Physically Apart but United in Purpose

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 5A

These are challenging times, but times of great opportunity to work together as a parish for the common good. As we get deeper into the effects of COVID-19, I wanted to assure you that you and your families are in our prayers and we are here to serve you in your needs.

Now is great time and opportunity to spend more time in prayer with your families. Our parish churches remain open for those who want to pray before the Blessed Sacrament who are healthy. Please maintain personal hygiene, social distancing, and use common sense. The other bit of news is that schools will not be reconvening before May 1. This also means we are unable to meet together for religious education on Wednesdays. I encourage our teachers, students and families to explore the resources available at formed.org to continue lessons remotely.

These are also uncertain economic times. That said, it is important that we keep up with our Sunday giving for our yearly budgeted expenses. In order to keep our churches afloat financially, I ask you to send in your envelope each week by mail or to explore the option of online giving, which the Diocese is making available to all parishes during this time. To give online, navigate to sfcatholic.org/online-donations/ and click on “Parish Donations.” On the next page, you will be able to select your parish. These are sorted alphabetically by the city name.

It is better for us to prepare now, rather than to put it off for a later date when we could have difficulties. In this season of Lent, we have an opportunity to pray, fast, and to give alms. As we have not been able to travel as much or spend as much on vacations or sporting events, I would ask you to consider using this money saved to be generous to the Church. We have ongoing expenses, although other projects may have to be put on hold to cut costs.

With the slowdown and the threat of illness, the Church is still the most important place where we receive comfort and the Lord’s Presence. As your pastor, I am here to serve and will keep you aware of any changes. We do need to have social distancing, but we must also be aware of those around us who are getting isolated or lonely. We need to work together in these extraordinary times to share faith, hope, and love, to continue to reach out in creative ways to those in need. May it please God to deliver us soon not only from the plague of this virus but also from the burden of these restrictions so that we might gather together again as His family.

A New Way of Seeing

Homily, Lenten Sunday 4A

Personally, I’ve had a long history of problems with my eyesight. I was only in first grade when I was fitted for my first pair of glasses. I switched to contacts while in school and sports, but these would eventually start to irritate my eyes. My latest pair of glasses I ordered online for a fraction of the usual cost. A couple of my brothers now have had laser eye surgery, but I might wait a while longer for that. The interesting thing about almost always having corrective lenses is that most of the time, we don’t even realize how blurry our vision is until after we get a new prescription. We just get used to not seeing things so well, but then with a new pair of glasses, it’s like we suddenly realize again that trees have individual leaves on the branches, and we see blades of grass, or perhaps more distressing, we might suddenly notice ants or spiders crawling around in our rooms at home. The whole world comes at us again in stunning detail and high definition.

Now the man in today’s Gospel is not just seeing clearly again, having his sight restored, but is seeing things for the very first time in his life. Because the man was born blind and now receives from Jesus a whole new kind of vision that he had never experienced before, this Gospel passage was always seen as an image of the gift of faith, a whole new spiritual vision that God gives to us, to see things according to God’s perspective. We receive the eyes of faith at our Baptism, but if we fail to really nourish our faith, if we focus exclusively on trivial things, only on the here and now, without viewing them in the context of eternity, we run the risk of becoming rather nearsighted in faith.

How much of our time and energy do we invest into things that are really rather pointless and trivial, things that quickly pass away? Whether video games, sports teams, movies and television, the music we listen to, the gossip we engage in. And how does that compare with the amount of time or energy that we give to prayer, to fostering our relationship with God that will hopefully last forever? How much do we invest in really learning Christ, learning not just the teachings of the Church but also the reasons behind them? How much do we really strive to understand our Catholic faith and grow to love it and live it, to learn the Scriptures and the history and Tradition of the Church, and to act upon this knowledge?

Now I played sports in high school. I ran track, played football and basketball. I probably enjoyed basketball the most, but to me they always remained sports, games, things that were meant to be fun, not taken too seriously. Sports can also teach important lessons of the value of discipline, hard work, setting and reaching goals, but I’ve always been very critical of our culture’s level of obsession with sports and performance. It’s one thing to play sports at our leisure and to learn the lessons that the game teaches to those who play, but it’s another thing entirely to have a whole culture and several industries centered around professional, college, and high school athletics. To have so much attention and pressure focused, that someone’s injury could lead them to question their entire identity and purpose in life. It’s not healthy, and it needs to change. The current pandemic has stripped away a lot of sports and many other things that we would consider part of normal life. It’s good for us to reflect: how have these restrictions affected us? How have they affected our faith? And in the wider culture, how has the concern over a disease—that could mean life or death for many—how has this crisis called into question the level of importance and value we tend to place on so many trivial things?

If Catholics and people of faith are unwilling to question and challenge the misguided values of the culture around us, if instead we just let ourselves be swept up into the madness, we fail in our prophetic mission, and we risk losing sight ourselves of what’s truly most important and lasting, in life and in death. We risk a spiritual blindness that is far worse than the loss of our eyes. God grant us the lens of faith to see everything more vividly in the perspective of eternity, and in view of the accounting that we must then render to God for every idle word and vain pursuit.

Keep Your Distance, but Stay Close to God

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 4A

Even as we are told not to gather in groups of more than 10 people to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19, and as opportunities for physical participation in the Church’s liturgy are not as readily available, we must strive all the more to draw close to God. Today, there are more resources than ever to keep us connected as a community of faith through the daily Mass readings (Magnificat has made their publication free online and on your phone), watching Mass online or on EWTN and the Bishop’s Sunday TV Mass, reading and studying the Scriptures and catechism in our homes, praying the Rosary and other devotions, spiritual reading, and making acts of Spiritual Communion.

Back in 1918 during the Spanish flu, when churches were closed and public gatherings canceled, there were not nearly as many resources available to the faithful of that time to remain connected and to grow in knowledge and love of their faith. I am hopeful that this time of reduced physical presence will be an opportunity for our desire and appreciation to grow. Many other areas of the world routinely have less access to Mass and the sacraments due to persecution or priests being spread too thin. We take a lot for granted, so I pray that this temporary absence will make our hearts grow fonder and more thankful.

Christ tells us, Pray at all times, without becoming weary (Luke 18:1). This is still possible and even more critically important when we are not able to gather together with the other members of our parish family. Mindful of God’s presence in each moment and situation, making frequent visits to His Presence in our tabernacles, and striving to bring all our thoughts, words, and actions into line with His saving will, we can deepen our spiritual lives and grow in grace and virtue even during these difficult times.

On a practical note, I still hope to keep something of my regular routine, to be in Hoven’s rectory from Monday evening until Wednesday evening each week and in Bowdle on Thursdays and Fridays. Confessions will still be available—as long as everyone is able to keep sufficient space between them in the pews—though the times may need modifying. Let’s plan on 10 am each Sunday in Bowdle and 6 pm every Monday in Hoven, for however long public Masses are suspended.

Take heart, dear ones. The Lord is with us still. It promises to be a very unique Lent and Easter this year, but it can also be one of the most grace-filled if we choose to use this time well.

Confronted with Thirst

Homily, Lenten Sunday 3A

Some psychologists estimate that first impressions can be formed in as little as three seconds. Now because I’ve always been naturally shy and more reserved around people that I don’t know very well, I’ve never been very good at making an impression the very first time I talk to someone, or I end up coming across as rather gruff and overly serious. But, when I look at today’s Gospel reading, and the words and actions of Jesus towards the woman at the well, He makes even me look like an expert at first impressions.

When the Samaritan woman reaches the well, instead of trying to break the ice by mentioning how sunny it had been lately, or asking where she had purchased her water jar, Jesus instead decides to lead with, “Give me a drink.” Probably not the best thing to start off with, making demands of someone you’ve never spoken to before, but Jesus was tired so maybe we can cut Him some slack. But the other problem with His request is that the woman can tell that Jesus is a Jew, so she probably just thinks that He’s taunting her. Jews considered all Samaritans to be unclean, and so a Jew would never really accept a drink from her anyway.

When the Samaritan woman expresses her surprise, confusion, or anger at His request for a drink, Jesus doesn’t seem to do much better in His second attempt. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus is basically saying to her, “Don’t you realize who I am?” Now Jesus is sounding even more arrogant, making Himself out to be greater than the Patriarch Jacob who had given them the well.

After another brief exchange about living water, the Samaritan woman finally asks Jesus to give her this water. In reply, Jesus seems to completely change the subject, telling the woman to come back with her husband, and then proceeding to tell her all about her past and current living arrangements. “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” Again, the first time we meet someone, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to bring up their sins and their checkered past. But Jesus has a different goal when it comes to making first impressions.

He is not really concerned about His own reputation. Above all, Jesus wants to help us realize our need for God, to experience our thirst for God, even if that thirst might be painful. The Samaritan woman was looking for love in all those relationships, but without knowing the love of God, she would always remain thirsty. What are the relationships in our own lives that we continue to use as a substitute for having a real and intimate relationship with almighty God? How often do we really make time for prayer and give the very best of ourselves to God, rather than just giving God whatever is leftover of our time and energy at the end of the day? How might Jesus be trying to shake us out of our complacency, to wake us up to re-evaluate our priorities in life? Whatever you think of the current situation with coronavirus, whether you think it’s overblown or really verging on the end of the world, plagues and the outbreak of disease have always been seen as opportunities and promptings to repent and call upon the mercy and protection of God.

The world doesn’t need more mediocre Catholics. The world is in desperate need of Saints. How often have we let our concern for what others might think of us prevent us from boldly sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet, just as the Samaritan woman invited everyone in town to come out and meet Jesus? If you’re not interested in becoming a Saint and going to extremes for the love of Christ, even willing to make fools of ourselves for the sake of the Gospel, if we’re content with just getting by as Catholics, then what are we really doing here? May Jesus Christ, present in this Eucharist, make a deep and lasting impression upon us, that we might always grow in His love and feel compelled to spread the Gospel to everyone we meet, to proclaim Christ to all the world.

The Contagion of Sin

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 3A

I recently saw a meme saying that if you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live in the 14th century, you now have two popes and a plague spreading. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). I’ve also seen reports during this past week that the coronavirus has reached South Dakota. It’s good to be prepared, to exercise caution, but not to be alarmed.

Washing your hands regularly and staying home when you are sick are still the most effective ways of preventing the spread of coronavirus and other illnesses. We’ve also refrained from the sign of peace—which is always optional—during Mass since the beginning of the flu season. As an additional precaution, I will also avoid shaking hands as I greet people after Mass. You may also think twice about using the holy water fonts, especially if you have a weakened immune system. Best to carry your own bottle of holy water with you for personal use.

Again, it’s best not to be alarmed, but it’s also our responsibility to act with the virtue of prudence and not to be superstitious about holy things. Holy water is holy, and it is also water, which many pathogens thrive in. As we just heard during one of the Sunday Gospels, “It is written, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We should not count on divine protection if we aren’t bothering to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves naturally. Getting enough sleep, exercise, and having a healthy diet are also big helps to having a strong immune system.

As much as we should guard against physical disease and use prudent measures to prevent its spread, we should be even more concerned to avoid the spiritual contagion of sin and those things that lead us into sin. To be committed to a healthy diet and spiritual exercise of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Avoiding contact with sinful influences in our lives, and especially to encounter the mercy and forgiveness of God in the sacrament of Confession. As during Advent, I will be available both before and after the weekend Masses to hear Confessions as we prepare for Easter and strive to cast out the leaven of vice.

Louder than Words

Homily, Lenten Sunday 2A

Usually when people find out that I spent close to four years in Italy during my studies for the priesthood, they often assume that I must be pretty good at Italian. And while I did study the language for a while and tried to become conversant, I actually didn’t have much occasion for using Italian during my time there. I mostly lived among other Americans, Canadians, and Australians, and the theology classes I took were all in English. So beyond being able to understand a bit when someone else is speaking Italian and being able to pronounce the words correctly, speaking it myself is much more challenging. Then there’s often the follow-up question, “Well, didn’t you have to speak it when you would travel or go to the store or restaurants? Or just walking around Rome?” But the thing is, even when I’m here in the United States, I’m not really in the habit of using much English when buying things or ordering food or traveling. So over in Italy I became even more fluent in pointing.

Some psychologists have suggested that in certain situations up to 90% of human communication is nonverbal. That just to see a transcript and text of the words that we speak is sometimes only about 10% of what we’re actually saying. There’s gesture, posture, facial expression, tone of voice, even what we choose to wear, all these things can be involved and can be very important in communication, even beyond just the words that we say.

The Gospel we just heard of the Transfiguration of Jesus involves a lot of nonverbal communication. Have we ever thought much about what God was saying to the Apostles and to us when the face of Jesus began to shine like the sun and His clothes became white as light? What was being communicated to us as God sends Moses and Elijah to speak with Jesus? St. Matthew doesn’t even bother to tell us what they were discussing, just that the great messenger of God’s Law along with the greatest of Israel’s prophets spoke with Jesus, who was shining like the sun. And a bright cloud overshadowed them, the cloud of God’s glory and presence, most likely the same cloud we hear about leading the Israelites out of Egypt, looking like a cloud by day and a pillar of fire during the night. The only words St. Matthew records from God the Father are, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” But God is communicating throughout the events of the Transfiguration, not just when speaks with human words.

The same is true for all of us and for the Liturgy of the Mass. There are many signs, gestures, postures that communicate without using words. Kneeling says something different than sitting or standing. Yesterday evening in Hoven, we had the great joy of celebrating the First Holy Communion of two of our members. And in preparing them for that day and going through the rehearsal with them and their mothers, I thought it would be a great opportunity and occasion for them to receive Holy Communion in the same way as so many of our ancestors did until very recently. So when the time came, they both came up and knelt at the Communion rail, which is actually what it’s there for.

Still today, when I’ve spoken with those who remember the days when the only way to receive Holy Communion was while kneeling—for those who were physically able to kneel—and on the tongue, you can tell that it made a lasting impression on them, even if they were too young at the time to explain much of it. But they could tell that this was different, and so many of the nonverbal cues communicated to them that this was different from ordinary food. Even just to have another person feed you, to place food directly in your mouth is rather strange for those of us old enough—or young enough—to feed ourselves. And those who remember could tell that this was something, some One so special and precious and sacred, that Jesus was only ever placed on gold plates, in gold vessels, only ever handled directly by a priest, who had studied for six or more years to be able to say the Mass and to forgive sins.

Now I’m not giving anyone permission to watch and look around at how other people are receiving Holy Communion or to make judgments about them either positively or negatively. Hopefully all of us are concentrating more on the One we’re about to receive than on what everyone else is doing. But we shouldn’t be afraid as Catholics to ask the question, objectively speaking, Are some nonverbals better than others at communicating what we really believe about Jesus, present in the Eucharist? Are there gestures, postures, acts of reverence that are more effective at signaling to ourselves, reminding ourselves, and even signaling to non-Catholics that what we’re doing when it comes time for Holy Communion is something very different than waiting in line at the store for a free sample?

It’s been in the news that a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center concluded that only about 30% of Catholics in the United States actually believe that at Mass the bread and wine are changed and become the Body and Blood of Christ. 30%. Now even if it wasn’t a perfect survey, even if the real figure would be something even twice that amount at 60%, it really ought to be 100%. And if the only thing we’re willing to change in our approach to communicating about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist are the words that we use, if we’re not conscious about how we’re communicating or not communicating nonverbally, we end up obscuring the light of Christ. We prevent Him from shining like the sun to those who need His light. The glory of God wants to shine out of us not only in our words but in all our thoughts and actions. May all that we think, say, and do proclaim to the world, “This Jesus is our beloved Savior and Lord. Listen to Him.”

It’s Lent: Go Ahead, Indulge

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 2A

With the Stations of the Cross being a favorite devotion of this time of year, we also have many opportunities to gain the plenary indulgence attached to it. Here’s a refresher on indulgences, largely quoted from “General Remarks on Indulgences” of The Gift of the Indulgence (2000):

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”

So the first thing to be clear about is that indulgences do not obtain forgiveness of the guilt of sins. That is what Confession is for, in the case of grave sins. “To gain indulgences, whether plenary [full] or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.

“A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day.” In order to obtain a plenary indulgence, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:

—have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;

have sacramentally confessed their sins;

receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion;

pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.

“It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an Our Father and a Hail Mary are suggested.

“One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.” So, theoretically, someone who goes to Confession every forty days, prays for the Pope’s intentions daily, receives Communion daily, and daily performs a work having a plenary indulgence attached is able to obtain a plenary indulgence once every day.

“Indulgences can be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.”

Deserving of special mention are the following works, for any one of which the faithful can gain a plenary indulgence each day of the year: adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half an hour; devout reading of the Sacred Scriptures for at least one half an hour; the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross; the recitation of the Marian Rosary in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association.

Counting the Days…

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 1A

Every year around this time I hear discussions about how many days are really part of Lent or if Sundays are included, so I did the math to try and set the record straight, but it is not exactly clear-cut. 

The first oddity we encounter is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Now why would a season of the liturgical year start in the middle of the week? Most likely, this happened back when every day of Lent was a day of fastingfasting not in the loose sense of giving something up for Lent, but in the strict sense of eating only what is necessary to maintain strength and not eating between mealsThe exception was always Sundays because in honor of the Resurrection, it was never thought appropriate to fast on Sundays or Solemnities. The six weeks of six days of fasting came out to 36 days, so they added the four days leading up to the First Sunday of Lent to make it an even 40 days of fasting (46 days of Lent, including the six Sundays).

The current Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (1969) give us yet another way of counting the days, which excludes the Easter Triduum. In paragraph 28, it says, “The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord’s Supper” on Holy Thursdaywhich actually comes out to just shy of 44 days of Lent. If this seems confusing to you, it should be. The four days that were originally added to make for 40 total days of fasting now give us four extra days of Lent.

Regardless, we still talk about Lent having 40 days because this symbolically harkens back to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desertafter His baptism in the Jordan by John and before His public ministry—and the 40 years Moses spent leading the Israelites through the desert out of slavery in Egypt. 

Today, Catholics ages 18 to 58 are still required to fast in the strict sense on just two daysAsh Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting on these days means limiting oneself to one full meal. Two additional smaller meals are allowed if necessary to maintain strength, but these smaller meals together should amount to less food than the full meal. Eating between meals is not allowed.

Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent are still days of abstinence from meat for all Catholics age 14 and older, but on these days the Church allows us fish, eggs, milk products, and condiments of any kind, even when these are made from animal fat.

As for our own Lenten practices, giving something up or doing something extra in the areas of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the Church does not legislate how we do these. You can decide to maintain them throughout the season of Lent, even on Sundays and Solemnitiesas long as they are not in conflict with giving thanks for the Resurrectionor you can decide to take a break from them on the Sundays of Lent. May the Holy Spirit lead you throughout the season of Lent, as He led our Lord Jesus in the desert.

Walking Together Towards God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 7A

As I think back on my childhood, I have lots of memories at the dinner table. Some are pleasant memories; many are not so pleasant. I remember many evenings just sitting there, not allowed to leave the table until my plate was clean, looking with hatred upon the broccoli or beets or peas or carrots that still remained. I knew they would probably taste worse the longer I waited and the colder they got, but still I would sit there, brace myself, and plug my nose for every bite. As I look back on it now, vegetables are one of my favorite foods, but it took time, experience, and greater understanding for me to come to really appreciate them.

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, to love even our enemies, and one of the things that holds us back most from love is a lack of understanding. When I was young, no matter how many times my parents told us how important it was to eat our vegetables, I just couldn’t understand how something so foul-tasting could be good for us. My perspective was limited. My experience was limited. So let’s say someone asks you to carry something for them for a mile, or to give them your coat. And maybe it’s someone you’ve met before. Someone you don’t like. Unless we actually try to view things from their perspective rather than our own, to understand why they’re asking something from us, we’re not gonna be very willing to help. If I just limit myself to my own small perspective and what’s familiar to me in my own limited experience, without striving to really understand the other, even those with whom I disagree, even my enemies, I’m not going to be able to love in the way that Jesus is calling me to love.

Now, as the pastor here, I might make adjustments—and I already have—to how the Mass is celebrated here, maybe to the music, and to how our sacred spaces are utilized, and I haven’t always communicated well the reasons for some of these changes, to help you understand my own perspective and the wider perspective of the Church’s tradition. Part of the challenge is finding a time to talk about these things with the whole parish. If I write in the bulletin, not everybody reads that, and if I’m waiting around for the Sunday readings to touch upon a certain subject, for me to address it during the homily, I could be waiting for an awfully long time. So in those places where I’ve failed in communication, I do apologize, and I greatly appreciate your patience with me.

One of the adjustments I’ve made that’s probably the most conspicuous is to pray much of the Mass at the high altar, facing the tabernacle. In the bulletin, when I wrote about this, I mentioned that to me it seems much more inclusive. At Mass you’re not just supposed to be watching the priest pray, but we’re all praying together to God, and so it’s never made much sense to me to be facing a different direction from those that I’m praying with and to have my back to Jesus present in the tabernacle. Facing the tabernacle also helps avoid having the Mass come across as being like a play or a drama on stage, where you’re just passive spectators, watching the actors and listening to the monologues.

The other reasons have to do with the original aesthetics and architecture of these beautiful churches. They were designed for Mass on the high altar, three more steps up from the low altar that used to be in the middle. And for probably close to 3000 years—including 1000 years in the Hebrew Temple before the start of Christianity—this is how worship and sacrifice was always offered to God, with the priest and the people facing the same direction, praying to God together, as one body, not turned in on itself, but looking together for the Coming of Christ. Additionally, just from my personal perspective as a priest celebrant at Mass, I find it much easier for me to really focus and to pray the words of the Mass when I don’t have the added distraction of being able to see everything that’s going on in the pews or in the choir loft during the Eucharistic Prayer.

For all these reasons, I don’t have much inclination for bringing the low altar back or facing away from the tabernacle while praying the Mass. This may be different from what we’re used to what we might prefer, but I hope that you can understand my reasoning and even, over time, come to appreciate it.

Now I hope you never feel like I’m your enemy, and I’m not asking you to walk an extra mile, but I do ask that we have an open mind and an open heart, so that we’re able to receive the graces and learn the lessons that God has for us, even when our perspectives differ from one another. God is the One who has brought us together as His family here. I pray that we continue to grow together in truth and love, so that we can all be together for ever in His heavenly kingdom.

Signs and Symbols of a Bishop

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 7A

I’ve heard from a number of you that you saw me on TV or YouTube as you watched our new Bishop’s Ordination and Installation. For those who didn’t see it, it’s still available online. I’ve been able to attend several ordinations of deacons and priests by now, but the Ordination of a Bishop obviously happens much less often. There are many common elements, like the laying on of hands, which takes place also for those becoming deacons and priests, but others are reserved only for bishops.

As the prayer of ordination was pronounced by the bishops present, two deacons held the Book of the Gospels open over Bishop-elect DeGrood’s head, emphasizing his duty to faithfully hand on the Gospel in its entirety, always placing himself at the service of the Gospel, rather than “peddling the word of God for profit” as so many false apostles did even in the time of St. Paul (2 Cor. 2:17). A new priest has his hands anointed, pointing to the sacred power of changing bread and wine into the Body of Blood of Jesus in the hands of a priest. A new bishop has the top of his head anointed with Sacred Chrism (always a sign of the Holy Spirit). We pray that he’s given the wisdom of God for teaching, governing, and sanctifying as he serves all the people of the diocese as their head and shepherd.

Rings have long been used in weddings as a pledge of love and fidelity. A new bishop is also given a ring, and he is to care for the Church in his diocese as for a beloved bride. Even in Eastern Churches that allow married men to be ordained as priests, only celibate, unmarried men are able to become bishops, reinforcing this sense that a bishop, specifically, is “married” to the Church, even as Christ Himself is Bridegroom of the Church. The miter is the pointy hat worn by bishops, the two halves of which symbolize both the Old and the New Testaments, which are to serve as the Bishop’s horns in battle against error and sin. The crozier is his shepherd’s staff, usually with a curved top to hook straying sheep and drag them back to safety.

The Installation refers to the new Bishop’s officially taking up office in the diocese, signified by his being seated in his cathedra, the word for the Bishop’s chair, for which all cathedral churches are named. May God bless our new Bishop with many years of ministry and help him to embrace his new home and family in South Dakota.