For a change of pace this year’s September Institute was held in Laramie, rather than Casper.  Though attendance was down slightly this year from previous institutes, the energy and information were above par.  For a complete tour of the three day event, you may view pictures here, courtesy of our Stewardship and Development Director, Mr. Matt Potter.

MassThere are many benefits to gathering the clergy and pastoral leadership of the diocese, but I would like to reflect on just a few.  First of all, it serves as a great way to strengthen the bonds that unite us as pastoral leaders.  Institutes provide not only good information, but they also re-ignite the fire and passion of our mission to serve all of God’s people.  We are reminded that we are not in ministry alone, but that we serve with many others, and we have their emotional and spiritual support.  Mostly, we are reminded of the unity that we share in the Lord, Jesus Christ.  We have an opportunity to renew relationships and rediscover the ‘call’ of Christ who entrusts to each of us the work of building His Kingdom.

The prelude to the institute every year, at least for the bishop and others, is a round of meetings with Diocesan Pastoral Council, Presbyteral Council, Deans, who also serve as the Personnel Board, and a business meeting with all clergy.  This year also included a quick meeting with the College of Consultors.  The event is officially opened with Tuesday evening Mass.

We were particularly blessed and pleased to have his Eminence, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien join us.  He presided and preached at one of our Liturgies and gave the key note opening address on Tuesday night.  Since 2012, Cardinal O’Brien has served in Rome as the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

During my final years as a seminarian at the North American College in Rome, then Msgr. O’Brien was the rector of the College, thus my previous relationship with him, and my reason for inviting him to take on the role of Keynote Speaker for this year’s Institute.  He did not disappoint!

Cardinal O'Brien gives Keynote Address Tuesday Night in Laramie

Cardinal O’Brien gives Keynote Address Tuesday Night in Laramie

In his opening address, Cardinal O’Brien reviewed some of Pope Francis’ recent teaching on the family from his Wednesday General Audiences.  We were reminded of the central role of the family in the plan of God.  It is in the family that we learn to live with one another despite our differences.  That children have a right to grow up in a family with their biological mother and father.  The family is where basic relationships are formed, and we where learn how to live in relationship with others.

Today’s notion of freedom is distorted to the point that pursuit of a false sense of freedom is leading not to true freedom, but to material and spiritual devastation.  This is why it is so important that we help people rediscover the true dignity of the human person, and the dignity and sanctity of marriage and family.  The family is the nucleus of society.

Clergy and youth play hacky sack.

Clergy and youth play hacky sack.

The family is the domestic church where Jesus grows, in the lives of spouses, in the lives of children, and in the love of the nucleus of the family.  This is precisely why Pope Francis warns that the devil attacks the family.  He tries to destroy it to make sure there is no love there.  Prayer is the antidote.  One critical role of the parish is to bring families together.  This is precisely what we do every time we gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate the Eucharist.  The family is actually a microcosm of the parish family.  Parents today need the help of the faith community (the parish) to form their children in the faith.  Though the primary place of formation in the faith is the home, their is also a critical role the parish plays in this process.

Perhaps the most powerful moment of Cardinal O’Brien’s presentation was when he spoke of the magnetism of Jesus Christ.  His magnetic presence and personality was so attractive and compelling that people left everything else to be in his presence, and to learn from him.  Jesus is still in our midst today.  He still draws people to himself!  People still leave all else behind and follow him!  Jesus is indeed very near, and his mystery is very much at work in you and in me.

Mr. Roy Petitfils during one of Wednesday's presentations.

Mr. Roy Petitfils during one of Wednesday’s presentations.

On Wednesday, we were presented with a very dynamic presenter, who energetically gave us his all in four separate presentations.  Mr. Roy Petitfils, MS, LPC is from Lafayette, Louisiana, and is a counselor.  He has a powerful personal story, and is blessed with strong faith, and tremendous insight into the challenges individuals, couples and families are facing in today’s culture.  He shared a voluminous amount of information with our pastoral leaders in order to help us be more effective in accompanying our married couples and families, and helping them deal with the difficulties of their lives.

The point most driven home for me was just how the identity of family has changed in such a short period of time.  Ministering to today’s married couples and families is far more challenging that even I had allowed myself to truly believe.  Here are just a few modern day statistics that help us better understand the reality in which we preach the Gospel:

Only 7% of families today are so-called ‘traditional,’ meaning a husband and wife, neither married before, raising their own children.  45% of marriages today end in divorce; 67% of those spouses enter into other marriages, creating what is known as ‘blended families.’

The average couple today spends less than 10 minutes a day in uninterrupted communication.

34% of children today are being raised by single parents.

5- 10% of families are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual couples.  Estimates put the number somewhere around 1 million LGBT couples (about 60% are not married) raising 125,000 children.

2.4 million grandparents are raising 4.5 million children today.

The average young person today spends up to 8 hours a day ‘on screen.’  (TV, i-phone, etc.)  In reality, it is probably closer to 10 – 16 hours a day.  The average father spends 7 minutes a day with a child.

For this reality check, I am very grateful!  Much more similar information was presented, along with practical suggestions for how we enter into these new realities to build relationships and trust in order to help people deal with their pain and struggles.  At the same time, we are hopefully able to help them enter more fully into the life of faith and the life of the Church.

As a sound wrap-up, on Thursday morning, Fr. Kevin Barrett provided us with a beautiful theology and spirituality of family.  Fr. Barrett has spent the last 33 years of his life working with the Apostolate for Family Consecration.  His years of practice and ministry shown through by the power of his words.  It was a fitting conclusion to the information shared during the three day event.

+O'Brien +EtienneAt the heart of each day, we celebrate the Eucharist as a reminder that no matter all the good work we do, it is the grace of God that wins every battle.

These Liturgies are generally, and intentionally, very well-done, inspiring and uplifting.  We benefited greatly from the excellent music provided at each of our Liturgies.  I hope our pastoral leaders go home to further build a ‘sound’ liturgical music ministry in each of our parishes.

The preaching duties are shared at each Mass.  Fr. Steve Titus, Vocations Director, preached on Tuesday evening, Cardinal O’Brien presided and preached on Wednesday, and I had the honors for the final Mass Thursday morning.

To all of our families, please know you were front and center in all of our hearts and minds and prayers this week.  Please God, may our pastoral leaders be better equipped and motivated to enter into each of your lives in a manner that benefits you in your struggles, as well as raises you up in the Paschal Mystery and Life of the Risen Christ!