Fr. Vincent Suparman, a member of the pastoral team based in Lower Brule, SD, reflects on his experience of mission:
Whenever I have refreshment after Sunday Mass, the people of Big Bend talk about Frs. Yvon Sheehy, James Walters, Thomas Westhoven, Mike Burke, Bernie Rosinski and Chuck Wonch. When they want to correspond with them, I give them the address of Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake, which I remember by heart. That is, expect for Fr. Bernie, since he is still here in South Dakota. Big Bend is a tiny church located about six miles off Highway 34 between Stephan and Pierre, SD. It is about 48 miles from the Lower Brule Community House, our home-base for mission ministry.
In the spring of 2013, praying in a rear pew while waiting for the people to come for Sunday Mass, I heard the sound of spring rain outside the church. In the stillness of a Sunday afternoon I could feel the rhythmic drops against the glass window. I was thinking about nature’s power, but also the spirituality of the Sacred Heart that inspired many priests, sisters and lay people to remain faithful to meeting the spiritual needs of the people here in the prairie. I am fortunate to be listed among them. I have always empathized with the older people in the church that I serve. Many of them are really good storytellers. They aren’t all necessarily joke-tellers, but they do know how to put a biblical message in their jokes.
After Sunday Mass, coffee and snacks are always provided. Sr. Charles, OSB, and one or two parish women are responsible for this weekly refreshment. On ordinary Sundays we have fewer than 15 people at Mass. More than that and we would say, “Wow, we have a big crowd.” That is Big Bend, the smallest parish among the six parishes we serve. Here everybody knows everybody else. They do not live near the church. Many of them live and work in Pierre, a 20-minute drive west from Big Bend. As pastor I respect them with appreciation for what they have given to the church. No matter what happens, they struggle to remain faithful. I do not know about their inner spirit. But, whenever I see them singing at Mass, I am happy and proud to be with them.
Sometimes I think of my mission journey. While sitting behind the wheel of the car, I often hear a soft voice whisper, “If you really saw the gift of life you have been given, you would not throw it away.”
“Life is the greatest gift, “ I once told a group of young teenagers in Colorado. This “proverb” makes me aware of how my position in life can easily turn to my comfort, my comfort zone, and my desire to be appreciated and loved. I remember my spiritual director who told me that I was alive for a reason, to go out and find it. Building walls around my life is easy. I am pretty good in recapturing a past experience. But I would rather decide to keep one or two things that give meaning to my life and move forward.
When I was first assigned in the mission I thought that I would bring something new and change the people’s hearts and minds. I thought the people whom I served were mine. But they are not. They are gifts and I was consecrated to be a Priest of Sacred Heart to proclaim the Good News, not to condemn, to be with the people and to serve them. When I began to see the people as gifts, I began to change. A gift and a possession are treated differently. I believe that the work of the Spirit continues; it is an unbreakable thread weaving through life as we pray in psalm. Within the context of mission journey I will face adversity, but the power of the Holy Spirit emerges in so many ways.
Big Bend, SD, October 18, 2015 (Mission Sunday)
Thanks, Vincent, for your very thoughtful and touching reflection on mission and the people.