Happily Even After
Big Men, Big Rings
by Josh Noem
I recently had the power lunch of my life. I had lunch with my childhood baseball hero and three bishops, including a brand-new one. I could tell I was in the presence of important people because of all the large rings. The bishops all wore their episcopal rings, and my baseball hero was wearing his World Series ring.
Should I be embarrassed to say that I was more excited to see the World Series ring?
It happened like this: we were back in my home territory—the Black Hills of South Dakota—for two weeks of vacation to connect with my parents and siblings. We had a great time there—we did lots of back-country exploring and hiking and the kids enjoyed time with their cousins. Oscar and Simon even caught two rainbow trout—they were so thrilled to reel them in that they were quite literally dancing on the shore.
In May, the area received news that a new bishop had been appointed for the Rapid City Diocese—Bishop Robert Gruss. It just so happened that his ordination was to take place during our visit in July, so we decided to attend.
It was a beautiful liturgy that even wove a Native American prayer to the four directions into the penitential rite. It was also a long liturgy—two and a half hours—but how often do you get to see them making a new bishop? I was proud of our kids for hanging in there the whole time.
My folks work at Crazy Horse Monument, the gargantuan mountain carving that is in progress in the Black Hills. Their job includes hosting visitors to the mountain, including some famous people, occasionally. It happened that the new Bishop Gruss made a visit to the mountain the day after his ordination. Because I am a professional lay minister, and had a personal connection to others in the party, mom and dad invited me along to help host.
So, I got to sit at lunch with the new bishop and with two other bishops. The topic of rings came up and I got to ask the three bishops about their rings. Each of them received a ring at their ordination as a sign of their betrothal to the Church, which in traditional imagery is the bride of Christ.
One bishop had a ring that was given to all bishops who attended the Second Vatican Council. Through a series of personal connections, he had it passed on to him. It was a flat, gold ring with Saints Peter and Paul embossed on the front. He said that one can tell that it is authentic because it has a gap on the underside. The rings were produced en masse as a gift, and they were made one size to fit all.
Another bishop had a similar ring, but it was a reproduction of the Second Vatican Council ring and made to fit his finger.
Bishop Gruss’ ring was also gold, but carried a prominent, rectangular dark-colored stone on top. It also had the coat of arms of the Rapid City Diocese stamped on one side and the papal coat of arms stamped on the other side.
It was an honor to speak with the new bishop and to wish him well in his new ministry. We said good-bye to the bishops and in walked Kent Hrbek, my childhood baseball hero, who was also scheduled to make a visit that day.
Hrbek played first base for the Minnesota Twins for 14 years, including their championship seasons in 1987 and 1991. He was fantastic—he signed a jersey I had (yes, I already owned a #14 Kent Hrbek jersey!) and even came with some memorabilia that he gave to the monument.
It was great to meet him and hear him talk about the teams he played on. He is a giant of a man, so his World Series Ring (from 1987) didn’t look out of place on his hand, even though on me it would have looked like I had a Kleenex box strapped to my hand. It was gold and had the Twins’ “M” logo on the top. In diamonds.
He must be used to getting asked about it because after being introduced, it was the first thing he showed me. Not in any arrogant way, but in a way that showed that he knew that fans had a part in the accomplishment as well. All I could manage was to say, “That… is a beautiful thing.”
Best. Lunch. Ever.
It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized how many rings were on display that day. They all signified something important in a public way. Aside from the head and face, the hands are a visible and active part of the body. They are the means by which we engage the world. Placing a symbol on the hand says something important about the wearer.
The rings I saw signified a new identity for these men. Bishop Gruss was a new person after his ordination—marked by a commitment to the Lord and the people of his diocese. By winning his rings, Kent Hrbek became a World Series champion. He and his teammates will be remembered to Twins fans for the rest of their lives because of their excellence on the field.
For a brief moment, the unadorned, flat gold band around my finger felt small and humble. But that moment quickly passed because I realized that I felt just as proud to wear my ring as a bishop or a baseball player. It, too, tells the world that I have become something new. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears under that ring; a lot of joy as well. It carries just as much responsibility as a bishop’s ring, and every bit of the triumph of a World Series ring.
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