Bible, like cellphone, should be carried always

By Junno Arocho Estaves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians should care about reading God’s messages in the Bible as much as they care about checking messages on their cellphones, Pope Francis said.
As Christ did in the desert when tempted by Satan, men and women can defend themselves from temptation with the word of God if they “read it often, meditate on it and assimilate it” into their lives, he said before praying the Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 5.
“What would happen if we turned back when we forget it, if we opened it more times a day, if we read the messages of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?” the pope asked the crowd.
The pope’s reflection centered on the day’s Gospel reading (Mt. 4:1-11) in which Jesus is tempted by the devil while fasting in the desert for 40 days and nights before beginning his ministry.
Satan, he said, attempts to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling his message and to undermine his divinity by tempting him twice to perform miracles like “a magician” and lastly, by adoring “the devil in order to have dominion over the world.”
“Through this triple temptation, Satan wants to divert Jesus from the path of obedience and humiliation – because he knows that through that path evil will be defeated – and take him on the false shortcut of success and glory,” the pope said.
However, Jesus deflects “the poisonous arrows of the devil” not with his own words but “only with the Word of God.”
Christians, the pope continued, are called to follow Jesus’ footsteps and “confront the spiritual combat against the evil one” through the power of God’s word which has the “strength to defeat Satan.”
“The Bible contains the word of God, which is always relevant and effective. Someone once said: What would happen if we treated the Bible like we treated our cellphones? What would happen if we always brought it with us, or at least a small pocket-sized Gospel?” he asked.
While the comparison between the Bible and a cellphone is “paradoxical,” he added, it is something that all Christians are called to reflect on during the Lenten season.
“If we have the Word of God always in our hearts, no temptation could separate us from God and no obstacle would deviate us from the path of good,” the pope said.
After praying the Angelus prayer with the faithful in the square, Pope Francis asked for prayers before departing for a weeklong Lenten retreat with members of the Roman Curia.
Lent, he said, “is the path of the people of God toward Easter, a path of conversion, of fighting evil with the weapons of prayer, fasting and works of charity,” Pope Francis said. “I wish everyone a fruitful Lenten journey,” he said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Nothing is Ever Really Ours

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

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Father Ron Rolheiser

Everything is gift. That’s a principle that ultimately undergirds all spirituality, all morality and every commandment. Everything is gift. Nothing can be ultimately claimed as our own. Genuine moral and religious sensitivity should make us aware of that. Nothing comes to us by right.
This isn’t something we automatically know. During a class some years ago, a monk shared with me how, for all the early years of his religious life, he had been resentful because he had to ask permission of his Abbott if he wanted anything: “I used to think it was silly, me, a grown man, supposedly an adult, having to ask a superior if I wanted something. If I wanted a new shirt, I would have to ask the Abbott for permission to buy it. I thought it was ridiculous that a grown man was reduced to being like a child.”
But there came a day when he felt differently. “I am not sure of all the reasons, but one day I came to realize that there was a purpose and wisdom in having to ask permission for everything. I came to realize that nothing is ours by right and nothing may be taken as owned. Everything’s a gift. Everything needs to be asked for. We need to be grateful to the universe and to God just for giving us a little space.
Now, when I ask permission from the Abbott because I need something, I no longer feel like a child. Rather, I feel like I’m properly in tune with the way things should be, in a gift-oriented universe within which none of us has a right to ultimately claim anything as one’s own.
This is moral and religious wisdom, but it’s a wisdom that goes against the dominant ethos within our culture and against some of our strongest inclinations. Both from without and from within, we hear voices telling us: If you cannot take what you desire then you’re weak, and weak in a double way. First, you’re a weak person, too timid to fully claim what’s yours. Second, you’ve been weakened by religious and moral scruples so as to be incapable of seizing the day. To not claim what is yours, to not claim ownership, is not a virtue but a fault.
It was those kinds of voices that this monk was hearing during his younger years and because of them he felt resentful and immature.
But Jesus wouldn’t echo these voices. The Gospels make it pretty clear that Jesus would not look on so much that is assertive, aggressive and accumulative within our society, despite the praise and envy it receives, and see this as admirable, as healthily seizing the day. I doubt too that Jesus would share our admiration of the rich and famous who claim, as by right, their excessive wealth and status.
When Jesus states that it is harder for a rich person to go to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, he might have mitigated this by adding: “Unless, of course, the rich person, childlike, asks permission from the universe, from the community, and from God, every time he buys a shirt!” When Jesus tells us that children and the poor go to heaven more easily he is not idolizing either their innocence or poverty. He’s idolizing the need to recognize and admit our dependence. Ultimately we don’t provide for ourselves and nothing is ours by right.
When I was in the Oblate novitiate, our novice master tried to impress upon us the meaning of religious poverty by making us write inside of every book that was given us the Latin words: Ad Usum. Latin for: For use. The idea was that, although this book was given to you for your personal use, you ultimately did not own it. It’s was just yours temporarily.
We were then told that this was true of everything else given us for our personal use, from our toothbrushes to the shirts on our backs. They were not really ours, but merely given us for our use.
One of the young men in that novitiate eventually left the order and became a medical doctor. He remains a close friend and he once shared with me how even today, as a doctor, he still writes those words, Ad Usum, inside all his books: “I don’t belong to a religious order and don’t have the vow of poverty, but that principle our novice master taught us is just as valid for me in the world as it is for any professed religious. Ultimately we don’t own anything. Those books aren’t mine, really. They’ve been given me, temporarily, for my use. Nothing belongs to anybody and it’s good never to forget that!”
It’s not a bad thing as an adult to have to ask permission to buy a new shirt. It reminds us that the universe belongs to everyone and that all of us should be deeply grateful that it gives us even a little space.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Giving up by ‘going out’

Forming our future
By Karla Luke
Lent has always been my favorite time of year. So many things happen during those forty days! Time change, spring break, seafood, seasons change, oh did I happen to mention spring break! Spiritually, I have always looked forward to this time of renewal – the time that the Church teaches us to focus our actions on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in an effort to deepen our relationship with Christ.
As children, some years ago, we were encouraged to “give up” something for Lent to show that we suffer with Christ. Through the years, I have “given up” everything from chocolate, sodas, and favorite TV shows to impatience, judgment, and unforgiveness. But if we want to truly deepen our relationship with Christ, we must move beyond the stage of merely sharing in His suffering and realize the purpose of His suffering: to hear the call to action. We as Catholic Christians are called to do more!
Consider this part of the Gospel proclaimed on Monday, the first week of Lent, Matthew 25:37-38, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?’” Those very words remind me of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium in which he urges us to “go out” and meet Christ by having a personal encounter with others. We, as a church have many opportunities to fulfill our Lenten obligation to pray, fast and give alms simply by encountering the people around us.
On the road to Calvary, Jesus encountered many who shared in His suffering, but only a few moved beyond that sharing and took action. In the fourth station, Jesus met His mother who, unafraid of what others might think, offered Him gentleness and comfort to soothe Him on this difficult journey. In the fifth station, Simon of Cyrene, an unwilling participant along the way, helped Christ carry His cross.
Though scripture does not tell us directly, I choose to believe that Simon must have been transformed by this experience with Jesus. In the sixth station, Veronica in an act of love wiped the face of the suffering Messiah. In that moment, Jesus showed us once again that if we come to Him in faith, He will bless us in return. He left Veronica with an imprint of his countenance upon her cloth.
While many see these times as challenging; financially, politically and socially, I see an area of great opportunity for us to prove that we are indeed able to carry out the kingdom of God on earth. The opportunity to meet Christ in the homeless, immigrants and the working poor is also present in meeting the fallen away, the uncaring, the angry and those whose hearts are wounded. These, our brothers and sisters in Christ, are all worthy of our continuous prayers. We help our universal family, not so much by changing their condition; but, by changing ourselves! We embrace the spirit of “going out” from within ourselves, without fear like Mary, sometimes unwilling like Simon, to share the gift of ourselves with others only to see the imprint of Christ upon our hearts.
So, as we approach this halfway mark during this holy season of Lent, my favorite time of year, let’s use the remaining twenty-one days, to listen to the call of Pope Francis and “go out” – out from within yourselves, to share empathetically in the plight of others by praying for all people.
Let’s fast from selfishness, anger, hatred, indifference, judging others and lack of forgiveness; all of which keep us from being a loving community. Give your alms by sharing material goods but also by sharing yourself, a true gift of God, with others. Blessings on a Holy Lenten season!
(Karla Luke is the Coordinator of operational and support service for Catholic Schools in the diocese. She can be contact at karla.luke@jacksondiocese.org)

Bringing new vision to fruition takes effort

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I was scrolling through my social media the other day when I saw an interesting meme. It said, “We are responsible for the effort, not the outcome.” I didn’t give it too much thought as I breezed by, continuing to scroll. Suddenly, something stopped me and I went back and re-read the meme. What at first glance seemed like an innocent remark; on further inspection gave me cause to reflect. Intentional or not statements like this legitimize our aversion as Christians to take responsibility for our faith.
I thought about the implications of this statement. It sounded a wee bit like a like a cop-out, as in “oh well, I made the effort!” Yes, effort is important. And, yes, there are situations where no matter how intense one’s effort may be the outcome does not depend on us. But, in most cases, the outcome can be measured by the level of commitment to the effort.
We are in the process of rolling out the bishop’s pastoral plan. It articulates three priorities that have been identified over the past year. The process began with listening sessions and included an Envisioning Team that took the comments from the listening sessions and framed a mission and priorities for the diocese. One of the priorities is facilitating life-long formation of intentional disciples. While that sounds like a lovely sentiment, what exactly does it mean? I see intentional discipleship as a concerted effort to engage individuals, families and communities in our Catholic faith.
For me this kind of catechesis must connect both the head (our intellect) with the heart. We must literally fall in love with the person of Christ in order to maintain a lifetime commitment to our faith. But, love of God must be accompanied with an intellectual understanding of what we believe as Catholics and why we believe it. Bringing this vision to fruition depends on all of us making an effort. It also depends on all of us working to ensure our efforts produce a positive outcome. Intentional discipleship is like a slow burning fire. Once a spark catches fire, properly tended it continues to burn if we feed the fire. As Catholics, the spark that becomes fire at Baptism must be attended to until the day we die. I was at a conference where I heard a speaker remark that we take infants, baptize them and then tell the families to come back for religious education once the child reaches kindergarten age. He implored us to think about providing a catechetical opportunity for that young family when, “the cement is still wet.”
If we are tired of folks showing up just for the sacraments in our religious education programs we have to ask ourselves why they are not coming the other years. We must be brave enough to ask the tough questions and be prepared to shift our thinking to achieve our goals.
I have said in the past that one of the greatest gifts I bring to my current position from my days in campus ministry are the memories of young people who showed up and sought to deepen their relationship with God as young adults. I must admit, some young people gravitate to campus ministry in college because they are socially awkward and the Church is a comfortable place to be. But, by far, most young people show up at campus ministry because they had one or more of the following: a great religious education program in their home parish, a great Catholic school, a great family and home environment or a great group of friends that encouraged them to get involved. The natural question is how do we emulate those environments to produce young adults who seek an adult relationship with God and the Catholic faith? Understanding the “how” for subsequent generations is an example of what intentional discipleship is all about.
I encourage all of you who are part of your parish’s faith formation team to take an active role in the promotion of the pastoral priorities, most specifically lifelong faith formation. Get involved! Most of all do not be afraid to shake things up a little bit. Lifelong faith formation includes religious education of our children, youth ministry, campus ministry, adult faith formation, family ministry, evangelization and RCIA.
Make sure leaders of your faith formation teams have input. Intentional disciples are nurtured. Intentional discipleship requires a continuity of care from the womb to the tomb. Most of all it requires a concerted and consistent effort. All of us, working together toward this priority, can transform and energize our formation programs. Remember, the outcome is a byproduct of the input. Good input; good outcome. Be assured of my commitment to help you in any way I can to ensure the successful implementation of the pastoral priorities in your parish.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the diocese. She can be contact at fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org)

Lenten sacrifice can benefit Mississippi’s poor

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As Lent begins what do we do about Lenten practices, deeper conversion, spiritual growth, salvation. The Scripture readings from the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday bear some reflection.
Mark 10:17-27 presents the story of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has kept the Commandments from his youth. Jesus looked at him lovingly and said “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man went away sad, for he had many possessions.
The disciples were amazed when Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” Is our reaction not the same? The world tells us just the opposite. Wealth makes us happy. Things satisfy us and money lets us buy them. New cars free us and extravagant resorts pamper us. But Jesus tells us simply that neither wealth nor anything else from ourselves can possibly save us. Salvation is only possible for God.
Lent asks us to embrace this reality. We must choose God or mammon. We can’t have both. But isn’t that exactly what we want, to have both? Isn’t that our struggle, our daily temptation?
Thank God we are all still works in progress and God knows that and is merciful. He sent his son to make salvation a true possibility for us. We couldn’t do it on our own. Lent is a perfect time to embrace Jesus in order to be saved. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditional and proven practices to open us to embrace Jesus, to choose God over mammon.
Serving the poor among us never fails to get us out of ourselves so that we touch Jesus in the poor and thereby choose God rather than mammon. We leave a little of our selfishness behind and perhaps open ourselves enough for Jesus to come in and help our conversion to continue to mature.
Giving up something for Lent is another tried-and-true practice for deeper conversion and spiritual growth preparing us step by step for God’s salvation. Make it hurt a little. It may be alcohol if you drink or sugar if you overeat or whatever needs work in your particular situation. Make it very positive by giving the extra money saved to Catholic Relief Service (CRS) Rice Bowl. CRS serves the poor and desperate in 100 countries throughout the world and leaves 25 percent of the Rice Bowl collection in the diocese to aid the poor at home. This too is a choice of God over mammon and a step toward salvation.
In Mark’s Gospel (10:28-31) Peter, somewhat pleading, tells Jesus “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus lovingly reassures Peter and us. “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age….and eternal life in the age to come.”
Lent is the perfect time for each of us to respond more fully to Jesus’ call. He has promised us if we live our lives for the sake of the Gospel and choose him rather than mammon, we will not only have eternal life but will also be blessed NOW a hundred fold. The Kingdom begins NOW when we choose the Lord over mammon. Lent is a great time to do what is necessary to finalize that choice. We have Jesus’ promise if we do. We have his help to do it.
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Still rolling at four-score and seven

REFLECTIONS ON LIFE
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Four score and seven years ago, my parents brought forth, on this continent, a new person named for my mother’s twin brother, Jerome Gaston Petrie. As you can see, folks, I have finally caught up with President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Although each birthday is a genuine milestone, it is a celebration that must not be allowed to obscure the overwhelming importance of today, each solitary day of our lives. Let alone a year, we cannot grasp a month, not even a week. The most we can handle is one day at a time, and sometimes we must take one hour at a time.
Would you believe that one minute lends itself to our best management of time? I have often quoted, “Just a tiny little minute – but eternity is in it.”
Longevity can be a wonderful thing, and by far most people would like to live a long, productive, enjoyable life sporting a sound mind in a sound body. But far more important than longevity is living every moment at the peak of quality, service, fulfillment, generosity and love. Our desire for life tends to wane as its quality does.
We remain at that peak for some decades before our wonderful body begins to show signs of wear, smile lines on our face, some inset wrinkles in our brow and generous splashes of silver atop the crown of our heads. Through it all, it is of prime concern and importance for peace of mind that we feel comfortable in our own skin.
To my dismay, December 2016 brought along an ineptness in my right thumb and right index finger. No doubt a gradual development, all of a sudden I had trouble picking up a host (the bread) from the ciborium to share Communion during a Mass.
Placing the host on a person’s hand or tongue was equally difficult and hazardous. At the same time, my right thumb lost its ability to strike firmly the advance bar on my computer keyboard, so that I had to learn to compensate with my left hand. I thought back fondly to the times when I would cradle an apple in my hands, dig my thumbs in at the stem and split it in half with scarcely a ripple of my thumb muscles.
Since I have been very observant and analytical about my health for decades, I quickly associated a link between that finger-thumb weakness and a bias of my body toward the left hip that I had noticed in a mirror. That bias has also marked a mild scoliosis that has developed in my spine in the last couple of decades.
To some extent, I have succeeded in arresting that bias development, and I have even been able to reverse it a bit by making a conscious effort to stand tall and erect, pulling my left hip in and rotating my right hip out. Over the years, one tends to slump a tad as muscles weaken. With the deterioration and compression of the cartilage in our spine, we grow shorter as we age. Once 5’11,” I am now 5’8.”
My problems with the host at Mass began in December and peaked in early to mid January as folks became aware that I was on a fishing expedition each time I reached in for a host. Uncharacteristically, I dropped one or two from time to time.
Amazingly, even in real time while I was struggling to grip a host with my thumb and index finger, by rotating my right hip out and forcing myself to distend my spine by standing tall, I was able to grasp a host that I failed to grasp just moments before. By February 4, I had begun to move into a better phase of finger work and control.
When I was suffering from accidental dehydration in late January, Father Lambert insisted that I get my annual physical at Opelousas General. Slapping an IV in my left arm, and later an antibiotic IV also, the nurses ran me through the entire array of tests, measurements, X-rays, CT scans and blood analysis. Seeing all normal outcomes, the head nurse told Father Lambert, “The age of 87 cannot be right.”
Just shy of 87, February 26 changed that. I have no pains arthritic or other, no need for medication, no acidity in my breath or stomach, no memory issues, no fiber problems with bowel movements at least twice and often thrice daily, no mood changes since I was 24, and no desire to be even a partial carnivore/omnivore again.
Considering the huge health benefits that have accrued to me from eating no meats, no seafood, no dairy – nothing that has a mother – no white flour, no white rice, no salt, no sugar, no caffeine, I am not in the least tempted to even dream about consuming any of those things. In fact, the smell of most meats and seafood has become offensive to my nostrils and taste buds. Even desserts turn me off.
With Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday just past us, I am grateful that my entire life is stricter than a Lenten fast, yet happy, with two cups of water and a tablespoon of barleygreen for breakfast, an orange later, a big salad at noon, later, a heated low-sodium, spicy V-8 juice, an evening meal of beans and vegan jambalaya.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Opelousas, La. He has written “Reflections on Life” since 1969.)

Pope: Lent breathes live into world asphyxiated by sin

By Junno Arocho Esteves
ROME (CNS) – Lent is a time to receive God’s breath of life, a breath that saves humanity from suffocating under the weight of selfishness, indifference and piety devoid of sincerity, Pope Francis said.
“Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters,” the pope said March 1 during an Ash Wednesday Mass.
Pope Francis celebrated the Mass after making the traditional Ash Wednesday procession from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill.
After receiving ashes on top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, the pope distributed ashes to the cardinals, his closest aides, some Benedictines and Dominicans.
He also distributed ashes to a family and to two members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten “station church” pilgrimage in Rome.
Lent, he said, is a time to say “no” to “all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.”
The church’s Lenten journey toward the celebration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection is made on a road “leading from slavery to freedom” and “from suffering to joy,” he said.
“Lent is a path: It leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”
The ashes, while a symbol of humanity’s origin from the earth, the pope said, is also a reminder that God breathes new life into people in order to save them from the suffocation of “petty ambition” and “silent indifference.”
“The breath of God’s life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt,” the pope said.
The Lenten season, he continued, is a “time for saying no” to the asphyxia caused by superficial and simplistic analyses that “fail to grasp the complexity of problems” of those who suffer most.
“Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good,” the pope said.
Instead, Pope Francis said, Lent is a time for Christians to remember God’s mercy and “not the time to rend our garments before evil but rather make room in our life for the good we are able to do.”
“Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity,” the pope said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Of Virtue and Sin

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
There’s an axiom which says: Nothing feels better than virtue. There’s a deep truth here, but it has an underside. When we do good things we feel good about ourselves. Virtue is indeed its own reward, and that’s good. However, feeling righteous can soon enough turn into feeling self-righteous. Nothing feels better than virtue; but self-righteousness feels pretty good too.
We see this famously expressed in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee is practicing virtue, his actions are exactly what they should be, but what this produces in him is not humility, nor a sense of his need for God and mercy, but self-righteousness and a critical judgment of others. So too for all of us, we easily become the Pharisee: Whenever we look at another person who’s struggling and say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’, our seeming humble gratitude can indicate two very different things. It can be expressing a sincere thanks for having been undeservedly blessed or can just as easily be expressing a smug self-righteousness about our own sense of superiority.
Classical spiritual writers like John of the Cross, when talking about the challenges we face as walk the way of discipleship, speak about something they call: The faults of those who are beyond initial conversion. What they highlight is this: We are never free from struggle with sin.
As we mature, sin simply takes on ever more subtle modalities inside us. For example, before initial maturity, what we’ve classically called the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, envy, lust, anger, gluttony and sloth) express themselves in us in ways that are normally pretty crass and overt. We see this in children, in adolescents and in the immature. For them, pride is plainly pride, jealousy is jealousy, selfishness is selfishness, lust is lust and anger is anger. There’s nothing subtle or hidden here, the fault is out in the open.
But as we overcome these sins in there crasser forms they invariably take on more subtle forms in our lives. So that now, for instance, when we’re humble, we become proud and self-righteous in our humility. Witness: Nobody can be more smug and judgmental than a new convert or someone in first fervor.
But sin too, has its complexities. Some of our naïve ideas about sin and humility also needed to be critically examined. For example, we sometimes nurse the romantic notion that sinners are humble, aware of their need for forgiveness, and open to God. In fact, as a generalization, this is true for the gospels. As Jesus was preaching, it was the Pharisees that struggled more with his person and message, whereas the sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes, were more open to him. So this can pose a question: Does sin, more than virtue, make us aware of our need for God?
Yes, when the sin is honest, humble, admitted and contrite or when our wrong actions are the result of being wounded, taken advantage of, or exploited. Not all sin is born morally equal: There’s honest sin and dishonest sin.
As human beings, we’re weak and lack the moral strength to always act according to what’s best in us. Sometimes we just succumb to temptation, to weakness. Sin needs no explanation beyond this: We’re human! Sometimes too, people are caught in sinful situations which are really not of their own making. They’ve been abused, made to live in sinful circumstances not of their own choosing, are victims of trafficking, are victims of unjust familial or social situations, or are too-deeply wounded to actualize their own moral faculties.
In situations like this, wrong action is a question of survival not of free choice. As one woman described it to me: “I was simply a dog, biting in order not to be bitten.” In these cases, generally, beneath an understandably hardened, calloused surface lies a still innocent heart that clearly knows its need for God’s mercy. There’s such a thing as honest sin.
But there’s also sin that’s not honest, that’s rationalized, that’s forever buffered by a pride that cannot admit its own sinfulness. The result then, most often, is a hardened, bitter, judgmental soul. When sin is rationalized, bitterness will invariably follow, accompanied by a hatred towards the kind of virtue from which it has fallen. When we rationalize, our moral DNA will not let itself be fooled. It reacts and punishes us by having us hate ourselves. And, when someone hates himself, that hatred will issue forth in a hatred of others and, more particularly, in a hatred of the exact virtue from which he has fallen. For example, it’s no accident that a lot of people having adulterous affairs have a particular cynicism towards chastity.
Finding ourselves as weak and sinful can soften our hearts, make us humble, and open us to receive God’s mercy. It can also harden our souls and make us bitter and judgmental. Not every sinner prays like the Publican.
Virtue makes us grateful. Sin makes us humble.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher, and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.
Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

Take Lenten prayer up a notch

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Prayer, one of the three pillars of Lenten discipline, along with fasting and almsgiving, seems to get the biggest boost during Lent.
Spiritual leaders note that Catholics are most likely praying already and that Lent is a time to make this act even more intentional – to pray more or in a more focused way.
No matter how Catholics choose to up their prayer during Lent’s 40 days, they have opportunities to do so at their own parishes since many of them are offering Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic adoration, added times for confession and maybe even retreats.
Those who can’t make it to anything extra at church can tap into tools for prayer right on their computers or smartphones with everything from virtual Stations of the Cross to apps that track spiritual activities or offer help on preparing for confession, praying the rosary or reading the Bible. Plenty of online retreats also are available including ones specifically geared for Lent.
Father John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan, said Lenten prayers can be divided into two different areas of focus. The first few weeks, he advises people to pray about areas that need to change, but during the second half of Lent, he said, prayers should focus more on trying to understand Jesus’ actions and how Christians are called to respond to them.
If the promptings for more prayer and the abundance of tools or events to guide people in prayer are overwhelming, Catholics also can turn to an approach advised by some spiritual leaders: finding quiet time.
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, said that in today’s busy and often noisy world it’s hard to find quiet, but he urged Catholics in his archdiocese to try it.
“Lent is the season of silence. It is a time to enter into the desert, as Jesus did for 40 days,” he said in his Lenten message posted Feb. 26 on the website of the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.
“Admittedly, silence can make us feel uneasy,” he wrote. “Perhaps it is because silence forces us to think, to feel, to be in touch with those deep areas of our lives where a sense of emptiness or meaninglessness may be lurking in our hearts.”
The cardinal said the Gospels often portray Jesus going off alone in silence to pray, which not only says something about him but indicates something his followers should consider.
Along this line, Cardinal Cupich said he has asked pastors in the Chicago Archdiocese during Lent to allow for extra time for silence during Mass, especially after Communion. “We need this silent time to allow God to speak to us. That means quieting ourselves even from saying prayers and just being aware of what Jesus tells us: we abide in God and God in us.”
Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, the former superior general of the Society of Jesus, gave similar advice in a video interview with The Jesuit Post in which he said, “We need to develop a taste for silence … where we can hear the Spirit.”
He said the act of being silent as a form of prayer is not accomplished in a short time and there is “no formula or magic word” to make it work.
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.)

Trump signs new executive order on refugees, excludes Iraq from ban

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – President Donald Trump’s new executive order temporarily banning refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, signed March 6, now excludes Iraq from the ban.
Iraq had been one of seven nations in the original order, issued Jan. 27 but the implementation of which was blocked in the courts. The new order will not take effect until March 16.
Citizens of four of the countries still part of the ban – Iran, Libya, Somalia and Syria – will be subject to a 90-day suspension of visa processing. This information was given to Congress the week prior to the new executive order. The other two countries that remain part of the ban are Sudan and Yemen.
Lawful permanent residents – green card holders – are excluded from any travel ban.
While the revised executive order is intended to survive judicial scrutiny, those opposed to it have declared plans to mobilize their constituencies to block it. Church World Service and the National Council of Churches announced March 2, that they will unveil a new grass-roots ecumenical initiative in support of refugees.
Catholic immigration advocates were on tenterhooks waiting for the revised executive order, the issuance of which had been long promised but slow in coming.
Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid agency, told Catholic News Service that he had seen communications from “senior White House officials” that would retain the ban, but indicated the indefinite ban on Syrians would be lifted.
Religious preferences found in the would be original order would be erased, but green-card holders would be exempt from the ban. O’Keefe said. The halt of refugee admissions to “determine additional security vetting procedures” would stay in place, he added, and the number of refugee admissions would be cut for the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, from 110,000 to 50,000; an estimated 35,000 have already been admitted since October, according to O’Keefe.
“Some will argue that simply sectioning out the seven Muslim-majority countries is a form of religious discrimination,” O’Keefe said. “What is clear here is that’s it’s within the prerogative of the president to lower the threshold of refugee admissions.”
One effect of the order would be to further strain the refugee-processing system at its biggest point. “The bulk of the system and the biggest part of it are those countries like Lebanon, Turkey, which are taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees,” O’Keefe said. “When we don’t do our part, it’s tough for us to tell other countries to make the sacrifices we need to play their part. The risk of the system collapsing and of governments that are already strained not being willing to keep their doors open is very serious, and we’re very worried about that.”
In Syria, he added, “some people have been (refugees there) for five, six years. They’ve had the hope of resettlement in the United States as one of the things that keeps them going.”
Kim Pozniak, CRS’ communications director, spent a week in mid-February in Amman, Jordan, where untold thousands of refugees are living – two and three families at a time – in small apartments in the city.
“I’ve met with people that are worse off than they were three years ago (when she last visited), simply because they’ve started losing hope,” Pozniak told CNS. “One woman, for example, said they’re so bad off they’re considering moving back to Syria.” Pozniak said the woman’s sister, who still lives in Syria, told her “Look, even if it’s so bad that you have to eat dirt, don’t come back here.”
Even without a ban, the uncertainty can eat away at people, Pozniak said. “I talked with one 74-year-old woman who together with her son has been in the resettlement process in the United States. They had the interview with UN (High Commissioner for Refugees), the interview with the Embassy, had the iris scan taken, now they have no idea when they’ll be resettled. They’re never given an answer as to when, where, how, and that’s the really frustrating part – being in limbo and not knowing where you’re going to be next.”
A Pew Research Center poll released Feb. 27 found Catholics opposing the ban, 62 percent-36 percent. White Catholics were very narrowly in favor, 50 percent-49 percent, while Hispanic and other minority Catholics opposed the ban 81 percent-14 percent.
Members of black Protestant churches (81 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (74 percent) also opposed the ban. Protestants overall supported the ban, 51 percent-46 percent, with 76 percent support from white evangelicals. The Pew survey interviewed 1,503 adults by phone Feb. 7-12.
(Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.)