Weather is a powerful influence in our daily lives; it affects our attitudes and actions. At least to me it seems that this year there has been an amazing pattern of unpredictable weather – heavy rains and the resulting flooding coupled with drought and the resulting forest fires; late spring blizzard and 90 degree heat. Since I came to South Dakota and have learned the history of our state and Church and traveled its vast reaches, I marvel at the stamina, courage and resiliency of the immigrants and natives in whose legacy we live.
Many who immigrated to South Dakota did so with the expectation of owning and working the land in freedom. They brought with them the faith of their youth and sought to pass it on. Yearning for the sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist they built hundreds of churches and maintained them over the years. The thread that ties this rural life together is faith in God which is reflected in strong families whose members have been and are good stewards of God’s creation.
In his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis reminded us that creation accounts in Genesis teach that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” He continued: “This implies a relationship between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” (48-9) That is a powerful lesson rural life and families teach by personal witness. Work on farms and ranches are undertaken while thinking of the future and the generations for come. Those from rural areas who have moved to the cities note the generational ties of their rural roots. The core of those generational ties is faith.
“Be not afraid, just have faith.” Those are the words of Jesus in our Gospel spoken to the synagogue official who was so concerned about his daughter that he put aside all of society’s taboos and publicly sought out Jesus to save his daughter. Someone noted that “be not afraid” is recorded 366 times in Sacred Scripture. “Be not afraid, just have faith” well describes what it takes to farm and ranch on the prairie, and is the food for all us whatever our vocation, occupation or status in life.
The Gospel reading makes clear what faith really is. Faith is trusting in God even when others do not understand, even in the weather of heavy times. It is exampled in the woman who in desperation touched the cloak of Jesus as he walked by and was immediately cured of a long-term illness. Surely the broader community scoffed at her action. Yet, Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” We do not need to wait to go to Christ when things become so desperate; he is with us every day.
Those who built our state and church over the decades experienced bounty and blessings which we are privileged to inherit. They also experienced destruction and loss through which they supported one another, offering example for us.
For instance, how faith must have been tested during the Great Depression in the 1930s. This is how one author described that time.
“South Dakota wasn’t hit with just an economic crisis. Adding to the distress was an extended drought period which wreaked havoc with the agricultural industry. Crops withered in the fields and pastures turned almost to barren earth. Farmers mixed molasses with Russian thistle to provide feed for starving cattle. Black blizzards created fence-high drifts of dust; and what vegetation didn’t succumb to the heat and lack of moisture was devoured by hordes of grasshoppers which ate paint off of houses and collected in such numbers on train rails that they caused locomotive drive wheels to spin.”
“To make matters worse, an epidemic of anthrax – a dreaded livestock disease which also could affect humans – necessitated widespread slaughtering of cattle and horses which then had to be burned and buried.” (With Faith, Hope and Tenacity, Karolevitz, 109) What a test of faith. Someone told me that farmers are always only three months away from bankruptcy because of uncontrollable events. The author also describes the prayers and processions reaching out to God for strength and perseverance during those hard times.
Despite the destruction and loss then, look around us today – faith, family and proper care for the land has resulted in great bounty and many blessings. How beautiful is the countryside, how powerful is faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The actress Ann Jillian at the age of 35 noticed a growth on her breast. On the way to the doctor’s office to have it checked out, she stopped at a Catholic church to pray. She noticed these words on display: “The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” That statement of faith and encouragement changed her life as she dealt with her illness and its aftermath. When we surrender our whole selves to God, we can be at peace and put aside all our anxious thoughts and fears while straightforwardly dealing with the realities of life.
Both the ailing woman who touched the cloak of Jesus and the father concerned for his daughter believed that Jesus could and would sustain them. Such trusting faith transcends fears and the heaviness of this world. It lifts us beyond our minds and bodies, envelops us in a relationship with God greater than the moment or the circumstances of the day. Faith, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares is “the surrender of our whole person to God, mind, body, heart and soul.”
The thread that ties rural life together is faith in God expressed in families who are good stewards of one another and of creation during both bounty and bust. “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” Another growing season is always on the horizon until the ultimate harvest is complete, our salvation and oneness with Christ forever,
Be not afraid, have faith, for He is with us until the end of time.