BRILLION — On a morning better suited for shoveling snow than planting seeds, Catholic farmers and other rural life advocates gathered at Holy Family Church for the annual Rural Life Day March 30.
A late winter storm greeted about 250 people attending the yearly gathering, which, in addition to Mass, included a blessing of seeds, farm animals and farm machinery. A luncheon followed in the church hall, with guest speaker Tom Wall, owner and operator of Dairy Coach, LLC, addressing the crowd on “Faith, Family, Farming: What’s Your Story?”
On March 28, a similar Rural Life Day took place at St. Mary Church in Black Creek. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau, a native of Black Creek, was celebrant at that gathering.
VIEW MORE PHOTOS: Go to our Flickr album for more photos from Rural Life Day.
The Mass in Brillion began with a procession featuring parish representatives carrying banners into the church. Three priests joined Bishop Ricken as concelebrants at the liturgy: Fr. Timothy Brandt, pastor of Holy Family Parish; Fr. Richard Klingeisen, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Clarks Mills, and St. Michael Parish, Whitelaw; and Fr. Walter Stumpf, pastor of St. Nicholas Parish, Freedom, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.
During his homily, Bishop Ricken spoke about the need for farmers to embrace a “spirit of gratuitousness.” He also encouraged them to follow three simple axioms: worry less, pray more and do something good.
“We all really need to grow in our appreciation of the gift of land, of farming, of agriculture because we all depend upon the food that it produces,” he told the assembly.
Bishop Ricken said he spoke recently with James Ennis, director of Catholic Rural Life (formerly National Catholic Rural Life Conference). Ennis told him about a meeting he attended at the Vatican with rural life leaders from around the world. Pope Francis addressed members of the International Catholic Rural Life Association on Dec. 10, 2016, telling them to maintain their practices of farming, family life and respect for the environment.
Pope Francis told the group that “agriculture continues to be important for policies and development and for addressing disparities in food security and issues in the life of all rural communities,” said Bishop Ricken.
“He went on to challenge (the group) to build bridges with others and to advocate on behalf of farmers in the rural community, proposing ‘a culture of agricultural work that has its foundations, as well as its goals, in the centrality of the human person … and in gratuitousness,’” said Bishop Ricken. “That means to be a thankful and grateful person.”
“So we ought to have a spirit of gratuitousness. It’s so easy to get on the worrying bandwagon. To be worried about this and that,” said Bishop Ricken. “It makes us feel like we’re doing a better job if we worry. But you know, worry is a waste of time.”
Worrying is also an exercise in lack of faith, he added.
“When we worry, we’re not really trusting that God has our best interest in mind,” he added. “Whether the harvest is abundant or scare, God is still with us and we need to be very grateful, not only for times of abundant harvest, but also times when there’s not much there.”
Bishop Ricken addressed a modern-day concern for small farmers, echoing a similar message from Pope Francis.
“It’s wonderful that agribusiness has grown, but the sad thing can be that we might have lost some fundamental values of the family farm,” said Bishop Ricken.
“The family farm, where the family lived on an acreage — all of Wisconsin was designed around that, wasn’t it?” he continued. “Now, with these huge farms, there’s a chance that, even though it may be far more efficient, is it effective? And so we need to ask questions about what is this doing to the human person? What is it doing to our family? When we get so concerned about the agribusiness, are we really putting God first? Is God really in charge of my farm?”
In his address last December, Pope Francis warned against the dangers of an exclusively economic focus in agriculture. Farmers shouldn’t focus on “making money above all else, even at the expense of sacrificing the rhythms of agricultural life, with its times of work and leisure, its weekly rest and its concern for the family,” said the pope.
“The more we are disconnected from nature, the more we are disconnected from God,” Bishop Ricken said, “because God is the creator. So the pope gives us a lot to think about.”
He encouraged farmers to worry less, pray more and do something good.
“I think in those three axioms we have kind of a formula, for not wasting our time or wringing our hands, for praying together as families and making sure we come to Sunday Mass,” Bishop Ricken said. “If you expect all of these gifts from the creator, what are you giving back for heaven’s sake?”
He encouraged men to take a more active role in their family’s spiritual lives. “The statistics show that when the father is the spiritual leader of the household, the kids will stay faithful to Sunday Mass for the rest of their lives,” said Bishop Ricken. “Don’t make your wives do everything. You’re the spiritual father of your household. Step up to the plate.”
The bishop reminded farmers of the need to be good stewards of their resources, including their time, talent and treasure.
“Gratitude is the key,” added Bishop Ricken. “The key to growing our relationship with Christ, the key to being a really good farmer. … Stop looking at all of the negative stuff. Look at who you are, what you’ve got and be grateful and share the good news.”