Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Three Ways to Stay Spiritual This Christmas

Editor's note: The following was originally published in Fr. Mike Schmitz's column in the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church bulletin. Fr. Schmitz is the pastor at St. Rose of Lima in Crofton and St. Andrew in Bloomfield. Both parishes are in the Spirit 88.3-FM listening area. Thank you to Fr. Schmitz for allowing us to blog his column. 

From the Desk of Fr. Mike Schmitz
Did you know that a person should receive only three gifts at Christmas? Why? Jesus received only three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Therefore, we should only give three gifts to a person this Christmas. 

Remember, spiritual bouquets are wonderful gift items, too. Some other ideas would be spending more time in prayer, attend daily Mass, pray an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament at your parish, visit the sick on a regular basis, etc. 

Let us make this Christmas a great and holy one for all. Pray, pray, pray!

Three Ways to Stay Spiritual This Christmas
From Schmitz, via ePriest.

The difficult situation of the economy this year provides us with an excellent opportunity to purify our expectations. Instead of focusing too much on the passing joys of material things, it almost forces us to focus more on the deeper, longer-lasting joys of spiritual things. We can do that in three ways.

First, we can make sure that the gifts we plan to give to other people this Christmas are meaningful. Meaningful doesn't necessarily mean expensive. It means helpful for living a meaningful life, helpful because it reminds the other person that they are loved, that in God's eyes, and in ours, they matter.

Second, we can make sure that among all the hopes of this Advent season, our biggest hope comes from knowing that on Christmas, here in this church, during the sacred liturgy, which is always so beautiful on Christmas, Jesus himself will come once again into our souls in a special way, bringing us the priceless gift of his grace. That is the gift we should most look forward to receiving.

Third, we can make sure that on Christmas we don't come to Christ empty-handed. He is our King and our Lord, our Creator and our Savior, and Christmas is his birthday. What gift would please him most? A new commitment to prayer or service? Having broken, with his help, a selfish, sinful habit? Having reconciled a relationship? Having shared the faith with someone new? Saying yes to that thing he has been asking me for so long that I keep saying no to? In the remaining days of Advent, let's talk to Jesus and Mary about what Christ wants this year for his birthday. Focusing on him more than us will help make sure that wrong expectations don't cut us off from the flow of his grace. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Doctors of the Church

Tony and Judy Fulton and their children,
back row from left, Bede, Thomas, Augustine,
front row from left, Bernadette, Leo, Ambrose and Basil
When Tony and Judy Fulton of Lincoln were newly married, they decided to name their future sons after Doctors of the Church.

“We wanted to provide for them specific examples to emulate,” Tony said. “We also recognized that each child would have a powerful intercessor watching over and praying for him throughout his life.”  

And they have kept that commitment.

The Fultons have six sons – twins Thomas and Augustine, Bede, Basil, Leo and Ambrose.

The Doctors of the Church are great saints recognized by the pope for their outstanding contribution to the understanding and interpretation of Sacred Scriptures and the development of Christian doctrine.

Last month and again this month, the church celebrates the feast of five Doctors of the Church – St. Bernard (Aug. 20), St. Augustine (Aug. 28), St. Gregory the Great (Sept. 3), St. John Chrysostom (Sept. 13) and St. Jerome (Sept. 30).

Tony said he and Judy also wanted to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in their marriage and life, so they chose to name their daughters after her.  

“As it is, Mary Bernadette is our only girl, and she has the most blessed of all saints to watch over and pray for her through life,” he said. “Were we to have more girls, they would have Mary as their first name.”

Each day the Fultons pray the rosary and close with a request to each of their namesakes to pray for them.  They also celebrate their children’s feast days – though depending on schedules and activities, some feast days end up with a little less fanfare than others, Tony said.

There are three requirements that must be fulfilled by a person to merit being included in the ranks of Doctors of the Church:
1.       Holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints;
2.       depth of doctrinal insight; and
3.       an extensive body of writings that the church can recom­mend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition.

The original eight Doctors of the Church - four Western ( Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great and Jerome) and four Eastern (Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen and John Chrysostom) - were named by acclamation, or common acknowledgment; the rest have been named by various popes, starting with the addition of St. Thomas Aquinas to the list by Pope Pius V in 1568, when he promulgated the Tridentine Latin Mass.

In the 20th century, three female saints – Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux - were added to the list. A fourth, St. Hildegard of Bingen, was added by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, when he also added St. John of Avila to the list.

As of 2014, there are 35 officially recognized Doctors of the Church.

The following is a list of all 35 and who named them Doctors of the Church.

St. Albertus Magnus (1200-80)
Added by Pope Pius XI in 1931

St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)
Added by Pope Pius IX in 1871

St. Ambrose (340-97)
One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Added by Pope Clement XI in 1720

St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)
Added by Pope Pius XII in 1946

St. Athanasius (297-373)
One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

St. Basil the Great (329-379)
One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

The Venerable Bede (673-735)
Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1899

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
Added by Pope Pius VIII in 1830

St. Bonaventure (1217-74)
Added by Pope Sixtus V in 1588

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80)
Added by Pope Paul VI in 1970

St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444)
Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1883

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-87)
Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1883

St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-73)
Added by Pope Benedict XV in 1920

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
Added by Pope Pius IX in 1877

St. Gregory the Great (540-604)
One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

St. Gregory Nazianzen (330-90)
One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

St. Hilary of Poitiers (315-68)
Added by Pope Pius IX in 1851

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Added by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012

St. Isidore of Seville (560-636)
Added by Pope Innocent XIII in 1722

St. Jerome (343-420)
One of the original four Doctors of the Latin Church

St. John Chrysostom (347-407)
One of the original four Doctors of the Eastern Church

St. John Damascene (675-749)
Added by Pope Leo XIII in 1883

St. John of Avila (1500-69)
Added by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012

St. John of the Cross (1542-91)
Added by Pope Pius XI in 1926

St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619)
Added by Pope John XXIII in 1959

St. Leo the Great (400-61)
Added by Pope Benedict XIV in 1754

St. Peter Canisius (1521-97)
Added by Pope Pius XI in 1925 

St. Peter Chrysologus (400-50)
Added by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729

St. Peter Damian (1007-72)
Added by Pope Leo XII in 1828

St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621)
Added by Pope Pius XI in 1931

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82)
Added by Pope Paul VI in 1970

St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-97)
Added by Pope John Paul II in 1997

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)
Added by Pope Pius V in 1568

Blogged by Lisa Maxson, senior writer/reporter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer internship reflection

The following blog was written by our summer intern, Dan Bost, a senior this year at Creighton University in Omaha. 
Spirit Catholic Radio summer intern Dan Bost
“I think that the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” 

These words, spoken decades ago by the late academic and author Leo Rosten, provide an accurate description of my state of mind last spring as I struggled to determine what I wanted to do with my summer – the summer before my senior year of college. You see, I have spent all previous summers doing work that provided little more than monetary gain. I have been a typist at a bank, a “runner” for a top-producing realtor, and a “manny” (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a male nanny). As I thought about what I wanted to do this summer, I realized that – at the ripe age of 21 – I was standing on the threshold of adulthood. I made the decision, then, that I should do something that would not only cultivate the growth of my academic interests, but also cater to my still-developing spirituality. I became resolved to find a summer position that would enable me to be useful to both myself and others, to make some sort of difference. 

As a student who studies both English and theology, I had recently discovered that writing about matters of faith and theological issues is one of my favorite things to do. In a recent church history course, I wrote a research paper about the influence of the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago from 1982-1996. I discussed his life as the shepherd of the third-largest archdiocese in the United States, his determination to implement the directives of the Second Vatican Council, and the many reform initiatives he enacted in a broken archdiocese.  And I loved it. I got a good grade. I was proud of myself. 

Thus, I e-mailed the paper to The Catholic Voice, which is the bi-weekly local Catholic newspaper for the Archdiocese of Omaha. I asked them to read my paper as an example of my writing style and to consider me for a summer internship or freelance position. Unfortunately, the publication did not have any opportunities for me – but they did advise me to contact Spirit Catholic Radio. For this referral I will remain forever grateful. 

I contacted the volunteer coordinator at Spirit Catholic Radio, who invited me to come in for an informal interview and discussion. She explained that, at the station, there is a little bit of something for everyone. I could simply file and organize, if I wanted to. Or, if I wanted to do something I was really interested in, I could use the volunteer service as an internship of sorts.  My time at the station could become an opportunity for me to hone my writing skills; Spirit Catholic Radio could be a place wherein I could uncover, study and become involved with the intersection of theological issues and the written word. After I filled out an application and spoke with the employees I would be working for, my stint as an intern at Spirit Catholic Radio commenced. 

My main obligation would be writing news stories about Catholic issues and incidents that would be read on the air. I would also write questions and answers for a radio segment titled “Why Do Catholics Do That?” Additionally, while I was writing, I would perform a few more mundane tasks like converting tapes to digital form, making copies of segments that listeners had requested, and organizing folders – all of which I was more than happy to do. Each and every day, my superiors asked me if I was interested in what I was supposed to do. Was I willing to do a said task? Did it interest me? Was it what I wanted? The people I met could not have been more caring, kind or thoughtful – always trying to make sure I was pleased and contented. I have never worked for such grace-filled individuals before, and their generous, faithful attitudes toward me have made all the difference. 

Even though the work I did was undoubtedly meaningful and helpful in fostering the process of my academic and spiritual growth, I soon reached the conclusion that the lasting effects of my summer internship would have little to do with my plethora of writings. Rather, what I will remember in coming years is the people I worked with. Every day I walked in, I was greeted with a smile. Working amongst a community of like-minded individuals was a new type of experience for me. There are virtually no disagreements among employees; their sense of camaraderie is contagious. There are none of those stereotypical office rifts and rivalries. Towards the beginning of my tenure at Spirit Catholic Radio, I was invited to begin the day with Mass and a blessing of the offices. With this event, I realized that here, because of the unwavering faith of all of the employees – their determination to let the Holy Spirit influence all of their work and how they treat each other – the type of work environment is different. It is counter-cultural, but in a good way. The Holy Spirit has placed a desire in the heart of each staff member of Spirit Catholic Radio; guided by His grace, they set out in solidarity to spread the Good News, to change the world one broadcast at a time. 

In conclusion, as my time here culminates, I wish to urge any coming-of-age Catholic, male or female, to pursue a volunteer position at Spirit Catholic Radio. I guarantee you will not regret it.  My summer internship, like most, was unpaid. But that does not bother me – not in the least. Because even though I did not get a paycheck, I received some of the greatest gifts I could have ever asked for. I learned about the impact of Catholic radio in listeners’ lives. I developed my writing skills. I practiced my faith within the work environment, which is something not a lot of people can say. And perhaps most important, I met some people I will never forget. I set out last spring to find a meaningful summer work environment that would enable me to matter, to count, to stand for something. And I did. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

St. Paul Street Evangelization

St. Paul Street Evangelists Harold Blake, center, and Amber
Vinton speak with Josh Ferdico of Omaha Aug. 16 at
Lincoln's Haymarket Farmer's Market.
Photo by Lisa Maxson
Joe Keaschall arrived last Saturday, Aug. 16, at 9 a.m. at the Lincoln Haymarket Farmer’s Market not to shop or browse the booths, but to help spread God’s love.

He and three other members of Lincoln’s newly formed St. Paul Street Evangelization team stood near a street performer on the corner of 8th and P, ready to engage in conversation with passers-by about Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

It’s something they’ve done every Saturday since the Farmer’s Market opened in May, and they’ll continue to do so this fall before Nebraska Cornhusker football games.

“The church has so much to offer and why not go out and share it with people,” Joe, a research scientist and member of St. Mary Parish in Denton, told Spirit Catholic Radio’s Lisa Maxson. “If you really love your faith, you need to share it, you need to share your love.”

The team’s interaction with others is non-confrontational and friendly. Oftentimes it begins by offering someone a rosary or Miraculous Medal or asking people what they think of Pope Francis, Joe said.

“Being out here isn’t something that comes natural to me, but I think if you pray about it and try not to do too much yourself and let the Holy Spirit work through you, it seems to work out,” he said.

On this particular morning, there are few personal encounters, but that doesn’t mean the seed of the Catholic faith isn’t being planted when people see them or the A-frame signs nearby that have pictures of Mary, Jesus or Pope Francis on them, said Wayne Ringer, founder of the local team and also a member of St. Mary Parish in Denton.

Joe Keaschall, right, and Wayne Ringer,
center, both St. Paul Street Evangelists,
talk with Patrick Tines of Lincoln
Aug. 16 at Lincoln's Haymarket Farmer's
Photo by Lisa Maxson
“You never know how the Holy Spirit works,” he said. “Think of how a company sells a product. They know they have to put their product in front of you 20 times before you’re going to buy it. So we may be the 12th time, the first time or the 20th time someone hears about Jesus or the Catholic Church. But it’s important to be that time because they all add up.”

This spring, Wayne learned about St. Paul Street Evangelization, which started in Michigan in 2012, through Facebook, and it reminded him of hearing Pope John Paul II’s call during World Youth Day in 1993 to evangelize on street corners and from the rooftops.

After talking with his pastor, Msgr. Mark Huber, and getting approval from Bishop James Conley, Wayne began recruiting members – many of them friends through the Denton parish and the Regnum Christi movement.

Currently there are more than 100 St. Paul Street Evangelization teams across the country. The Lincoln team has 12 active street evangelists and 30 more people committed to praying a weekly Holy Hour for the apostolate. Street evangelists also commit to a weekly Holy Hour.

The national apostolate provides on-line training resources, but anyone can become a street evangelist, said Wayne, owner of Ringer Roofing and Skylight in Lincoln. All Christians are called to evangelize because of their baptism and confirmation, he said.

“The best way to learn something is to teach it, so when you have to come up with answers or find the answers to questions, that helps you to internalize it and it helps you to spread your faith outside the parameters of this apostolate,” he said.

Mary Ringer kneels to talk with passers-by during Lincoln's
Haymarket Farmer's Market.
Courtesy photo
Amber Vinton, a stay-a-home mother of eight and member of St. Mary Parish in Denton, said being a street evangelist, making a weekly Holy Hour and talking openly with others about the Catholic faith have had positive impacts on her own faith.

“Just pausing in your life and taking the time to spend an hour in prayer in a quiet place is amazing what it can do to your spiritual life,” she said. “And conversing with people about God and how much he loves them makes you realize how much he loves you, too.”

Howard Blake, a member of the local team and of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Lincoln, became Catholic in 1997, and said he wants to share the joy he has found through the Catholic Church with others.

“I just want to bring as many people into the church as I can and maybe answer some questions people have,” he said.

Wayne’s wife, Mary, who wasn’t at the Haymarket last Saturday, said in an email to Spirit Catholic Radio that she initially thought an evangelist was someone who knew his or her Catholic faith really well and could quote Bible verses on the spot.

The St. Paul Street Evangelists hand out
rosaries, pamphlets, holy cards and
Miraculous Medals.
But that’s not entirely true, she said.

“People are more moved by my personal relationship with Christ and how he shows his love for me – the very love he wants to give to them if they open their hearts to him,” Mary said.

Wayne said he encourages lay people to get involved in the St. Paul Street Evangelization team in one of three ways – either as a street evangelist, prayer warrior or financial supporter.

As a street evangelist, one receives on-line training and commits to going out with another evangelist at least once a month and praying a weekly Holy Hour for the apostolate. Prayer warriors commit to praying the Evangelist’s Prayer every day and making a weekly Holy Hour. And because rosaries, literature, CDs, holy cards and other materials distributed on the street cost money, financial assistance is needed, Wayne said.

“We have a small group now, but we hope to grow,” he said.

The team will have an orientation gathering Saturday, Aug. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon at St. John XXIII in Lincoln.

For more information on St. Paul Street Evangelization, visit www.street To join the local team or to provide financial assistance, contact Wayne at 402-430-6972 or Mary at

Blogged by Lisa Maxson, senior writer/reporter.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Feast of the Assumption

"De hemelvaart van Maria", Rubens, circa 1626
Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily Assumption into heaven before her body could begin to decay.

Because it signifies Mary’s passing into eternal life, it’s considered one of the most important Marian feasts and is a holy day of obligation and Catholics must attend Mass that day.

Catholics are usually brought closest to the celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the Glorious mysteries of the Rosary, said Fr. Brian Kane, pastor of St. James Parish in Mead and superintendent of Bishop Neumann Jr./Sr. High School in Wahoo. It’s customary to pray for a deeper devotion to Our Lady when meditating on the Assumption, the fourth Glorious mystery, he said.

“This devotion to Mary is especially important, as we pray in the Hail Mary, at the ‘hour of our death,’” he said. “Asking Mary to help us to have a holy death is a special way of deepening our devotion to Mary and the Assumption.”

Mary’s life on earth came to a conclusion with her body and soul being assumed into heaven …. a fitting end to her “fiat” or “yes” to the will of God, Fr. Kane said.

“Our goal in life is the same, that we may dwell forever in the house of the Lord,” he said. “Mary’s Assumption gives us hope for a holy death and eternal life in heaven.

“If you find yourself at the bedside of a loved one who is near death, don’t be afraid to ask Mary for the gift of a happy death. She will bring that holy request to her son, Jesus,” Fr. Kane said. 

The Feast of the Assumption is a very old feast of the church, celebrated universally by the sixth century. It was originally celebrated in the East, where it is known as the Feast of the Dormition, a word meaning “the falling asleep.”

The earliest printed reference to the belief that Mary's body was assumed into heaven dates from the fourth century, in a document titled “The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God.” It’s written in the voice of the Apostle John, to whom Christ on the cross had entrusted the care of his mother, and recounts the death, laying in the tomb and assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Tradition variously places Mary's death at Jerusalem or at Ephesus, where John was living.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly life is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church. On Nov. 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, exercising papal infallibility, declared in “Munificentissimus Deus” that it is a dogma of the church "that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."

As a dogma, the Assumption is a required belief of all Catholics; anyone who publicly dissents from the dogma, Pope Pius declared, “has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic faith.”

Pope Pius XII, in the text explaining his definition of the dogma of the Assumption, refers repeatedly to the Blessed Virgin's death before her Assumption, and the consistent tradition in both the East and the West holds that Mary did die before she was assumed into heaven. Because the definition of the Assumption is silent on this question, however, Catholics can legitimately believe that Mary did not die before the Assumption.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states: “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” 

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her son’s resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.

Some information from

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe
Today marks the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who offered himself to die in place of a young husband and father at the concentration camp at Auschwitz AND one of Spirit Catholic Radio’s patron saints because he is the patron saint of media.
He also is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, prisoners and the pro-life movement.
Maximilian was born in 1894 in Poland and became a Franciscan. He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, he remained frail all his life.
Before his ordination as a priest, Maximilian founded the Immaculata Movement devoted to Mary. After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the Movement through a magazine titled The Knight of the Immaculata and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world.
Fr. Kolbe went to Japan where he built a comparable monastery and then on to India where he furthered the Movement. In 1936 he returned home because of ill health.
On Dec. 8, 1938 - the Feast of the Immaculate Conception - Fr. Kolbe opened radio station SP3RN (102.7 - it still exists today). The station broadcast sermons by Fr. Kolbe, as well as music from the friary's orchestra. It is likely that Fr. Kolbe, with his technical background, was the designer and operator of the station, as well as one or more amateur radio stations at the friary. He used his amateur radio skills to vilify Nazi activities through his reports.
After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time. But in 1941 he was arrested again and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner's escape, 10 men were chosen to die. Fr. Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst and neglect. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Please join us in praying the novena to St. Maximilian Kolbe for the success of the Spirit Catholic Radio expansion by clicking here.

Archbishop Lucas' 5th anniversary in Omaha

Last month marked Archbishop George J. Lucas’ fifth anniversary as archbishop of Omaha. He recently met with Spirit Catholic Radio’s Lisa Maxson to reflect on his time here since his installation July 22, 2009, and to share his thoughts on the future of the archdiocese.

So you’ve hit the five year mark. Does it feel like it’s been five years since your installation?
The time goes by very fast but I feel very much at home, too. It’s hard to tell. Some days it seems like a long time; sometimes it seems like just yesterday, but I very much enjoy the privilege of serving here, so it’s been a good five years for me.

What are some highlights of that time?
The highlights are always, for me, the opportunity to be with the people of the archdiocese I have the opportunity to visit parishes pretty often, a number of times for confirmation throughout the year, but then also for parish anniversaries and other parish events. To be able to celebrate Mass with people and then get to know people in the various communities. We have around 140 parishes and over 23 counties, and so I can’t get to all of them all the time, but I keep on the move pretty much, so I enjoy those parish visits, and the opportunities to visit schools and celebrate Mass or have interaction with the students. It’s part of the bishop’s responsibility, but I enjoy it. There are administrative responsibilities that keep me in my office, but I also look forward to the opportunities to get to parishes and schools.

What have been some of the challenges?
The first challenge is just getting to know a new place, getting to know the priests and the people, getting to know the blessings of the archdiocese and then also what are the pastoral challenges we’re facing currently. But there have been a lot of pleasant surprises in terms of I’ve really just enjoyed getting to know the priests and to work with them. I can’t say enough good things about our priests.

Then we’ve done some pastoral planning, looking at schools and parishes and thinking about how we can best carry out the mission of the church in the coming years. I’ve been really pleased with the level of participation in those processes.

Decisions are easier for me and I think for everyone else if we have the chance to share the same information. If we look at the facts, and look at the challenges together and then think about the resources that are available or the resources we can make available. And then we can talk together about what’s possible.

We not only did a planning process of our parishes and schools, but with the parishes we had a transition process, so we had a plan for where we wanted to go but then spend a couple of years with the leadership of two parishes that would be merging to plan to the extent we can what the future would be like for them so they could have ownership of it.

In all cases we want to build up the living church. Sometimes structural changes or organizational changes are necessary but we’re not doing that just for the sake of the organization but so that for the future we can better serve the church’s mission.

How would you describe the Archdiocese of Omaha to others – the people, parishes, schools, etc.?
The first thing I say to people is it’s a very vibrant, local church. And that most of the time I feel like I’m running to keep up with the expressions of faith and with the ideas people have for how we might live or proclaim the Gospel. Some of that is within parish structures, but there are other apostolates – Catholic radio is a good example – of where lay people fulfilling their own baptismal vocation and seeing opportunities and having their gifts from God they want to use in a way that will help the church.

I got to learn about all those things over the last five years and still just very excited to know of all the activity that goes on here in the lives of Catholics and very proud to be associated with it myself.

How have you grown personally over these five years from the experiences you’ve had?
I’ve gotten older. (laughs) Well, to become acquainted with the church in a new place – because every diocese has its own history and its unique personality, you might say, and none of us gets exposed to the whole church. Maybe the pope has a better shot at that than most of us do – to be able to have the privilege of being welcomed into a local church, a diocese that I wasn’t associated with before, to become part of that, to be able alongside the priests and deacons and leaders to be able to serve the people here – that expands my experience of the church and gives me other opportunities to be of service, I hope.

There’s a great vitality in rural Nebraska, so that’s been – I’m a city boy myself. I served in a rural diocese before I came here, but this is different in some ways. There’s a vitality and an openness and welcoming spirit that I’ve come to know and appreciate.

What are your hopes for the Archdiocese over the next five years?
I would like to work together with others here to make concrete the call that we’ve had in recent decades to a new evangelization. That means among other things that we’re not just minding the store, we’re not just keeping going the things we have going but we look for opportunities to engage either more people or people who are already involved in the life of the church in a more personal way. We know that Jesus wants to have a deeper relationship with each of us, with all of us together than what we’re letting him have so far but that requires engagement for all of us. What I look forward to over the next five years are the opportunities for more of us priests and people together to become engaged in the responding to Jesus, which means we grow in faith ourselves but also look for ways to share the faith with others.

The new evangelization means allowing ourselves to be renewed but then also looking for new opportunities to share the faith with others. Because the Catholic Church traditionally is so very strong here, we can be taken up really with keeping things going and we want many things to keep going but we also have to be aware of how the Holy Spirit might be calling us to opportunities to meet new challenges.

I think what I would look forward to is an opportunity to engage in a more formal kind of formation in the faith for those of us who are involved explicitly in the work of the church, so for priests and deacons or for Catholic school teachers or religious educators, for those who serve on parish staffs or the diocesan curia. We have very dedicated people – that’s not the question – but the question is if we’re going to be involved in this work – it’s the Lord’s work really – then we need to be explicitly nourishing our own faith, our own understanding of the faith, our life of prayer, and then our willingness to share faith with other people we are collaborating with.
We’ve started over the last several years to do some times of formation with our curia staff. I think there are a number of parishes that do that already, so again, this is not something that isn’t happening, but I think it’s something we need to focus on.

We just finished the first year of inviting the School of Faith to offer faith formation for our Catholic school teachers. That effort’s going to be expanded to all the metro schools this coming year and then all the schools in the archdiocese the following year, so it’s taken three years for us to phase it in, but I foresee it being a permanent part of the life of our schools so that’s a very positive way to offer formation in the faith to all of our teachers for their own sake, first of all, but also then so they can strengthen each other in the faith and then they have the opportunity to be part of a more explicitly Catholic culture in our schools.

We can’t do that in exactly the same way for religious ed teachers because of the part-time nature of that work but we are offering online opportunities and other ways for them and in continuing some of things that have been happening in that regard in the past.

One of the initiatives we are funding with the Ignite the Faith initiative is YDisciples. There again it’s a way to form adult leaders and then help them engaged smaller groups of young people in a relationship that leads to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
The very first truth is a relationship – the Trinity and so from that comes God’s plan and it’s all done relationally. Programs help that and structures assist that or not but it’s the relationship with Jesus and the relationship he wants us to have among ourselves as believers and then with the world outside of the church.

Who has been most influential during your time here?
Certainly Pope Benedict, who appointed me. Just the appointment itself was influential, but I really became acquainted with him – we’re not personal friends at all but I was in his presence several times and really felt my responsibility to have a relationship with him of praying for him, certainly, but also of listening to him. He’s the person to whom I’m most accountable. And now for the last year Pope Francis. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him personally but I feel very close to him. I think lots of people do. But the truth of this relationship in the church is I’m here serving as archbishop of this diocese because I have a mission from the Holy Father to do it.

Did you read a lot of Pope Benedict’s writings?
Yes, I did. He had this series on Jesus, which I read and got a lot of talks out of. But I think one of my biggest joys and sort of one of the big influences is the collaboration I have with the priests of the archdiocese. There are some I work with day by day, some I have  regular contact with who are on the Priests Council, for example, but I try to be available to priests as well as I can hope I can offer them encouragement. But I can say the priests have been a good influence on me.

Is building vocations still an important focus for you?
It is. It has to be ongoing. I have a couple of applications on my desk for new seminarians. Fr. (Paul) Hoesing is the one who gets to know them and takes them through the process of applying but ultimately then I have to be the one to accept them as seminarians. It’s a great joy to be able to do that. We have a good number of seminarians and they’re a good quality. I think we could use more. I think we could use more priests. That’s part of my prayer every mornings – I tell the Lord I want more. It’s his church and I know we’ll receive what we need for the life of the church. But family life and parish life is so strong in this archdiocese I just have a sense that there are more young people who could come to know a call to the priesthood or religious life and how to amplify that call for them and give them courage is an ongoing hope of mine.

Do you have any regrets while serving as Archbishop? If so, what are they?
I really don’t. Even as I look over my whole life. There’s things I’ve had to apologize for and so I fall short. I get confused or get short of patience or whatever it might be. God made me a human being so I don’t regret that at all.

Part of my own spiritual challenges is to sometimes have the tendency to make the project – whatever the project – my own and not rely enough on the Holy Spirit and not see it as the Lord’s work that we’re collaborating with him in the church. To the extent that my own pride or my determination to get the job done or whatever, sometimes that gets in the way of my being the most effective shepherd that I can be. So I’m sorry for that and try to ask for forgiveness. From God I do every day, but from the people I see that I’ve fallen short or offended them, but that’s part of the give and take of life. And forgiveness is always available in the church.
The way the Lord has established the church there’s the opportunity for us to seek forgiveness and to receive it from one another but from him always. We need to make use of that. If we don’t, we get stuck in regret and guilt.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I would add my gratitude to the people of the archdiocese for their kindness and their prayers and support. I found a great spirit of cooperation here that isn’t my making. It’s part of the fabric of life here. So when there’s a need I find and we invite people to help with something that’s important, we get the help. We’re in the middle of the Ignite the Faith campaign and it’s going well. It’s a lot of work in one sense but we’re trying to obtain resources to meet some important pastoral needs. We took a long time to think about them and consult about them. I’m very, very grateful, overwhelmed really, by the response of people to that and in many other ways too.

I don’t think I can say thanks enough to God or to people I have the opportunity to work side-by-side with. If there’s a theme of wrapping up these five years it’s gratitude.

Blogged by Lisa Maxson, senior writer/reporter.