A few random thoughts as we move from spring to summer:
This was a brutal winter after a beautiful December.
In the last few weeks I have been in all corners of our 35,000 square mile diocese, commonly known as East River. I did that also when I first arrived nearly 13 years ago after being ordained and installed as your bishop.
The contrast is stark. Then there was severe drought, the land brown, the rivers and streams low. This year in all corners of our diocese standing water is deep and fields saturated interfering with spring planting. Instead of, as we usually do this time of year, praying for rain to nourish the crops, our prayer is for the rains to stop.
Many lives will be affected by this year’s weather as they were so many years ago but in different ways. One of the great strengths of our diocese is the legacy of resilience of the farm and ranch families and those who support our agricultural base and depend on the land. They must adapt to the vagaries of the weather from year to year. To do so they take a leap of faith every year knowing that every year is unique.
The resiliency of those families past and present has established a spiritual context for us all which quite frankly is being tested in many ways by the secular culture, economic forces, political expediency and the evil one who takes advantage of all of these to unnerve us.
Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in the vital agricultural sector of our state as they face life changing challenges. May they be reassured by the words of our risen savior that if God provides for the lowly sparrow how much more will he provide for those whom he has gifted with faith, reason and hope. And let us support them in any way we are able.
One thought occurred to me as Father Darin Schmidt drove me over hundreds of miles the last few weeks. How dependent are we and how we take for granted the simple innovation of car brakes. Count the number of times we press down on the brakes as we go to the store or church or any other place. We hardly think about them, expecting them to work. It is to our peril when we are not attentive to insuring that they are in good working order. That is why we periodically need to have maintenance checks on our vehicles and other aspects of our earthly life.
There are spiritual brakes we also depend on – time tested church moral and social teachings; clergy, lay leaders in a variety of fields; maintenance of buildings; diocesan, parish and volunteers who teach our youth and who reach out the poor, sick, and lonely. When we let our spiritual brakes deteriorate, our souls are in peril. We need spiritual maintenance checks as well, beginning with regular examinations of conscience. Let us not neglect our spiritual brakes.
Being alive spiritually
From my column in The Bishop’s Bulletin in 2010:
One of my favorite movies is the Sound of Music. Many will remember the opening scene when the novice Maria is on the mountain enjoying the vista which seems to open to the whole world and singing that this beautiful world which God created is alive. Surely she was alive with the Spirit at that moment, having risen above the everydayness of her life.
There is something truly spiritual about being up high and being able to see far beyond, knowing that there is even more farther beyond. It was interesting to note that during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land last November the number of mounts we climbed. Mount Carmel (the vineyard of God) where the Carmelites pray on the site where the prophet Elijah was moved; Mount Tabor, where Jesus in anticipation of his passion took Peter, James and John and was transfigured; the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; Masada high above the Dead Sea which was once a place of refuge and safety; Mount Nebo where Moses gazed across the Jordan Valley; the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus preached his inspiring and life-changing sermon on the mount.
Given all that is happening in the world, in our country, in the Church and in our personal lives, perhaps we need to climb a mountain at least figuratively to regain perspective and hope ourselves, to be more fully alive.
It is easy to get discouraged, feel overwhelmed even isolated and lonely. When we focus in on the immediate, our vision is limited and closed. When we raise our vision beyond the moment we gain perspective and discover ways to cope because we regain the hope that comes from knowing that Christ is with us and that ultimately God will prevail. We do sometimes wish He would hurry up a bit; but faith gives us the strength to persevere with such hope.
Scripture tells us that Jesus often escaped to the mountains to pray. As one poet put it: “He always loved the mountain tops, for there away from earth, He treads the mystic ways, and sees the vision of the Fairest Fair, as Heaven dawns upon His raptured gaze; the loneliness, the pain, the grief depart; surpassing gladness fills His Sacred Heart.” (James Hayes, The Transfiguration)
We in South Dakota do not have high mountain tops, though we do have the glorious beauty of the plains which offer breathtaking vistas that lift us above the moment. What each of us has available that can help “the loneliness, the pain and the grief depart” is prayer, and especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, before Our Lord. Adoration allows us to take a break from the churning around us and to focus on the powerful presence of Christ. It allows us to let go from doing or worrying and allows Him to envelop us with his love.
I have been impressed with the number of confirmation candidates who in their letters to me mention how Eucharistic Adoration experienced at Discipleship Camp, or Search retreats or other forums has changed their lives. It may be in part because the rest of their days are filled with multi-tasking phones, ears plugged with music and multiple flashing signs advertising and tempting them. Before the Lord in adoration, whatever our age, these distractions are gone and we are in a way up on the mountain where the world God created is alive and His love is real.
Maria in the Sound of Music heard the monastery bells ring calling her back home. She ran down the hill refreshed and alive with the splendor of God. And so must we return to our real world. But we can also return to the mountain top of adoration whenever we choose. Resting in the presence of the Lord guides us to live moral lives, strengthens us to defend the faith, and offers perspective on what and who is really important.
As I look at the pressures in my own life today, it is clear that I need to climb the mountain top and enter into the presence of the Lord more often. For in Him is our hope; in Him we can be truly alive.
Perhaps you do too.