As I have grown older, November has become among my favorite months even though it is the entryway into winter. That was not always the case. Tailgating before Wisconsin Badger football games in November was not as much fun as on warmer days. But what November has become for me is a time of recognition of our past and raising up for our reflection those who have gone before in whose legacy we are blessed to live. All Saints and All Souls days begin the month, remembering those known and unknown who have shaped the Church, our diocese and parishes, and our personal lives.
Knowledge of our history allows us to put into perspective the challenges of our own day. One of the founding fathers of our country, Benjamin Franklin, said that “today is yesterday’s pupil.” It is a reminder than if we do not know our past in all its glory and disappointment, we are lesser as a result.
Knowing our history also helps put into perspective the challenges in the Church today, which seems to be so divided. It helps us recognize the importance of time-tested traditions. The English writer and convert G.K. Chesterton wrote that “tradition means giving votes to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.”
This Bishop’s Bulletin raises up some of our ancestors, many who are under consideration to be officially declared saints, most of whom we have never heard of and yet are part of our history. As we read about their lives may we take to heart the common features that we all share: faith in Jesus Christ, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and trust in God’s will and God’s way even when we do not fully understand the mystery of today.
As we await the appointment of the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls, I have reflected on those in whose legacy I live. Several years ago I wrote the following in The Bishop’s Bulletin:
“It has been wonderful traveling the countryside of our diocese these past weeks. The fall weather has been magnificent, the colors of the leaves and crops breathtaking, and the sacrificial harvesting of the bounty impressive in machine and personnel. This has only been outdone by the cornucopia of foods temptingly offered at parish pot lucks. There is much to be concerned about in our society, in our economy, in our church and in our personal lives. But how blessed we truly are.
November is a month when on Thanksgiving Day we reflect gratefully as a nation for our blessings, especially our freedom. As church we also remember with gratitude our brothers and sisters in the communion of saints. The solemnity of All Saints and commemoration of All Souls invite us to reflect with gratitude on those well-known and unknown persons who have helped mold and touch our church and our lives.
At Clergy Days every year, the annual gathering of priests and permanent deacons, we set aside one evening prayer to remember by name all the priests and deacons who have served our diocese since its beginning in 1889. We pray that our brothers may enjoy eternal rest. Each name is read one by one, recognition of the sanctity of every human life. As you might imagine, it is quite a long list. Most of the names are unknown to us, yet they are brother clergy in whose legacy we live. Because of their faithfulness, our diocese and parishes have shared in word and sacrament the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the ebbs and flows of prairie life.
When we gathered in early October this year, I was struck by how pensive and prayerful the priests and deacons were as the names were slowly read, especially during the reading of those priests who had served years ago and died long ago. As the names continued to be read there was movement among some, a nod, a smile, a tear in response to a name, a person who was a priest or deacon, known about by story or by personal experience. It was moving, humbling and uplifting.
Not being a priest of the diocese and bishop here only a few years, my recognition was mostly for those who have died recently whose Mass of Christian Burial I was privileged to celebrate. Yet as the names of the bishops were read I was deeply touched, names four years ago I knew not. Now I live in their shadow.
First was Bishop Martin Marty, Benedictine abbot and missionary whose commitment to evangelization to Native Americans has rooted the local church of Sioux Falls in that essential ministry.
There was Bishop Thomas O’Gorman who commissioned St. Joseph Cathedral which has become such a major part of my life.
There was Bishop Bernard Mahoney, who dealt with the impact of the Great Depression (and lasting drought and dust) when our state was changed forever and whose hard decisions, including bankruptcy, encourage us to not avoid hard choices and to be good stewards in all ways.
There was Bishop William Brady, who led during the anxious days of World War II and who was the first bishop to live in what has come to be called the Bishop’s House; it is your house which is my temporary home.
There was Bishop Lambert Hoch, who attended all sessions of the Second Vatican Council and brought its life to the diocese.
And there was Bishop Paul Dudley, who some say I look like (both bald) but whose saintly presence, especially to the poor and vulnerable, is a high standard only he could live.
Someday Archbishop Robert Carlson and I will be on that list. Some will have known us, most will have not. Yet we all, bishops, clergy, religious and laity, are tied together by the thread of faith expressed in the local church of Sioux Falls.
I write this only to suggest that these threads of relationship are true in all our families and in all our parishes. During this month of November I encourage you to remember with gratitude the blessings we enjoy today because of those who lived the faith yesterday. May we also commit ourselves to be good stewards of what we have received and good role models for the young who will inherit from us. Perhaps you might give thanks to God for those who went before, for those who touch our lives today, and for those placed in our care with great potlucks.”
Today is yesterday’s pupil. May we be good students.
November culminates when we come together as a nation on Thanksgiving Day. Remembering all saints and all souls, our past and our present opportunities and blessings, may we as my episcopal motto declares: Give Praise to the Lord.