Each year, the bishop typically puts thousands of miles on his vehicle – in a short period of time – as he travels from parish to parish celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with young people across the diocese.
Unfortunately, this year due to the global pandemic, that just wasn’t possible. Thankfully, our parish priests have generously stepped forward and have been confirming children in the months since our churches reopened.
And, although Bishop Robert Gruss wasn’t able to meet with the young people in person, Diocesan Faith Formation Coordinator Peg McEvoy still wanted to find a way for children and families to connect with their bishop.
Conversations with Bishop Gruss
Recognizing many children and families have grown comfortable participating in virtual meetings this year, Peg began organizing virtual sessions with parishes and faith formation leaders. She placed together groups of families and sent out invitations for a conversation with Bishop Gruss.
So far, seven of those sessions have taken place. Peg says she’s getting a great response and with three sessions remaining, there may be room for families who couldn’t make it the first time around.
The sessions are one hour long and include an opening prayer and an image for families to meditate on and then talk about. The remainder of the time is an open conversation with Bishop Gruss.
A Blessing for All
As many as 50 families are invited to each session with the hope they’ll get to know our bishop a little better and understand, too, their unique role in the broader Church. Bishop Gruss also takes the opportunity to help them understand the sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“When Bishop comes on it’s like he’s speaking just to them,” Peg said.
Peg, who has been in ministry with children for many years, admits she’s never done anything like this in the past.
“They’ve been a blessing, not only for the kids, but the bishop as well,” she said.
Bishop Shares His Experiences
During the sessions, Bishop Gruss introduces the families to the newest member of his family, a seven-month old chocolate lab named Coco and then talks briefly about his own faith journey and how the Lord has led him to the priesthood, while answering any questions the kids may have.
“When I think about my life as a Catholic, my parents weren’t super religious, so my Catholic faith consisted of going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation,” he explained in one session. He added that there was a time in his life when he turned away from faith and let the gifts of the Holy Spirit go to sleep in him.
“Once I got out of high school and into college, I started to become a lukewarm Catholic,” he said.
He soon realized that in going his “own way,” he was turning away from God and he discovered that it left him restless and unhappy.
“So, I began to ask the Lord to give me an experience of his love for me,” which became his every day prayer. “Over time, the Lord came in His own way and touched my heart. I began to see things in a new way, and the Lord led me to becoming a committed Catholic and I never missed Mass again. I even found myself going to daily Mass.”
Fostering Conversation Between Parents and Their Children
After briefly sharing his experience, Bishop Gruss posed questions to the kids about their relationship with Jesus. During the session he gives them time to talk with their parents about what they want their relationship to be with the Lord.
“We’re giving space and time for parents and kids to talk about faith,” Peg said. In response to one of the sessions, a parent commented, “The best part of it was having a conversation with my son after it was done.”
Jesus as Best Friend
Bishop Gruss talks to the children in a tone and language they understand. He related building his relationship with Christ to the process of nurturing friendships … saying Jesus is his best friend, and He becomes our best friend by hanging out with Him like we do with our personal best friends. He also shared his favorite prayers and what it’s like for him to talk to the Lord in his everyday life.
He encouraged families to talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments of the church, and how to recognize them at work in their lives.
“This Holy Spirit, this advocate has been given to you,” Bishop Gruss said. “The same Holy Spirit that was given to the apostles has been given to you, and this Spirit is meant to be your helper through your entire life.”
Three more Zoom sessions with Bishop Gruss are scheduled for the week of November 15. Any families who missed their session can contact their parish faith formation leader or contact Peg directly, and she will send the Zoom link to participate. Contact Peg by email here, for dates and times.