, knowing that this is at the heart of being a truly Spirit-driven Church, a Church that is capable of and credible in fulfilling our mission to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world.
So, live the Faith, Church! with joy, hope and love.
For some reason, these last few days have been a spiritual struggle for me. But, that is the reality of the spiritual life; it is a constant ebb and flow of ups and downs, of consolation and desolation, of fidelity and temptations. Through the course of every spiritual journey, God is doing what he does best, tempering us for holiness.
The life of the believer is a continual invitation to live what we believe, namely, by the power of God’s Word, the strength of Grace, going deeper everyday into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
I pray often about the challenges of our culture and Church, wondering how to help people live at deeper levels the power of our faith in the risen Jesus Christ. During his recent pastoral visit to the United States and Cuba, one of the subtle messages of Pope Francis was to rise above the culture war mentality of our times. He knows well the many worldly attractions of our day which challenge the existence of God and the teachings of the Church, but he does not allow those realities to be the focus. He is astute in his awareness of these challenges, but lives and preaches centered in the life of the Risen Christ.
I noticed that nearly every address or homily he gave concluded with reference to the Light and Power of Christ, his Resurrection, and his Word, with a wise application of these realities to the challenges of human life. He also regularly seeks the intercession and example of the Blessed Mother.
I could not help but think of Jesus as I watched and listened to our Holy Father. He did not allow himself to be trapped by the usual parameters of liberal and conservative, democrat or republican, but instead kept preaching the Truth, in all of its fullness and beauty. He demonstrated very practically how we are to be bridge-builders and barrier-breakers by the way we engage one another and our surrounding culture.
Mercifully, this morning, as I begin a new day, I feel the tides of my own spiritual journey shifting, once again experiencing an abiding presence of Christ and the consolations of the Holy Spirit. But I have had to ask myself in recent days, and this is the question every follower of Christ faces periodically: “How do I draw upon the power of Christ in my darkness?” “How do I allow the power of God’s Word and the grace of the sacraments be my strength when I am weak?”
Clearly, all of us need to be faithful to prayer, time spent reading and studying God’s Word, and especially receiving the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. We also need to place our trust in God by asking him for what we are most in need of, and here I am speaking of spiritual goods, not worldly, such as virtue, perseverance, faith, trust, hope, and most of all, greater love.
God is always with us. God is always faithful. We need only open up to these realities. Today’s Gospel is fitting instruction indeed:
And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11: 9-13)
We have a wonderful resource here in Cheyenne that not only allows us to pass along slightly used items for the benefit of others, but also that uses the proceeds of those items to serve the homeless and poor.
St. Vincent De Paul is a non-profit organization that provides clean, desirable, donated items for sale to the public. Proceeds from sales are passed along each year to help provide meals to the homeless at the Cathedral as well as necessary supplies for the food pantry at St. Joseph’s Catholic church on the south side of Cheyenne. The poor and homeless are also helped directly with needed items at the store.
I am very impressed with how neat and well organized the workers and volunteers keep the store. They have a good selection of clothing items for men and women and children, including a fairly large selection of wedding and first communion dresses! My favorite was the good selection of slightly used Tonka trucks for those hard to buy for people in your family.
There are books, dining room sets and lots of kitchen items, such as dishes, china, cups, mugs, pots and pans. There are beds, lamps, small appliances, jewelry, holiday items, tools, furniture, albums, CD’s and DVD’s. Of course, the prices are very good!
I received a nice tour of the store from our manager, Diane Pindara. Along with the assistant manager, Daisha McKay, there were several volunteers on hand cleaning and organizing new contributions, and several customers were busy shopping.
The store is located at 2112 Snyder Avenue, Cheyenne. Phone number 307-432-0253. The store hours are Monday – Saturday 10 – 5. Donations can be dropped of Tuesday – Friday from 11 – 4. Of course, they will gladly take cash donations as well! If not donating items or shopping, I’m sure they would be glad if you just stopped by to say “Hello!”
I am pleased to announce that we have hired a new Diocesan Finance Officer for the Diocese of Cheyenne, Jeffrey V. Nieters.
Jeff was born in Stearns County, Minnesota. While in high school, his dad moved the family to Cody, Wyoming. Jeff has been a resident of Wyoming since that time.
Jeff brings a vast experience in management and finance, and will be a great addition to our diocesan team. Most recently, Jeff comes to us from Green River, Wyoming, where he worked for the City of Green River for 15 years as the Finance Director.
Following retirement, he moved to Cheyenne this summer. Jeff is married and has 4 grown children who live in the area.
Jeff will start with the Diocese on October 1, 2015. Welcome, Jeff!