Just a few days ago I returned from vacation. Just in the last week I’ve logged close to 1,000 miles traveling the I 80 corridor.
This past weekend, I made a parish visitation to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Rawlins. A bishop spends his best time with his people! I always enjoy having time to visit with pastors to hear how they are doing, how things are going in the parish, and to give them as much encouragement as I can.
After visiting with Fr. Sam Hayes, reviewing the parish facilities and records, we met with about a dozen parish leaders. They are doing a fine job identifying their strengths and challenges, and realistically defining goals for the upcoming year.
Even though every parish has a unique personality, the basic challenges of the average Catholic parish seem to be very common. I simply listen, offer a few of my own thoughts, and then remind folks that we rely most upon the surpassing power of God. As Pope Francis said in a visit to the Bishops of Brazil during his World Youth Day Visit, “the results of our pastoral work do not depend on a wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love.”
Just before Mass Saturday evening, I received word that a long-time servant of the Diocese of Cheyenne had died earlier that day, Mr. Howard Baker. I had only packed for one night on the road, but knew when I woke up Sunday morning that I needed to be in Green River on Tuesday for his funeral. I canceled my trip to San Antonio, Texas for the National K of C convention, and made arrangements to go to Green River.
After a full day Sunday of celebrating two more Masses in Rawlins and one in the afternoon 80 miles southwest in the mission community of Our Lady of the Sage in Baggs, Fr. Sam and I returned to Rawlins, and I then drove back to Cheyenne for the night. I spent the morning in the office catching up on some correspondence and touching base with some of my staff and then left for the 280 mile drive to Green River.
As mentioned earlier in this blog, a bishop belongs with his people. When I heard of Howard’s death, I immediately thought of the weekend Gospel from St. Luke, how important it is to grow rich in what matters to God. (Luke 12:21) Howard was one of those individuals. As today’s funeral reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminded us: “None of us lives for one’s self…we live for the LORD.” (Romans 14:7-8)
Howard was rich in what matters to God because he lived life not for himself, but for so many others! The vast crowd of people present for last night’s prayer service and this morning’s funeral told the story of just how many people’s lives Howard touched. He served the Diocese of Cheyenne in various capacities for decades. He served his parishes generously, not least of which was with his beautiful singing voice. (I will forever see his face in the midst of the choir of Immaculate Conception Church.) He loved his wife Mary and family faithfully. He was also a dedicated servant to the various communities he lived in, serving as a volunteer firefighter, ski patrol as well as a Korean War veteran.
I wish I had taken pictures prior to, during, and after the funeral today. There were honor guards from the K of C, local fire department, and VFW. The church was packed with family, friends and parishioners. When the Mass finally ended, his cremains were reverently placed in the front seat of an old fire truck, that helped lead the long funeral procession up the steep hillside of Green River to the cemetery. The poor old truck did not quite make it, and suffered the indignity of having to be towed the remainder of the route by a tow strap from another fire vehicle. (I think Howard orchestrated the whole thing for one last laugh!)
So, I close this entry this evening challenging the rest of us who remain to live our faith. Live life for others. Allow Christ who is hidden and alive within you to live through you. Let us grow rich in what matters to God!