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We are invited to incredible things when God touches our lives

Most Rev. Paul J. Swain - Bishop of Sioux Falls
by Bishop Paul J. Swain - 1/3/2012
Below is an edited version of the homily given at the Mass of Thanksgiving for 100 years of the healing ministry provided by McKennan Hospital. Since then this ministry has grown into the Avera system which is present throughout the diocese and other similar ministries have been started. I offer it because the principles noted apply to all Catholic institutions which are at risk to secular forces seeking to diminish religious liberty. The Gospel was that of the Annunciation:

“One person wrote that Mary could say yes to God because she had a “hunch of faith”. In her heart she knew that God could be trusted, that the power of the most high would always embrace her even if she in her humanity did not always understand. When she asked the legitimate question "how can this be?," the angel spoke the key words of faith: “nothing will be impossible for God.” Her response was "I am the handmaid of the Lord," a declaration that she believed that. Do we?

We too ask the question: how can this be when our challenges come? Many are asking that this day with economic uncertainty, political unrest, natural calamities, injustice, heart-wrenching sickness and the emptiness of loved ones gone. "How can this be?" is our natural response.
Like Mary we are invited to incredible things when we allow God to touch our lives in His way. We too need to have a hunch of faith to believe that God the most high will embrace us, that God will give us the strength to meet the challenges we face. The angel said to Mary, do not be afraid. Neither need we be afraid.

It is that hunch of faith that has inspired Catholic health care over the years. And so it is a privilege to acknowledge by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass this the 100th anniversary of Catholic health care at McKennan Hospital now Avera McKennan Hospital.

It is important to recognize anniversaries such as this. We do so to honor and remember those who went before in whose legacy we live. They believed like Mary that nothing will be impossible with God. They did not have a business plan, but they had faith.

We recognize anniversaries also to ponder history and learn from it. While today is important because this is our time, history tells us that change is ever present, that time moves on, and that therefore we ought to take the longer view.

And we recognize anniversaries to remind us of the original mission that motivated the beginning, and to reflect on whether in the midst of the pressures of the day we are being true to that mission.

At the dedication of the hospital Bishop O’Gorman, a man of vision as this Cathedral attests, declared that “this hospital is as broad as the spirit of Christ.” The spirit of Christ encompasses being true to his teaching and the church he instituted, especially by being respectful of all life from natural conception to natural death and the years in between. That is the mission of Catholic health care. We are grateful to the doctors, nurses, sisters, priests, lay persons who have over these years maintained that vision by personal witness assuring that it is the spirit of Christ that permeates all that the healing ministry of McKennan did and does.

Throughout its history there have been on-going challenges including: adequate funding, quality staffing, adjusting to the changing demand in patient needs, and adapting to technological and scientific discoveries. Today there are special challenges resulting from the reduction in number of religious sisters who by their very presence witnessed to the mission. There is also the challenge of the intertwining of private, religious and government entities that can result in mandates in conflict with the spirit of Christ and therefore pose a threat to religious liberty and the financial stability of an institution.

A further challenge is religious indifference in our culture including among patients, professional staff and other employees in Catholic health care which encourages the weakening of ethical and moral standards to address immediate practical problems. These are topics for another day but ones we must candidly discuss. As we look to the next 100 years, we must recognize that the breadth of the spirit of Christ may need to be defended even at a cost. The tension between health care as a business and health care as a ministry is real and one I hope we can address together.

For today, let us remember with gratitude those who over these 100 years built, maintained and retained McKennan true to the original mission to be as broad as the spirit of Christ. We thank those of you who today embody that mission with great sacrifice and with great love. You like Mary are a model of witnessing the full spirit of Christ. The difference between Catholic health care and other institutions is that Christ and his church are at the center not only in word but in practice.”