Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer of surprises

Wheatland, Wyoming, is a center of ranching and farming about 75 miles north of Cheyenne and boasts the largest privately owned irrigation system in the U.S. At least that's what the town's web site claims. There are 3,500 people here and I am substituting for the pastor of St. Patrick Parish for two weeks while he is on Air Force reserve duty. St. Patrick's boasts a congregation of 200 families and many of them drive up to 25 or 30 miles to get to Sunday Mass. There is a mission parish at Chugwater, about 25 miles to the south. Only a dozen families make up its rolls. Several of them have keys to the church and I had to wait for them to arrive to get into the building. This is the summer and some are away. Our census this Sunday showed five people attended the service.

Chugwater has a very old building identified as Wyoming's oldest soda fountain. There is an annual chili cook-off held in June. I'm hoping to try both - a great shake and a bowl of chili. The temperature here is in the 90s and it is, of course, very dry. Surprisingly I am now hearing thunder as heavy clouds roll through but the area is not expecting rain. There is a drought going on and I heard one of the young lectors say last Sunday that she had only been able to bail eight bails of hay so far while last year she and her had bailed at least 100 by this time.

The work in the parish is minimal as there is a deacon who is actually in charge right now. As a result, these two weeks may be more of a retreat. That would be another surprise of the summer. I traveled to my usual place of retreat at Gloucester, Mass., at the end of May. But on the first full day of retreat I lost my balance while walking toward the beach and fell face first on rocks. I gashed my head above my left eye requiring stitches but also bruised my chest and left arm and broke the small finger on my left hand. My retreat was spent in the ER and going to an orthopedist. I have more time now for prayer and reflection than I did them.

The accident has changed all my summer plans. One of the good things about the forced slowing down is that I am paying closer attention to my reading, specifically the homilies and addresses of Pope Francis. He is very different from both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Francis is the seventh pope who has passed through in my lifetime and I see the continuous progression in each. John Paul and Benedict were the intellectuals who gave substance to our faith but Francis is the pastor who is showing us how to be faithful. I emphasize "showing" as opposed to "teaching." I hope our seminarians are able to see how Francis is showing us how to use what John Paul and Benedict taught.

Lastly, I am elated that he has brought John XXIII forward for canonization. For my generation particularly Pope John XXIII was the refreshment that revealed to us that living our faith is the most important expectation of Christians, not just talking about it.