Ministry 2025: Looking back

By Father Dennis Meinen
View from the Scooter

If you wish that the Catholic Church was like it was in the good old days, don’t go too far back.

I went online and looked at St. John Church in Onawa. Before a Catholic church was established in the town of Onawa, Mass was offered in the homes of different members of the Catholic faith. The services were conducted by various missionary priests who traveled from place to place on foot or horseback. Their visits were few and far between and at uncertain intervals. The first known Mass in this parish was celebrated in the Timothy Murphy home in the summer of 1858.

Fast forward to 2016 and “the faithful remnant.” The definition of a faithful remnant is what is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe (Wikipedia). If your beloved church becomes an oratory – or a catastrophe – what do you – the faithful remnant – do?

The Jewish captives departing from exile in Babylon were told to go home and rebuild the temple. Perhaps God is calling you to rebuild the new temple, or church, you are going to by your participation and use of your God-given gifts in your new house of God. Are you still willing to go to Mass, though they may be few and far between and at uncertain intervals, like the 19th century house-churches in Onawa?

But back to horses. In the 19th century, a priest had to ride a horse for three days to cover all the Catholic settlements yearning to have Mass. The problem was, he didn’t have enough oats to feed the horse, but he had an axe, and there were plenty of trees on the route. Chop, chop and chop. Soon, he had a pile of sawdust. He started adding a little sawdust to the oats, and they finally completed the journey, although the horse looked a bit haggard.

When he finished the last Mass, he headed back home, although the people were curious when the priest asked them to put oats in the collection basket.

J.C. Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was a strong supporter of the evangelical school in Liverpool, England. Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and was vigorous in advocating his principles, albeit with a warm disposition.

He told of witnessing to a guy who had a million and one reasons why he didn’t believe the Bible. He said he loved God, prayed every day and didn’t need Jesus or the Bible to have a relationship with God. Ever been with that type of guy? Many of us have. Is there anything else you can do?

J.C. tells us to come to the Old West with him for a moment and meet a stubborn horse named Buck. You know that Buck is dehydrated. Buck is about to be led across the desert, and it is 120 degrees in the shade. Your job is to get Buck to drink and drink deeply.

The problem is that Buck isn’t interested in the water. You’ve brought him to the water, but can’t make him drink. Buck isn’t happy with you at all. You’ve annoyed him by trying to get him to drink, and he even tries to take a bite out of your finger.

You notice Buck is hungry, so you bring him a bucket of oats and pour salt on them. As Buck eats, his mouth begins to go dry. He is now thirsting. You grab his reins and take him to the edge of the desert and show him how far he will have to ride without water. Suddenly, Buck breaks loose from you, runs to the water and drinks deeply. You didn’t make Buck drink. You simply made him thirst, and his own good senses drove him to that which would save his life.

Back to this unsaved friend. You may not be able to make him believe in Jesus, but you can make him thirst for a Savior. Remember what Jesus said? “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matt. 5:6) Is your unsaved friend currently thirsting for righteousness? Salt his oats, according to J.C. Ryle.

Priests don’t ride horses anymore, but the distance between parishes is still a longer stretch for them. How can we get people to “ride” to new parishes a few more miles out of their comfort zone? Values demand sacrifice. “Blessed are they who endure hardship. Be the salt of the earth!”

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.


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