Today I would like share my own journey to priesthood and to being your bishop. I am a native of Timber Lake, SD, almost 500 miles northeast of Cheyenne. My family owned a farm and ranch. I still enjoy riding horse. I also like to hike and ski. I have six brothers and six sisters. Close to 100 family members were here this week for my episcopal ordination. It has been such a gift to be part of a large family.
Why did I become a priest? The most important factor in my vocation is that I was raised in a family of faith. Our family prayed daily and attended Mass regularly, so I always thought about my life in terms of God’s plan. In my growing up years, one of the recurring thoughts for me was, “I need to do what God wants.”
When I was 10 years old, I was riding a horse across a highway, and I failed to see a speeding car. My horse froze on the road, but at impact he reared up which saved my life. After being struck by the car, my horse wobbled off the road and died. The car was totaled. I escaped with some facial cuts and a broken collar bone, and I realized that God had protected me. From that moment, I had a sense that my life was not my own. God had a specific purpose for me, and I seriously thought about priesthood.
After high school I attended the School of Mines in Rapid City. I enjoyed studying there, but at the end of that year, I realized that I did not want to be an engineer. I asked God, “What do you want me to do?” and clearly heard a call to the priesthood. But I didn’t want to do that. I was afraid. I especially didn’t like the idea of being celibate. So I decided to return to our family ranch and work there for a while. The thought of priesthood kept nagging me. God was patient, but persistent.
As I spent time in the quiet of nature I found myself praying in awe before the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, the northern lights and billowing thunderstorms. I felt the call to be quiet. Not listening to the radio in the tractor. No TV at night. SILENCE was key. If you want to hear God’s voice, silence is key.
Eventually, I gave in and went to the seminary when I was 27 years old. In the end, I had to trust that what God wanted for me would give me the greatest JOY and SATISFACTION.
As a priest, I learned to trust that the Father always leads me to the best place. I was able to say YES to this call because over the last 30 years, as I said YES to celibate priesthood which I did not want to live, or to different assignments which I did not prefer, I gained greater and greater trust in the Father’s plan. I have found that his way leads me to the fullness of life.
This ongoing process of dying to my own desires and doing what God wants is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE. It has led me to selfless joy. I have found fulfillment in doing God’s will. The Father knows best. I could say YES to being a bishop, not because I like wearing a miter or bishop’s clothing, but because I trust in God’s guiding hand.
Do you trust in God’s providence for your life? God has a specific plan for your life. Do you believe that? Are you seeking to live according to that plan? He will bring you to the best place.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Let’s reflect for a moment on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who guide us. In the reading from Exodus, Moses says that this is how God described himself. “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Ex. 34:6).
Do you know the CONTEXT? This is the second set of stone tablets that Moses took up the mountain. He broke the first set when he came down from the mountain and saw the people worshiping the golden calf. So this is Moses’ second trip up Mt. Sinai. He is anxious about approaching God since the people strayed so quickly the last time.
Then God stuns him by declaring: “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).
This is the main description of God in the Old Testament. It is repeated several times in the psalms and the prophets. God the Father is above all MERCIFUL. It is impossible to express God’s mercy with only one word. In this passage, there are five adjectives.
He is MERCIFUL, or compassionate. The Hebrew word rahum is closely related to the word rehem, the word for the intestines or the womb. One way to define this word is “womb-love,” like a mother’s love for the child that she carried in her womb. Or the love that brothers and sisters have for each other. The father has merciful womb-love. His deep compassion for us is like the tender love of a father or mother for their own children, so Our Father sent his Son to be our Brother.
Second, God is GRACIOUS. This Hebrew word (hanun) is often translated as PITY. This word is used for someone stronger who is lenient to a much weaker person. Almighty God who could crush us for our sinful stupidity, instead pities us. So the Father sent his Son to be crucified for us, to be the sacrifice that atones for our sins. “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Lord is “rich in KINDNESS (hesed) . . . continuing his kindness for a 1,000 generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin” (Ex. 34:7). Another translation renders this phrase “abounding in steadfast love.” God has unbreakable loyalty and love. This Hebrew word (hesed) is used for God’s unbreakable covenant with us. So he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always.
I have experienced God as a merciful Father who is so darn faithful despite my sin. The Lord Jesus has instilled in me his own selfless love. The Holy Spirit constantly accompanies me to guide and strengthen me. So I am confident in saying YES to this new mission in life. The Father knows best.
Do you trust in God’s providence for your life? As you celebrate the Eucharist today, remember with gratitude how God has guided you as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Simply be aware of the mystery of God’s presence and ask for a greater faith to follow the Lord as a faithful disciple.