I hope you are enjoying the final weeks of summer!
I thought it would be good this month to report back to you conversations that occurred a few weeks ago as we gathered all of our cemetery directors from around the country in Boulder, Colorado for a three-day leadership retreat. It was the first time that we gathered as a group since before the pandemic, so it was long overdue. While we have all had the experience of seeing family or friends for the first time since the pandemic, our leadership team wasn’t really prepared for the feelings that poured out. Each cemetery director is like a father or mother who carries the feelings and experiences of all of their staff. Like parents, they carry the wounds of their staff much like we do our children, asking God for his healing grace. We began our retreat asking God to open up our hearts…For three days it was like waves that continued to wash over our heads on a beach. There was much outpouring of emotions and an opening for healing to take place. We didn’t leave Boulder fully understanding what we had all been through together, but in the ensuing weeks we received signs of healing and grace. I continue to be impressed by each of your directors as great leaders and great human beings!
A couple of weeks later I had the privilege of attending a three-day retreat in Denver put on by an organization out of the Archdiocese of Detroit called Acts XXIX. The Book of Acts has 28 chapters about the stories of the apostles carrying out the ministry of the early Church, so Acts XXIX is an organization guiding bishops and dioceses in the Church’s effort to reclaim the world for Christ. The reference to the 29th chapter is supposed to be the one that you and I are writing right now as God claims his world back from sin and death. It struck me during the retreat that our ministry asks us to do something very unusual. We are asked to walk through the valley of death every day. Christ came into this world to walk through that valley in a very profound and meaningful way. We repeat this journey over and over with families. This was highlighted on the retreat as we watched a movie clip from Hacksaw Ridge (I highly recommend this movie) where it is clear that death is all around us and we continue to walk forward into battle with faith and God as our commander. No one wants to be a soldier in a cause not worth fighting for. As I look around at each of you, I am amazed by the talent and humility that each of you brings to your diocese! Thank you!
Most of you probably never saw yourselves as soldiers in a battle, yet we live in a world where death is the final act for many people. They don’t know where God is in their lives and they grieve not only the loss of a family, but their own lack of faith. Compound this with the wounds that people carry from childhood or dysfunction in their families and we can often feel like punching bags or sponges that soak up the anger, loss, grief, and the various other emotions that afflict them. Suicide, drug overdoses, and gun violence have been at all-time highs, and this was before the pandemic. Our world is crying, and our cemeteries cry… how are you doing through all of this?
I asked you to take stock of your own mental health because we cannot heal others if we are not healed ourselves. It is clear that we need to be a Church of healing, and we need to start with our own people who serve others. Daily we pray together, and we continue to look for the ways that we can help our staff to cope and heal along this journey. We’ve been exploring opportunities to incorporate healing and retreats into our work-life. On October 12th, we will have a special mass celebrated by Archbishop Listecki in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and broadcast as a national CFCS Town Hall. Compassionate souls need to be nurtured and Christ is the source by which healing takes place. Each of these masses this year have special meaning as we pray for healing for each of you are caregivers.
Thank you again this month for sticking with me through my long-winded messages. It may seem at times like I repeat myself, but I have come to realize that the calling to this ministry is special and it requires us to continue to nourish each of you with faith, with hope, and with thanksgiving!
With blessings and gratitude,