‘Be a first century disciple,’ Bishop Gruss advises at Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Red Dinner

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Robert Gruss of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan presides at Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral May 23, prior to the Red Dinner. Priests of the Davenport Diocese concelebrate. Diocesan deacons assist.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Just before the meal began, Father Thom Hennen asked guests at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Red Dinner to stand if they were members of the cathedral parish. After they stood, he asked guests who were members of other parishes to stand. It might have been a toss-up as to which group had more representatives. The result delighted Father Hennen, the cathedral’s pastor.

“This is what the cathedral is all about. It is truly everybody’s church, the seat (cathedra) of the bishop, the mother church of the Diocese of Davenport,” he said May 23 to the gathering of around 275 people at St. Ambrose University’s Rogalski Center. The Red Dinner began as a fundraiser for the cathedral’s gathering space and Sears’ Diocesan Hall, completed in 2018. Now the annual event helps raise funds for ongoing care of the cathedral.

Mass always precedes the Red Dinner, which this year was a homecoming for the presider and dinner speaker, Bishop Robert Gruss, the Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. Ordained a priest of the Diocese of Davenport in 1994, he served as the cathedral’s pastor from 2010-2011. Nodding toward the vacant Bishop’s chair (the Davenport Diocese is waiting for a new bishop), Bishop Gruss joked, “I thought about sitting in that chair to put a little wonder in your mind.”


Among the many guests who knew then-Msgr. Gruss as a pastor was Mary Costello, a longtime cathedral parishioner celebrating her 99th birthday a day early. “Ninety-nine is nothing to sneeze at,” Father Hennen said before dinner, nodding toward Mary before leading the gathering in singing “Happy Birthday.” She beamed.

After dinner, Father Hennen taught the guests to shout a cheer in Vietnamese. “It comes in very handy at the cathedral,” he said, referring to one of the multiple cultures that call the cathedral their home parish. The cheer preceded Bishop Gruss’ talk, which began with the unexpected greeting, “Happy Easter!” and a prop — 3D glasses — that drove home the message about focusing on the “gift the Resurrection” every day.

The lens of faith

“Do you know what these are?” he asked as he put on the 3D glasses. “Have you ever worn 3D glasses?” He explained the function of the glasses, “which allow us to see in ways different than merely the human eyes. They bring reality to life! What if the 3D lenses we wore were the ‘gift of the Resurrection?’ … What if our lens was a life deeply embedded in the Risen Lord Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit?  What if this was the lens (through which) we viewed every aspect of our life? How would that change the way we view our life, regardless of what is going on in the world around us?”

Bishop Gruss reflected on the different ways people view the world through their particular lens. The people in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine, families trying to make ends meet, persons suffering from gender dysphoria, a young, single woman with an unplanned pregnancy or a teen contemplating suicide. “All of them see the world through their personal lens … And so do we,” he said. “What is the lens by which you see your life and the world?  It is an important question.”

The disciples of the first century viewed their lives through the lens of the Resurrection, Bishop Gruss said. “The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them allowed those post-resurrection disciples to see their world, their new life with great clarity and a deeper dimension. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus was their 3D lens.”

Two of those disciples were on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). “In this beautiful encounter, Jesus gave these two men a new set of lenses in which to see their lives, their purpose, and their future. Their vision went to 3D.”

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Robert Gruss wears 3D glasses to make a visual point in his talk during the Sacred Heart Cathedral Red Dinner at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Christian hope

Today’s culture, however, is ridding itself of its Christian basis, Bishop Gruss said, sharing excerpts about that reality from the book, “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission.” He cited Pope Francis and the late media communicator Archbishop Fulton Sheen, both of whom lamented the end of “Christendom.” Archbishop Sheen, who made his comments 50 years ago, defined Christendom as “the economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles.”

Today, people are demonstrating through their lives that God doesn’t really matter, Bishop Gruss observes. Their focus on the earthly world and the presence of evil causes people to lose sight of the Resurrection, the source of Christian hope.

Bishop Gruss assured the gathering, “There is Good News! The good news is that we are now in apostolic times — sent on apostolic mission. And the apostles of this age are sitting around these tables tonight. Amen?” he asked. “Amen,” the dinner guests responded.

“You are in the Church today because of those early disciples,” he said. Each disciple was “ambitious for God and His Kingdom. It was the lens in which they saw their life … They knew that their task was to be used by the Holy Spirit to grow the Church, and they knew that the Spirit would give them every gift necessary to do the work entrusted to them, and the grace to make it grow.”

Bishop Gruss emphasized, “Our lives as disciples make us different… We MUST lead our culture — and be bold proclaimers of the Gospel in apostolic times.” Believe that God has set “each of us apart for his work and that he can do something far greater than we can imagine.”

Be first century disciples

He concluded his talk with a call to action:

  1. Take time to grow in your own spiritual life through prayer, sacramental life of the Church, personal study. Ask the Lord to help form that biblical worldview in your heart and mind.
  2. Share your own story with others about what the Lord has done and is doing in your life.
  3. Have a conversation with someone you know who is not attending Mass; try to understand why that person has left and offer encouragement. “The Lord wants them back. Be a first century disciple.”

Bishop Gruss’ talk inspired Barb Carroll of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, who said his “Happy Easter!” greeting and message of living out Christ’s resurrection daily motivates her. “He’s getting us back to acknowledging that we need to be disciples,” like the disciples 2,000 years ago, said Carroll who led a group of four to the Red Dinner. Accompanying her were sister-in-law Lori Carroll and Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, both of the Muscatine parish and Father Hai Dinh, pastor of parishes in Hills, Lone Tree and Nichols.

Sister Demmer thought Bishop Gruss delivered a powerful, enlightening message that conveyed hopefulness. Her takeaway? “We are all called to be disciples, hope-filled people to those around us.”

“As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to share his Good News of resurrection and salvation to everyone, especially those who are in need,” Father Dinh said, reflecting on Bishop Gruss’ talk. “We have to face many difficulties and challenges, but with unshakable confidence we believe that our triune God never leaves us alone… Keep praying and put our care in him because he loves us and cares for us.”

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