Summer offers chance to refresh, build faith

Complete the circle

George Evans

By George Evans
As I write this the calender has turned to May. My grandchildren are anxious for school to end for the year, for the approaching piano recital to hurry up and get here and for the swimming pool to open. Everything outside is green and fresh. We continue our journey on the road of holiness as adults.
What do we do on our journey? We are well into the Easter season. The daily readings in the liturgy excite us with the stories of Stephen, the first martyr of the early Church, of Peter, John and Paul and the other disciples who have seen the risen Lord and proclaimed him despite the punishments and threats of the ruling civil authorities. Our faith is renewed because the risen Lord has touched us again and taken away our greatest fear, death. He has assured us he is always with us. He has challenged us to take the message he has given us to the ends of the earth and promises us the strength to do it through him.
So, what do we do in “the good ole summertime” having been fortified and blessed and called to holiness and mission. We pray. We open ourselves to the Lord of the Paschal Mystery we have recently celebrated. We plead for mercy from the God of all mercy. We acknowledge our sinfulness confident of his forgiveness. We do this every day so that our tendencies to revert to self to the exclusion of others is shielded. We seek summer Eucharist to feed on the sustenance of the Lord himself under the appearances of bread and wine and thereby be strengthened to face whatever trials, tribulations or challenges that come our way. Because prayer allows us to touch divinity our summer journey is on its way.
Related to prayer, summertime is a great time for reading good stuff. We may even find reflection in a way that surprises us. Helpful in this pursuit may be any of the daily books which include scripture and reflections to get us started on our own. Living Faith, Give Us This Day, Living with Christ are my favorites but there are many others. Choose that which best excites your own reflection and be on your way to wonderful daily growth in holiness. Summer is also a good time for reading longer spiritual works. There are thousands. Contemporary authors I find helpful and stimulating on my journey are, among others, Fathers James Martin, SJ, Henri Nouwen, Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, and the last three Popes. Many “secular” authors bring incredible “spiritual” insights to novels and short stories. Anthony Doerr’s Pulitizer Prize Winning “All the Light We Cannot See” knocked me over.
Summer brings terrific opportunities for workshops, mission training, retreats, etc. for help on our journey of holiness. I mention three of them sponsored by our diocese and commented on further on pages 8-9 of this issue of Mississippi Catholic. 1. June 8-9 Liturgical Music: Ministry Encounters Mystery. Alexis Kutarna, director of music for St. Mary Seminary, Houston, Texas, featured presenter. 2. Pastoral Ministries Retreat and/or workshop, “Living as Missionary Disciples” June 5-8. 3. Faith Community Nursing: training specifically for registered nurses. These and other opportunities to connect faith with work, faith sharing or teaching opportunities are valuable avenues to enhance our journeys of holiness.
After replenishing ourselves in all of the above ways (or at least some of them) we are ready to take our nurtured holiness into the marketplace as challenged by the Lord and Pope Francis so to do. We may not be called to bring his message to Africa or the Far East in order to be holy, but we are called to leave self to bring Christ to others every day by the way we treat every one, be they friend or foe, rich or poor, gay or straight, powerful or on the fringes. Whether they are in prison or free, sick or healthy, ugly or attractive, good are bad.
Our journey to holiness leads us to love all as we have been loved first by the Lord. “The good ole summertime” of this type journey will do more than a week at the beach (as important as it may be) to make us whole and happy. It may lead to more members/volunteers for prison ministry, St. Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus, Habitat, ushers, etc. Funny how God always works and provides.
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister from Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Mother a synonym for love, care, sacrifice

REFLECTIONS ON LIFE

Father Ledoux

By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Although I had gone to Saint Catherine Catholic Church in Arnaudville, Louisiana, to officiate a wedding 35 years ago, and once more to do a revival about 15 years later, I had never been to nearby Saint John Francis Regis Church.
Fastforwarding to April 8, I was being called to Saint John Francis Regis Church to officiate the homegoing celebration of Media “Maydell” Mary Mallet, the mother of Holy Ghost Church faithful member, Mary Mallet Daigle. When her mother went home to God, Mary and her husband Farice were still suffering from the excruciating loss of their 39-year-old son Selby on January 30, 2016.
A precious matriarch in her own right at 96, Maydell had to endure as grandmother what her daughter Mary suffered as Selby’s mother. Besides, even fewer grandmothers than mothers face the ordeal of burying a child so young. As nature would have it usually, children and grandchildren should bury their elders.
The reverse is nothing short of a nightmare for parents and grandparents.
Of course, in the esteemed image of a Maydell, the typical mother so dear to all us children, we see the paradigm of our own mother. Yes, I saw my own sweet mother, Mary Gastonia Petrie LeDoux, easing into paradise at the age of 95 years and seven months on February 12, 1996. I smiled and my heart grew warm.
“The good book tells us,” I said, “in Psalm 90:10, ‘Seventy is the sum of our years, or 80 if we are strong.’ I added, ‘or 96 if one is like Maydell!’” What a blessing and what a glory to be such a matriarch and such a staunch Christian!
Yet, even at that advanced age, it is still not enough for us greedy children. God made us greedy for life and greedy for love, and we are never satisfied with the life and love allotted to us. Saint Augustine says it powerfully, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” No matter how old she is, mother is never here long enough.
Impelled by something deep inside, I asked the congregation whether they had heard the song MOTHER. When not one responded, I said, “M is for the many things you gave me; O means only that you’re growing old; T is for the tears you shed to save me; H is for your heart as pure as gold; E is for your everlasting loving.
“R is right and right you’ll always be. Put them all together, they spell Mother; a word that means the world to me. – Please do it in E flat, brother musician,” I requested.
When I sang it once, some picked it up. More caught some of it the second time around. Finally, we did a decent performance on the third round. The evident effect on the family was reward enough for sharing the Mother’s Day song. Besides, Maydell will be spending her first Mother’s Day in heaven with the Communion of Saints, featuring the Blessed Trinity et al, together with her parents, her husband of 60 years, her two deceased children and all her deceased relatives and friends. The surviving seven of Maydell’s nine children were there to celebrate her triumph.
At the conclusion of burial prayers for Maydell Mallet in Saint Leo Cemetery in Leonville, LaQuella Johnson, who had checked with me and Deacon Charles Richard about the timing, started prerecorded sacred music on a portable machine, then released a white dove that circled momentarily before flying away, affecting the crowd profoundly. In about thirty seconds, she released a second white dove that rose majestically and circled in spectacular fashion before flying away. With a bit of wonder and excited smiles, the folks tracked the white doves as long as they could, picturing Maydell’s liberated soul flying away to heaven.
We soon learned why the white doves had circled momentarily before flying away. They were homing pigeons getting their bearings for making the 60-mile flight back to their home base loft in Scotlandville (Baton Rouge). “They can find their way home from 200 miles away,” 17-year-old Johnson explained. “We train them carefully and take good care of them. They are always eager to get home. Sadly, we lose some in the winter from hawks that come here from the cold North.”
Johnson’s satisfaction and love for her work oozed out of her demeanor and every word. “I started this ‘Glory Birds’ business when I was 11 years old. Now after six years, I am passing the business down to my younger sister, because I am about to enter college at Southeastern University in Hammond.”
Although LaQuella conceived the idea for “Glory Birds” after watching a movie showing the release of white doves, her father Pharoah and her mother Yolanda had prepared her mind for such things by instilling in their children a love for animals. At and near their home they have fish, rabbits, quail and guinea pigs. As if modeling for Mother’s Day/Father’s day, the amazing pair also taught their kids to make jelly and preserves from fruit that they grew, and pickles from cucumbers.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Becoming a holy beggar

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
With the exception of scripture and a few Christian mystics, Christian spirituality, up to now, has been weak in presenting us with a vision for our retirement years. It’s not a mystery as to why. Until recently, the majority of people died shortly after retirement and so there was no need for a highly developed spirituality of generativity after our active years.
What are our retirement years meant for, spiritually? What’s our vocation then? What might generativity mean for us, after our work’s been done?
Henri Nouwen, one of the first contemporary writers to take up this question, makes this suggestion: There comes a time in our lives when the question is no longer: What can I still do to make a contribution? Rather the question becomes: How can I live now so that my aging and dying will be my final great gift to my family, my community, my church and my country?
How do I stop writing my resume in order to begin writing my eulogy? Happily, spiritual writers today are beginning to develop a spirituality around these questions and, in doing that, I believe, we can be helped by some rich insights within Hindu spirituality.
In Hinduism, life is understood to have five natural stages: First, you are a Child. As a Child, you are initiated into life, you learn to speak, you learn how to interact with others, and are given time for play.
The second stage is that of being a Student. In Hinduism, you’re a Student until you get married, begin a family, and establish a career. As a Student, your primary focus is to enjoy your youth and to prepare for life.
Then you become a Householder. This, the third stage of life, begins with marriage and ends when your last child is grown-up, your mortgage is paid and you retire from your job. As a Householder, your task is family, business, and involvement with civic and religious affairs. These are your duty years.
The fourth stage is that of being a Forest-Dweller. This period should begin when you are free enough from family and business duties to do some deeper reflection. Forest-Dwelling is meant to be an extended period wherein you withdraw, partially or fully, from active life to study and meditate your religion and your future. Very practically, this might mean that you go back to school, perhaps study theology and spirituality, do some extensive retreats, engage in a meditative practice and take some spiritual direction from a guide.
Finally, once Forest-Dwelling has given you a vision, you return to the world as a Sannyasin, as a holy beggar, as someone who owns nothing except faith and wisdom. As a Sannyasin, you sit somewhere in public as a beggar, as someone with no significance, property, attachments or importance. You’re available to others for a smile, a chat, an exchange of faith or some act of charity. In effect, you’re a street-person, but with a difference. You’re not a street-person because you do not have other options (a comfortable retirement, a golf course, a cottage in the country), but rather because you have already made a success of your life. You’ve already been generative. You’ve already given what you have to give and you’re now looking to be generative in a new way, namely, to live in such a way that these last years of your life will give a different kind of gift to your loved ones, namely, a gift that will touch their lives in a way that in effect forces them to think about God and life more deeply.
A Sannyasin gives incarnational flesh to the words of Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I return.” We come into this world possessionless and possessionless we leave it. A holy beggar incarnates that truth.
Imagine what a witness it could be if very successful people, doctors, bank presidents, athletes, journalists, teachers, business people, tradespeople, farmers and happily married persons who had raised children successfully, people who have all kinds of comfortable options in life, would be sitting, as holy beggars, in coffee shops, in fast-food outlets, in malls, on street corners and in sporting arenas. Nobody could feel superior to them or treat them with pity, as we do with the street people who sit there now. Imagine the witness of someone becoming a voluntary beggar because he or she has been a success in life. What a witness and vocation that would be!
But this concept, being a holy beggar, is obviously an idealized image that each of us needs to think through in terms of what that might mean for us concretely.
In the early centuries of Christianity, spirituality saw martyrdom as the final expression of Christian life, the ideal way to cap off a faith-filled life. Justin, Polycarp, Cyprian, and countless others “retired” into martyrdom. Later, Christians used to retire into monasteries and convents.
But martyrdom and monasteries are also, at a certain place, idealized images. What, concretely, might we retire into?
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Bishop grateful for support from faithful

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz

(Editor’s note: Bishop Kopacz and the priests of the diocese are on retreat. In lieu of a column, he offers his homily from the Chrism Mass.)

The traditional Gospel on Monday of Holy Week recalls the story of Mary’s anointing of the feet of Jesus at their home with Martha and Lazarus present, along with many of Bethany’s Jews. Mary, once again at the feet of Jesus, this time lavishly anoints her Lord and dear friend and dries his feet with her hair. This anointing, as Jesus foretold in anticipation of his death, would be remembered forever. It is a fitting prelude to today’s Chrism Mass.

Today this Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing because the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick are blessed, and the Oil of Chrism is consecrated in order to flow from our cathedral, to all parts of the diocese, to be lavishly applied to the Body of Christ, the Church, during Baptism and Confirmation, to begin in several days at the Easter Vigil, for the anointing of the sick, for Holy Orders, and the consecration of altars and churches.

Mary’s astonishing gift of anointing for the Lord is also a sign of the great love that the people of God, the faithful, have for priests, who have been set apart in Holy Orders in order to serve in the church for the salvation of all. This service is accomplished in myriad ways in the course of a day, in the course of this past year, in the course of a lifetime, and people are grateful. Whether in the power of the Sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, and the Anointing of the Sick, or in loving service and leadership, the people of God are grateful. Just recently, someone asked me, “what more can we do for our priests who sacrifice for us?” One answer was to pray for them, another said: ‘tell them of your gratitude’, another response was ‘write them a check’, but post date it until after Christ comes again so that their reward will be great in heaven.

In nearly 40 years as a priest and, including a little more than three years as a bishop, I have known the generosity of the faithful that continues to amaze and inspire me. One extraordinary example. Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Saltillo, Mexico, accompanied by Padre one, Msgr. Flannery, to further the relationship of nearly 50 years between Jackson and Saltillo that took root with Father Paddy Quinn. We were out in the rancho of Tapon, as remote a place as you can imagine, and the people asked me to bless their newborn goats. That was a delight and they were so grateful that one woman wanted me to take one of the goats as a special gift. The restrictions of customs, airport security, international flights, were not remotely on her radar. It was simply a sign of her gratitude and it radiated in her eyes. Could you see me telling the Customs agent that it may look like a live baby goat, it may sound like one, it may even smell like one, but it really is a battery powered stuffed animal baby goat. Sadly, I could not take the goat.

Whether it’s Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus 2,000 years ago, in Bethany, or Maria two weeks ago, on the remote rancho, they represent the loving gratitude that you have for the priesthood and for your priests. We want and need your faith and prayers, and even more, a very special gift, is to experience your growth in holiness, in faith, hope and love as disciples, due in part because of our vocation as priests.

This is the unity we all know through faith and baptism, to be renewed at Easter, the common priesthood of Jesus Christ that all the baptized experience flowing from his side on the Cross, a Kingdom of priests as the reading from the Book of Revelation proclaimed today. All of us are anointed to further the Lord’s mission that we proclaimed in the Word of God today. We bring the Good News to the poor in ever ancient and in ever new ways, and with Pope Francis we challenge the social order wherever it oppresses the vulnerable and powerless.

Inspiring images in my mind these days have been the gatherings for the enactment of our Pastoral Vision and Priorities, beginning at the Duncan Grey Center with priests, and deacons, Lay Ecclesial Ministers and Chancery officials, and continuing at the recent sessions around the diocese.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, anointing us, and sending us to be living witnesses of our salvation and mission in Jesus Christ. This Chrism Mass assembly embodies our unity, our mission, our vision and our dreams for our diocese, 180 years young this year.

In preparation for the renewal of our priestly promises I want to call upon the wisdom of our most recent Holy Fathers.

In his final Chrism Mass Homily in 2004, Saint John Paul II offered these words.”The today of the Gospel’s fulfillment is renewed in a very special way during the Chrism Mass which is a true prelude to the Easter Triduum. If the Mass of the Lord’s Supper accentuates the mystery of the Eucharist and the presentation of the new commandment of love, the Chrism Mass gives prominence to the gift of the ministerial priesthood. The Eucharist and the priesthood are two sacraments born together, and their destiny is indissolubly linked until the end of the world.”

The faithful of the Diocese of Jackson echoed these words throughout the past year during the process of pastoral planning when they expressed their love for the Eucharist and the priesthood, and how important it is to create a culture of vocations that will inspire a generosity to hear the call of the Lord in the priesthood.

Pope Benedict, in his final Chrism Mass homily in 2012 recalled Jesus’ great priestly prayer of departure from this world in Saint John’s Gospel to further reflect upon the gift of priesthood that the Chrism Mass presents. The power of truth, mission, and unity is evident in Jesus’ words. “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world. Consecrate them in the truth. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one. Father, they are your gift to me.”

Pope Benedict asks: But what does it mean to be consecrated in truth? He says:

“We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another, of Christ. I do not own myself, and I become myself by the very fact that I transcend myself, and thereby become a part of Christ, a part of his body the Church. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs only to himself. People must sense our zeal through which we bear credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Pope Francis, during his homily to priests and religious during World Youth Day in Poland last year spoke in the same vein, recalling the words of Saint John Paul.

“Open wide the doors to Christ and the hurdles associated with it. We can often be tempted to remain enclosed, out of fear or convenience. But Jesus directs us to a one-way street, that of going forth from ourselves, a one-way trip with no return ticket, setting out on the path of self gift. Nor does Jesus like journeys made halfway, doors half closed. He asks us to pack lightly for the journey, to set out renouncing our own security, with him alone as our strength, not limited to trails already blazed, but open and faithful to the paths pointed out by the Spirit in whom we have been anointed.”

The Church now asks you to pray for me and my brother priests as we renew our commitment begun on our ordination day. Pray that the Holy Spirit may stir into flame the gift of God that all of us received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders that we may continue to respond as self-gift in the footsteps of our Lord, for God’s glory and the salvation of all.

 

Doing violence in God’s name

IN EXILE

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Blaise Pascal once wrote: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” How true! This has been going on since the beginning of time and is showing few signs of disappearing any time soon. We still do violence and evil and justify them in God’s name.

We see countless examples of this in history. From the time that we first gained self-consciousness, we’ve done violence in God name. It began by sacrificing human persons to try to attain God’s favor and it led to everything from actively persecuting others for religious reasons, to waging war in God’s name, to burning people for heresy at the Inquisition, to practicing capital punishment for religious reasons, and, not least, at one point in history, to handing Jesus over to be crucified out of our misguided religious fervor.

These are some salient historical examples; sadly not much has changed. Today, in its most gross form, we see violence done in God’s name by groups like Al-Qaida and Isis who, whatever else might be their motivation, believe that they are serving God and cleansing the world in God’s name by brute terrorism and murder. The death of thousands of innocent people can be justified, they believe, by the fact that this is God’s cause, so sacred and urgent that it allows for the bracketing of all basic standards of humanity, decency, and normal religion. When it’s for God’s cause, outright evil is rationalized.

Happily, it’s impossible for most of us to justify this kind of violence and murder in our minds and hearts, but most of us still justify this kind of sacral violence in more subtle modes. Many of us, for instance, still justify capital punishment in the name of divine justice, believing that God’s purposes demand that we kill someone. Many too, justify abortion by an appeal to our God-given freedoms. Not least, virtually all of us justify certain violence in our language and discourse because we feel that our cause is so special and sacred that it gives us the right to bracket some of the fundamentals of Christian charity in our dealings with those who disagree with us, namely, respect and graciousness.

Our language, in both the circles of right and the left, is rife with a violence we justify in God’s name. On the right, issues like abortion and the defense of dogma are deemed so important as to give us permission to demonize others. On the left, issues of economic and ecological injustice, because they so directly affect the poor, similarly give us permission to bracket respect and graciousness. Both sides like to justify themselves with an appeal to God’s righteous anger.

There’s a story in John’s Gospel, delicious in its irony, which helps expose how we are so often blind to the violence we do in God’s name. It’s the famous incident of the woman who is caught in adultery. They bring her to Jesus and tell him that they caught her in the very act of committing adultery and that Moses commanded, in God’s name, that women like this be stoned to death. Jesus, for his part, says nothing.

He bends down and writes with his finger, twice, on the ground and then tells them the one among them who’s without sin might cast the first stone. They understand the gesture: why he is writing on the ground, why he is writing twice, and what that means. What does it mean?

Moses went up a mountain and God, with his finger, wrote the Ten Commandments into two tablets of stone. As Moses approached the Israelite camp on his return, carrying the two tablets of stone, he caught the people in the very act of committing idolatry. What did he do? In a fit of religious fervor, he broke the Commandments, literally, physically, over the golden calf and then picked up the fragments and threw those stones at the people.

So here’s the irony from which to draw a lesson: Moses was the first person to break the Ten Commandments. He broke them in God’s name and then took the fragments and stoned the people. He did this violence in all sincerity, caught up in religious fervor. Of course, afterwards, he had to go back up the mountain and have the Commandments written a second time. However before giving Moses the Commandments a second time, God also gave him a lecture: Don’t stone people with the Commandments! Don’t do violence in my name!

We’ve been very slow to grasp this mandate and take it seriously. We still find every sort of moral and religious justification for doing violence in God’s name. We are still, like Moses, smashing the Commandments on what we consider idolatrous and then stoning others with the fragments.

This is evident everywhere in our religious and moral discourse, particularly in how we, as Pascal might put it, in God’s name, “completely and cheerfully” bracket charity as it pertains to graciousness and respect.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

 

Resurrection hope overcomes persecution

Millennial reflections

By Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.

I write this on Monday of Holy Week. For the last few years I have been working to get our Catholic people aware of our fellow Christians in the Middle East who undergo consistent persecution by fanatics. These Eastern Christians are descendants of the first Christians from Biblical times. On Palm Sunday the Coptic Church in Egypt, St. George in Tanta and St. Mark in Alexandria were bombed. Pictures of people and clergy with palms in their hands, bloodied and in shock tells me they are us, and we are them. Pope Francis sent his condolences and referred to their patriarch, Pope Tawadros II as his brother.

The patron of our priory was a Coptic monk whose relics are in a monastery east of Cairo. He is a popular saint in Egypt, Abba Moses or Moses the Black. Despite historical and theological differences, we Catholics and the Eastern Christians have much in common. Historically Muslims and Christians have gotten along and coexisted peacefully. Muslim leaders condemned these attacks by people who distort Islam and are fanatics. They, too, sent their condolences and support.

I begin this Holy Week/Easter column with this account to focus us on the joy of our religion. We celebrate a grizzly execution, year after year. We read the long account of Christ’s Passion and death, only to glory in his resurrection. From the beginning Christians were persecuted.

In fact martyrdom was the highest state of Christians. When the imperial persecutions ended, people began the monastic life in the deserts as a substitute for martyrdom. All these accounts tell from their death came heavenly glory. Christ died and rose, and so do the martyrs. Persecution never eliminates Christians, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” When the emperor became Christian began a new chapter in the history of Christianity.

This can be said in so many ways. Truth always overcomes falsehood. Good always triumphs over evil. Easter says this loud and clear.

God became human and shared human sorrow, suffering and death. Shawn Copeland, an African-American Catholic theologian wrote a piece about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. She writes, “With Palm Sunday comes the week that Christians cherish as no other.” In Rome, in Alexandria, in Jackson Mississippi, we see the same symbols, the ornate palms, the same Gospel passages. Different ceremonies, different languages, but, Oh so familiar. So it goes all week long, even to the glorious day of Resurrection. The Greeks say, “Christos Anasti!’ We say, “Christ has Risen!”

The mystery and joy of Easter is that our God became human and allowed himself to be beaten, mocked, spit upon and die a most ignominious and prolonged death. Total vulnerability. Dr. Copeland says, “The idea of a suffering God disturbs and unsettles us. If our God so suffers, is so exposed to the brutality and power of the world, what shall become of us?”

She writes, “We stand with our God only insofar as we stand beside and wait in active and compassionate solidarity with children, women and men who suffer concretely, unbeautifully, and actually in our world, which is God’s world, the poor, oppressed and excluded; abused children, battered women and homeless men.” We stand and wait in love ‘for Love to cast upon us the rays of dark, divine glory.’”

Then, still standing at the tomb, we see the light and the power, the glory of the Risen Christ like nothing else, and feel that healing, that unity that completion of all that is human on this earth, and feel the glory of heaven.

This is why Christianity is never pessimistic. It may accompany the suffering and the horrible, but in the end, the devil loosens his grip and change takes place. We may call it freedom. We may call it redemption. We can call it love overcoming and destroying hate. It is the creature reflecting perfectly the image of its creator. Genesis is fulfilled.

(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

 

Encuentro’s hope: nationwide impact

The trend has been clear for a long time. Hispanic and Latino Catholics make up the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. Catholic Church – continuing the long tradition of a church that embraces newcomers as brothers and sisters in Christ.

That’s true in the Archdiocese of New York, where Hispanics and Latinos are estimated at 43 percent of the Catholic population, and it’s true in the major population centers of the country, such as Los Angeles, South Florida, the border areas of Texas and many other places.

A recent report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University commissioned by the U.S. bishops shows that more than half of millennial-generation Catholics born in 1982 or later are Hispanic or Latino.

So, it’s exciting to watch a major effort unfold, with the aim of bringing Hispanic and Latino Catholics closer to the church at every level and encouraging them toward leadership now and in the future.

An initiative of the U.S. bishops, V Encuentro, as it’s called, is the Fifth National Encuentro (Encounter), a synod-like process designed to prepare the church to better recognize and promote the gifts and talents that this growing community of Hispanic/Latino Catholics has to share with the church and society.

Preparations began last year, with training sessions for parish leaders, who will help organize parish encuentros throughout the archdiocese through June. Participating parishes also will take part in a one-day archdiocesan-wide Encuentro later in the year, followed by a regional Encuentro in June 2018 in Albany. The national V Encuentro is set for Sept. 20-23, 2018, in Grapevine, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The theme is “Missionary Disciples: Witness of God’s Love,” and it’s expected that more than 7 million Catholics will be involved at some level, with more than 5,000 parishes participating in the process.

Those are impressive numbers, and if they hold up – and we have no reason to think they won’t – it would be a major home run for the church and for its Hispanic/Latino members.

Here in the Archdiocese of New York, the process is being shepherded by the extremely capable Wanda Vasquez, the director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, who’s been a dedicated and hard-working member of the archdiocesan leadership team for many years.

She sees V Encuentro as an opportunity to “build a culture of encuentro,” where parishioners can “enter a relationship with Jesus Christ, collaborate with each other” and reach out to those who have fallen away from the church.

“As Pope Francis has taught us in the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’ we need to get out of our comfort zones, go into the peripheries and reach out to those who have gone astray, especially those who are in high-risk situations,” she said, after a recent training session for parish leaders held at Fordham University.

Vasquez, and other organizers, hope the Encuentro process will yield an increase in vocations of Latinos to the priesthood, religious life and permanent diaconate; create a group of Latino leaders for the church; bring an increase in the percentage of Latino students enrolling at Catholic schools; as well as an increase Latinos’ sense of belonging and stewardship in the U.S. church.

From what we’ve seen so far, the passion and commitment is there. We pray that the results will reflect that, too.

(“Building ‘a culture of encuentro’” was first printed in the March 30 issue of Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York. Teams across the Diocese of Jackson are working on the V Encuentro here. The effort dovetails perfectly with the new diocesan Pastoral Priorites.)

 

Other Persons Are a Gift

Guest Column

By Sister Constance Veit, lsp

Sr_Constance Veit

A few days ago I met a very little girl who made a big impression on me. Grace and her older brother Benedict suffer from a rare genetic disorder that has resulted in serious hearing impairment and limited physical growth. The two come to our home for the elderly each week with their mother to pray the rosary with our residents. Watching Grace and Benedict interact with the elderly, I was amazed by their maturity and graciousness. I almost felt that I was in the presence of angels – such was the radiance of these two beautiful little ones in the midst of our frail seniors.

In all likelihood, Grace and Benedict will never make an impact on the world scene, and yet I believe that they, and so many other little, hidden souls, make a huge difference in our world spiritually. This is what our Holy Father is suggesting by his Lenten message this year. The theme he has proposed for our 2017 journey through Lent is The Word Is a Gift. Other Persons Are a Gift.

Using the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from St. Luke’s Gospel, Pope Francis turns our attention to those whom we might usually ignore. He compares the anonymity of the rich man, who is never named in Scripture, with Lazarus, who appears with a specific name and a unique story. Lazarus “becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast.”

The Holy Father continues, “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value.” Lent, he says, is a favorable season for recognizing the face of Christ in God’s little ones. “Each of us meets people like this every day,” says the pope. “Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.”

This is what our foundress Saint Jeanne Jugan did so beautifully. Mindful of Christ’s promise that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him, she opened her heart and her home definitively to the needy elderly of her day. She often counseled the young Little Sisters, “Never forget that the poor are Our Lord … When you will be near the poor give yourself wholeheartedly, for it is Jesus himself whom you care for in them.”

Jeanne Jugan looked upon each elderly person with the loving gaze of Christ and so she saw each one as a treasure worthy of reverence and loving care. She knew that despite outward appearances, each person to whom she offered hospitality was someone for whom Christ died and rose again; each one was someone worthy of the gift of her own life.

Pope Francis’ prayer this Lent is that the Holy Spirit will lead us “on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.” Let us pray for one another, he concluded, “so that by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and the poor. Then we will be able to share to the full the joy of Easter.”

I thank God for my recent encounter with Grace and Benedict, for they opened my eyes anew to the beauty in each human person. My wish for you this Lent is that God lead might you to a similar life-changing encounter.

(Sister Constance Veit is the director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

 

Pastoral Plan in practice – Embracing Diversity

Seminarians speak

By Deacon Nick Adam

Nick Adam

The goals of the pastoral plan for the diocese are everywhere: embrace diversity, serve others, inspire disciples. They were formulated at more than a dozen listening sessions as Bishop Kopacz darted across dozens of counties on hundreds of Mississippi roads. Now they will be printed in bulletins, on prayer cards, in Mississippi Catholic, heck, they are even posted on bishop’s Twitter profile picture.

The best thing about the high profile reach of these goals is that the words start to sink into us and we begin to reflect on how we are doing with them without really having to think about it. The most challenging thing about these goals is that we now are called to put them into practice! I would like to take some time engaging each of these goals and offer reflections on pastoral situations that have shed light on these goals in my own ministry.

I had a wonderful, life-giving conversation recently with a friend about a very sensitive issue which led me to think about how we can embrace diversity in our diocese. The transgender movement is becoming more and more prevalent in our country and that means that priests, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers and parishioners will be confronted with this reality sooner or later.

The question has naturally arisen: how are we as a Church to deal with a person who believes that they were meant to be another sex? The answer, at one level, comes easily. We are Christians, and we were taught from an early age that we should accept and love everyone, always following Christ’s command to love one another as ourselves, and we should! We are also Catholic, however, and this means that we must affirm the inherit dignity of men and women as created in the image and likeness of God, and we cannot accept that God would be responsible for a case of “mistaken identity.”

In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II provides a beautiful and extensive reflection on the fact that our bodies literally tell a story about us. Man is literally made for woman and woman is literally made for man. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve committed the original sin of trying to be like God. They did not realize that their destiny was not personally fulfilling all of their goals and all their desires, but the fulfillment of God’s design for them. God is the only being that is pure Love and pure Goodness, and so we always want to act in a way that is in accordance with God’s will for us.

Of course, this can mean that we run into difficulties, pain and suffering. Christ’s passion is proof that doing God’s will is not without hardship. But in this truth lies the beauty of our faith. Catholicism makes sense to me because it is the only faith that does not seek to mask or dull the pain that we all encounter in our lives, but it allows us to bring that pain to the cross and unite it to Jesus Christ.

So back to the conversation I had a few months ago about the transgender movement. My friend pleaded with me that every person deserves to be heard in the Church. They should not be skirted ‘round or whispered about just because they live their life in a different way, in short they deserve to be brought into the life of the parish. After all, these people would not show up at the Church if they did not want to be a part of it. Here my friend is right on! This is the heart of our Pastoral Plan. This is the essence of not only embracing diversity, but embracing a diverse diversity.

But we also disagreed on a few things. There are multiple studies that claim that reassignment surgery for those people who experience gender dysphoria is actually more psychologically harmful than helpful, but many times these arguments fall flat because they deny the very real feelings that men and women have regarding their own identity. I didn’t go that route with my friend, but where I really disagreed with him was when he denied the objective truth of our identity in God. God made us man and woman for a reason, and while it is true that in our broken world those identities can get skewed, this does not give us free reign to make ourselves our own god.

I would argue that a true embrace of diversity must be rooted in the Truth we affirm each and every Sunday. God is the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, and we are not. This issue should not be something that we shy away from. We should embrace the diversity of our culture and enter into real conversations with people of varying opinions and welcome them into our faith communities. It is incontrovertible; however, that as baptized Catholics we do believe that there is objective truth out there, with a big-T! That Truth comes from God, and even if believing it causes us some suffering in this life, we know that there is a much greater goal than this life out there…Heaven!

(Deacon Nick Adam will serve a year at Jackson St. Richard Parish as he prepares for priestly ordination in 2018)

Our shadow and self-understanding

IN EXILE

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

RonRolheiser_CMYK

What is meant when certain schools of psychology today warn us about our “shadow?” What’s our shadow?

In essence, it’s this: We have within us powerful, fiery energies that, for multiple reasons, we cannot consciously face and so we handle them by denial and repression so as to not have to deal with them. Metaphorically speaking, we bury them in the hidden ground of our souls where they are out of conscious sight and mind.

But there’s a problem: What we’ve buried doesn’t stay hidden. While these energies are out of conscious sight and conscious mind, they continue to deeply impact our feelings, thoughts and actions by pushing through in all kinds of unconscious ways to color our actions, mostly negatively. Our deep, innate energies will always act out, consciously or unconsciously. Carl Jung, one of the pioneer voices in this, says that we are doomed to act out unconsciously all the archetypal configurations which we do not access and control through conscious ritual.

Perhaps a simple image can be helpful in understanding this. Imagine living in a house with a basement beneath your living room, a basement into which you never venture and every time you need to dispose of some garbage you simply open the basement door and dump the garbage there. For a while, that can work, it’s out of sight and out of mind; but soon enough that garbage will begin to ferment and its toxic fumes will begin to seep upward through the vents, polluting the air you breathe. It wasn’t a bother, for a time, but eventually it poisons the air.

That’s a helpful image, though it’s one-sided in that it has us only throwing our negative garbage downstairs. Interestingly, we also throw into that same place those parts of us that frighten us in their luminosity. Our own greatness also scares us and we too bury huge parts of it. Our shadow is not just made up of the negative parts that frighten us; it is also made up of the most luminous parts of us that we feel too frightened to handle. In the end, both the negative and positive energies inside us, which we are too frightened to handle, come from one and the same source, the image and likeness of God imprinted in us.

The most fundamental thing we believe about ourselves as Christians is that we are made in the image and likeness of God. However it isn’t very helpful to imagine this as a beautiful icon stamped inside our souls. Rather we might think of it as irrepressible divine energy, infinite eros and infinite spirit, constantly wrestling with the confines of our finitude. No surprise then that we have to contend with energies, feelings, pressures and impulses that frighten and threaten us in their magnitude.

Ironically, the struggle with this can be particularly trying for sensitive people; the more sensitive you are, morally and religiously, the more threatening these energies can be. Why? Because two fears tend to afflict sensitive souls: First, the fear of being egoistical. Greatness isn’t easy to carry and few carry it well and sensitive souls know this.

The wild and the wicked unreflectively feed off of sacred fire, except they aren’t known for their sensitivity and too often end up hurting others and themselves. Sensitive souls find themselves considerably more reflective and timid and for good reason. They’re afraid of being full of themselves, egotists, unhealthily imposing. But that timidity doesn’t everywhere serve them well. Too sensitive in dealing with certain energies inside them, they sometimes end up too empty of God.

The second reason sensitive people tend to bury much of their luminosity is because they’re more in touch with that primal fear within us that’s expressed in the famous Greek myth of Prometheus, namely, that our most creative energies might somehow be an affront to God, that we might be stealing fire from the gods. Sensitive people worry about pride, about being too full of ego. Healthy as that is in itself, it often leads them to bury some or much of their luminosity.

The consequence isn’t good. Like the negative parts of ourselves we bury, our buried luminosity too begins to ferment, turn into toxic fumes and seep upward through the vents of our consciousness. Those fumes take the form of free-range anger, jealousy, bitterness and cold judgments of others. So much of our undirected anger, constantly looking for someone or something to land on, is the shadow side of a greatness, which is repressed and buried.

Where to go in the face of this? James Hillman suggests that a symptom suffers most when it doesn’t know where it belongs. We need more spiritual guides who can diagnose this. Too often our spiritualities have been naïve in their diagnosis of human pride and ego. We need more spiritual guides who can recognize how we too much bury parts of our luminosity and how our fear of being too full of ourselves can leave us too empty of God.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)