Lessons that continue to guide me

One of the privileges a bishop has is to welcome through the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion those seeking baptism and the fullness of the sacraments at the Easter Vigil. I was pleased to do so again a few weeks ago at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph.

It always brings back memories of my own conversion, my own searching for more, my own questioning and the joy of my own welcome into the Church.

It also recalls what I may have shared before, namely the lessons learned from the school of hard knocks on my journey home to the church. These lessons continue to guide me in my continuing conversion toward a deeper relationship with Christ. They include:

Periodically ask why do I do what I do, why do I do it in this way. It is an examination of conscience to be sure the lens through which we view life is noble and that our motives, our intentions, and our goals are worthy. I remember as a lawyer being warned to be able to explain what I do to a group of twelve peers, a jury. Someone wiser suggested that I should ask whether I can explain what I do and say to my grandmother, a tougher judge; or before God, even more humbling.

Remember that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that there is the common good. As confirmed Catholics we ought to care about one another especially the poor, the vulnerable and those hurting. We all have been helped along the way by others – family, teachers, mentors, and friends. We can pass on their care about us to others we should care about.

Respect tradition and learn from history. G.K. Chesterton wrote that tradition grants a vote to those who went before us, in whose legacy we live and in whose debt we are, the known and unknown saints. From their experiences good and not so good we can learn much and be both inspired and cautioned. We owe those who went before our gratitude and prayers and can learn from them. We also owe respect and acceptance to the tradition of the Church expressed through the popes and Magisterium over the centuries who guided by the Holy Spirit have taught and defended the truth.

Seek the facts as they are not being misled by shallow musings or agendas. In our day of 24 hour media much of what we think we know comes from simplistic headlines we see flashing on TV or on our phones. It is enticing to accept the simplistic spin and the rumors offered by those pushing their cause. The actual facts are often misrepresented, trivialized or if awkward distorted for less than worthy purposes. We need to read, study, probe and pray to discover the actual facts and the truth.

Especially pray for healthy humility. It is human nature to think this is the most important time in the history of the world. Today is important to us of course because it is our time and we are called to use it for good. But it is healthy to recall that time passes and so do people, including some day, us.

At The Bishop’s House there is one room with the portraits of the eight bishops of Sioux Falls beginning with the Martin Marty who came to the Dakota Territory as a missionary. Each bishop made an impression in his time in his own way. As people view these portraits the question inevitably is asked, who is that? So whenever I am tempted to get puffed up about my ‘important’ role today, I am reminded that someday someone will look at my portrait and ask who is that?

Own up to errors and mistakes especially through confession and be forgiving of others and also of yourself. When I was in political life there was a common expression used when someone went against us on some issue: forgive and remember. We must work with them today, but we cannot wait for the time when payback will be possible. I am still doing penance for those days. Pope Francis calls us a Church and as persons to be merciful.

Have the courage of conviction. There is the story of the non-violence Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and an English minister in South Africa. The law required that if white persons were walking on the walkway, blacks had to get off. Gandhi from India was considered black. As the two walked they encountered some teenagers who appeared ready to force them off. The minister sensing the confrontation suggested they take another route. I paraphrase here, but Gandhi said “I thought your Jesus said to turn the other cheek.” “Well” said the minister clearly scared, “I’m not so arrogant as to think he meant it for me personally.” “I don’t think so,” replied Gandhi, “I think he meant that we need to show courage.”

We need the courage to stand up for what is right, good and just even or especially when it is unpopular or hard. We will need such courage in the days ahead to stand up for religious freedom and justice for all, and to oppose racism and the culture of death.

Respect life, all life. Someone said to respect life is simply to love, to will the good of others. Dr. Martin Luther King in one of his sermons discussed the parable of the Good Samaritan. You will recall that a man was beaten, robbed and left along the side of the road. A priest went by and did not stop to help, and then a Levite went by and did not stop to help. Then a Samaritan, a foreigner, perhaps an immigrant legal or not, came along and did help, at some risk to himself. Dr. King noted that the first question the priest and the Levite likely asked was: ‘if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me. But the Good Samaritan reversed the question, if I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him.’ What will happen to others is worth our pondering.

Laugh often and keep perspective. I read that children laugh 500 times a day on average while adults laugh 15 times on average. I don’t know whether that is true. But as some sage wrote, no wonder Jesus said let the children come to me. Saint Theresa of Avila is reported to have said, “Save me from sour-faced Christians.”

With Christ at our center we can be joyful and upbeat for he has won victory on the cross.

Finally, Give Praise to the Lord, for the gift of life, of family of friends, of the church and of all our blessings including living in the freedom of the United States. Thankful hearts are content hearts filled with love and hope even in the midst of complexity and challenge.

These are some thoughts we might reflect upon during this season of Lent as committed Catholics and faithful citizens who seek to deepen our personal relationship with Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

Bishop Swain's Column, March 2018