- Created on Wednesday, 11 January 2012 08:58
- Written by David B. Valdivia
My Great-Uncle Balzer was as tall as he was round. Balzer Kunnanz was his name. It’s a German shortened name for Balthazar – one of the three kings. He was the youngest brother of my grandmother. She complained that he was treated like one of the three kings too!
My trusty aide, David Valdivia scanned a picture of my grandparents’ generation standing in front of their first wood-framed house in America – Selz, North Dakota – to be exact. The previous house was made of sod. You can see the clan all lined up in front of their new house. No one spoke English. Everyone spoke German. In this photo, my great grandmother is pregnant with Uncle Balzer.
Among others things, Uncle Balzer worked as a butcher and at one point ran a store here in Yakima where he was famous for his fine German sausages. But my own memory was our family Christmas on 14th Avenue, just a few blocks from the St. Paul Cathedral, where my grandparents once lived. Because Uncle Balzer was sooooooo big, my family convinced him to dress up like Santa. My grandparents had “Santa” bring me an entire set of metal Tonka trucks.
I was pretty bugged-eyes when I got those Tonka trucks. I loved those Tonka trucks and I hung onto them for many years. However, I being a wee little guy at the time, I was also a bit frightened to have a stranger in a red suit show up at the door. Who was this guy? And why was Santa quietly whispering auf deutsch to my grandparents? I loved receiving the gift but was frightened of the giver.
Might this be the precise way the people we – and those we serve – see God? Here’s a post-Christmas gift examination of conscience we might want to consider:
- Might God’s great generosity be so over-the-top that while we see the gift, that the stunning and abundant giving almost frightens us because we’re afraid it’s too good to be true?
- Might that phrase “fear of the Lord” actually means that God’s graciousness is so vast it leaves us spiritually disoriented and trembling with awe and joy?
- Is there not a kind of fear that arises in our hearts when God’s generosity breaks down our internal barriers and thus challenges our own puny attempts at love?
- Do gifts sometimes leave us feeling fearful and vulnerable because we have nothing as great to offer in return? And if this is true of human gift exchanges how much more could this be the case when it comes to our relationship with our good and gracious God who gives us everything?
These questions come to the fore – not only based on a simple childhood memory of my Uncle Balzer – but based on the events surrounding the recent death of our beloved Monsignor Martin Skehan. Being the new bishop of Yakima, I did not know Monsignor Skehan well. But I was awe- struck by the over-the-top and round-the-clock friendship and prayer that surrounded him in his final hours.
Father Dan Dufner was gracious to call me early Sunday morning, allowing me to come back from family and friends in Seattle to visit Monsignor Skehan. But when I walked into his hospital room I found him gift-wrapped in love.
The same was true in the early hours of the next morning when – after receiving the call of his death – I returned to his room at the hospital in Moses Lake finding him gift-wrapped in prayer and care. Parishioners and friends had kept vigil all night. For me it was a bit like uncovering the gift that my old Uncle Balzer has gift-wrapped for me in his Santa outfit. It was a wrapping of love.
Thus I consider it no accident that Monsignor Skehan died during this Epiphany time. Indeed, the German custom of naming their male children stems from medieval tradition. That tradition suggests that the three kings
– Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar – represent the three known continents of the earth: Asia, Africa and Europe. The Americas were unknown at the time. But the three kings from the three known continents were meant to suggest the universality of God’s love in the person of the infant Jesus.
That’s the precise boundary-crossing love I saw in so many of you – his brother priests – and in the parishioners. In so many ways, I came to know about Monsignor Skehan – not in an interpersonal way – but through you and your love. For this I am deeply grateful.
I would simply close by encouraging you – my brother priests – to look closely at the assembly. They are the ones who carry us even as we provide a home for their faith through our good stewardship of the Sacred Mysteries. We may not be able to return to Cologne, the resting spot of the Magi. But we can always return to our memory of our deceased brother priests who not only show us the gift of love through their priestly ministry, but the way that love grows in the people they serve.
More than anything, that love we see in those we serve should give us the courage and fortitude to endure the rigors of daily ministry, the hardships that often come our way, and the insight to see the cross – whatever forms it takes in our lives – as the tree of life.
My thanks to the parishioners in Moses Lake and Warden, as well as my thanks to all of you – my brother priests – for being a sign of Epiphany – a manifestation of God’s gift of love in our midst.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson
Bishop of Yakima
With all this said, here are the items I’d like to highlight for you this week.
- USCCB Committee on Divine Worship Newsletter (Bishop Tyson)
- Letter issued by the Hispanic bishops of the United States (Bishop Tyson)
- Charismatic Prayer Groups/ Grupos de Oración y Carismáticos (Elvia Gonzalez)
- Save the Date: Mass for Life – January 23, 2012 (Bishop Tyson)
- Reach Youth Ministry Team Available (Monsignor Robert Siler)
- Annual Walk for Life in Yakima January 21 (Rev. Juan Manuel Godina)
- Concelebration Cards for Eucharistic Prayers (Monsignor Robert Siler)
- Upcoming Retrouvaille Weekends (Monsignor Robert Siler)
- Brochures and Forms Available for Clearance Approval for Speakers and Presenters (Monsignor Robert Siler)