Go beyond admiration to imitation

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As we continue our journey in faith with the Lord there are times when familiar words of Scripture jump off the page and grab us anew. Mt. 9:9, known as the Call of Mathew, recently did that to me. Jesus “saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” What an extraordinary event. A hated tax collector hears a call from an emerging Jewish leader, leaves his livelihood and follows an itinerant preacher, preserving for us his Gospel including the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.
The other apostles were similarly called, perhaps not as dramatically as Matthew, but called by Jesus to follow him. They too responded to the call. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus and that can be hard. We spend our life trying as best we can to do it. Jesus himself tells us what’s required. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38) Our cross can be many different things: death of a loved one, incapacitating illness, financial insecurity, etc. Jesus challenges us to embrace our cross, whatever it may be, as he did his, and then be open to his help. He showed us graphically in accepting his passion and crucifixion. Our cross cannot be more demanding. Whatever it is, he will be there to help us.
Taking up our cross may sound overwhelming. A recent retreat master helped me wrestle with this concept. His point was that Jesus only asks us to follow him. He suggested that Jesus repeatedly asked those he called in the gospels to follow him. He never asked them to admire him. Jesus does not let us off the hook.
It is easy to admire someone from a distance. We do it all the time. Think of the baseball, football or basketball player that makes an acrobatic play and we sit back and admire it and wish that we could have done something like it. It would have been easy for the apostles to have admired Jesus and his incredible miracles and parables. But Jesus would not let them get away with just admiration. After training them he sent them forth two by two into the towns and villages to follow, to teach and heal as he had taught them. He taught them to imitate him not to simply admire him.
The United States Catholic Bishops add to this theology: To choose the road to discipleship is to dispose oneself for a share in the cross. It is not enough to believe with one’s mind; a Christian must also be a doer of the word, a wayfarer with a witness to Jesus.
The follower, the disciple then must not only admire but imitate Jesus. When Jesus asks Peter three times after the Resurrection if he loved him Peter answered that he did. Then Jesus told him three times to do something: feed my lambs and tend my sheep. (Jn21:15-24). It wasn’t enough for Peter to proclaim his love for Jesus. Like Peter, we must do something to be his follower. We must imitate Jesus, not just admire him.
It must start with Sunday Mass, the sacraments and prayer. Then imitate Jesus in ministering to his lambs and sheep: visit the sick, the dying, the lonely, the imprisoned; help with parish programs and schools; feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty (Mt 25), advocate for the poor and marginalized; welcome the immigrant and refugee; comfort those who seem to be left out. I name only a few ways to imitate and follow Jesus. Add your own ways. Any time you bring Jesus to another person in service of any kind then you have imitated Jesus and lifted your cross.
Fr. Ron Rohlheiser in the May, 20, 2005 edition of Mississippi Catholic adds a profound closing to my thoughts:
“We see – but we don’t see! We feel for the poor – but we don’t really feel for them! – We reach out – but we never reach across. The gap between the rich and poor is in fact widening, not narrowing. It’s widening worldwide, between nations. and it’s widening inside of virtually every culture.
The rich are becoming richer and the poor are being left ever further behind. Almost all the economic boom of the last 20 years has sent its windfall straight to the top, benefitig those who already have the most.
What Jesus asks of us is simply that we see the poor, that we do not let affluence become a narcotic that knocks out our eyesight. Riches aren’t bad and poverty isn’t beautiful. But nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.”
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Consecration an opportunity for diocesan renewal

Seminarian corner
By Deacon Aaron Williams
As the world observes the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, many bishops are taking the opportunity to consecrate their diocese to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima 100 years ago. I am very thankful that our own Bishop Joseph Kopacz has chosen to do likewise, but for more reasons than the simple anniversary of Fatima.
When our diocese was founded 180 years ago, it was originally established under the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows (the titular title of the basilica in Natchez). I have done much reading on the history of our diocese, but I have never been able to find even speculation on why such a title was chosen. It could be as simple as a particular devotion of Bishop Chanche, our founding bishop. Regardless, I find the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows very fitting considering the history of our diocese.
For one thing, the state of Mississippi has a history of sorrow — particularly in our struggles with poverty and racism. Likewise, the history of Catholicism in this state includes the martyrdom of several Jesuit priests and many lay Catholics during the eighteenth century when the Gospel was first brought to Mississippi. Even today, there are struggles in maintaining a Catholic identity in our diocese, especially due to our very small numbers — where most of our schools have a majority of non-Catholic students and many of our parishes find themselves very empty on Sunday.
I suppose we could just give up and say that Catholicism just didn’t work out in Mississippi; but, for that reason, I find Our Lady is still a great patron and model for our diocese today. Of course, Mary’s life and motherhood was filled with various sorrows and often some confusion. I doubt Mary always understood why things had to happen the way they did in her life and in the life of her Son. Still, Mary also experienced great joys and appears as a joyful mother both in her visit to Elizabeth and at the Wedding in Cana.
In this way, Mary stands as a great model of a life-long disciple to Christ by her willingness to endure the struggles of the faith and deeply ponder her joys. For that reason, I find our bishop’s choice very appropriate to coincide this consecration with the launch of the diocese’s Pastoral Priorities. Mary is the model Christian. Thus, if we want to learn how to better express the Christian mission in our diocese, we should look to no other guide than Mary.
The three core goals of our Pastoral Priorities are to create welcoming and reconciling communities, to facilitate life-long discipleship, and to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. At the Wedding in Cana, we see Mary as a sort of reconciler — attempting to prevent the embarrassment of their hosts. Likewise, Our Lady of Fatima requested that we fervently pray for the reconciliation and peace of the world. Surely, Mary can also bring about such reconciliation in our parishes.
I already said that Mary was a life-long disciple of Christ, but it is worth stating that she was also the first disciple. Who better than Mary to teach us how to follow her Son? Finally, Mary’s command to “do whatever he tells you” can be taken by us as a command to make Christ the Lord of our hearts. He was truly both her Son and her Lord, and so by promoting devotion to her, our bishop is proclaiming the Lordship of Christ in our diocese. Likewise, families which make a place for Mary in their home similarly set Christ as the Lord of their family.
I hope that all the priests, religious and lay faithful of our diocese take great advantage of the opportunity given by our bishop in this total consecration to Mary’s Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. There is a lot of room for growth in what is still a very young diocese in the history of the Church. From the beginning, Mary has been the mother of the church in Mississippi and we should frequently request her fervent intercession on our behalf. This consecration is a great opportunity for the renewal of the Catholic faith in our diocese, and we would be making an incredible mistake to not take advantage of this moment.
(Deacon Aaron Williams is concluding a ministry internship with the Catholic Community of Meridian. He and his classmate, Deacon Nick Adam, will return to Notre Dame Seminary within the week to complete their final year of seminary formation before their priestly ordinations on May 31, 2018.)


Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Be still and know that I am God. Scripture assures us that if we are still we will come to know God, but arriving at stillness is easier said than done. As Blaise Pascal once stated, “All the miseries of the human person come from the fact that no one can sit still for one hour.” Achieving stillness seems beyond us and this leaves us with a certain dilemma, we need stillness to find God, but we need God’s help to find stillness. With this in mind, I offer a prayer for stillness.
God of stillness and of quiet …
• Still the restlessness of my youth: still that hunger that would have me be everywhere, that hunger to be connected to everyone, that wants to see and taste all that is, that robs me of peace on a Friday night. Quiet those grandiose dreams that want me to stand out, to be special. Give me the grace to live more contentedly inside my own skin.
• Still the fever I inhale from all the energy that surrounds me, that makes my life feel small. Let me know that my own life is enough, that I need not make an assertion of myself, even as the whole world beckons this of me from a million electronic screens. Give me the grace to sit at peace inside my own life.
• Still my sexuality, order my promiscuous desires, my lusts, my polymorphous aching, my relentless need for more intimacy. Quiet and order my earthy desires without taking them away. Give me the grace to see others without a selfish sexual color.
• Still my anxiety, my heartaches, my worries, and stop me from always being outside the present moment. Let each day’s worries be sufficient onto themselves. Give me the grace to know that you have pronounced my name in love, that my name written in heaven, that I am free to live without anxiety.
• Still my unrelenting need to be busy all the time, to occupy myself, to be always planning for tomorrow, to fill every minute with some activity, to seek distraction rather than quiet. Give me the grace to sit in a quiet that lets me savor a sunset and actually taste the water I’m drinking.
• Still the disappointment that comes with age. Soothe the unacknowledged anger I feel from not achieving much of what I’ve wanted in life, the failure that I feel in the face of all that I’ve left untried and unfinished. Still in me the bitterness that comes from failure. Save me from the jealousy that comes unbidden as I begrudgingly accept the limits of my life. Give me the grace to accept what circumstance and failure have dealt me.
• Still in me the fear of my own shadow, the fear I feel in the face of the powerful, dark forces that unconsciously threaten me. Give me the courage to face my darkness as well as my luminosity. Give me the grace to not be fearful before my own complexity.
• Still in me the congenital fear that I’m unloved, that I’m unlovable, that love has to be earned, that I need to be more worthy. Silence in me the nagging suspicion that I’m forever missing out, that I’m odd, an outsider, that things are unfair, and that I’m not being respected and recognized for who I am. Give me the grace to know that I’m a beloved child of a God whose love need not be earned.
• Still in me my false fear of you, my propensity for a misguided piety, my need to treat you like a distant and feared dignitary rather than as a warm friend. Give me the grace to relate to you in a robust way, as a trusted friend with whom I can jest, wrestle, and relate to in humor and intimacy.
• Still my unforgiving thoughts, the grudges I nurse from my past, from the betrayals I’ve suffered, from the negativity and abuses I’ve been subject to. Quiet in me the guilt I carry from my own betrayals. Still in me all that’s wounded, unresolved, bitter, and unforgiving. Give the quiet that comes from forgiveness.
• Still in me my doubts, my anxieties about your existence, about your concern, and about your fidelity. Calm inside me the compulsion to leave a mark, to plant a tree, to have a child, to write a book, to create some form of immortality for myself. Give me the grace to trust, even in darkness and doubt, that you will give me immortality.
Still my heart so that I may know that you are God, that I may know that you create and sustain my every breath, that you breathe the whole universe into existence every second, that everyone, myself no less than everyone else, is your beloved, that you want our lives to flourish, that you desire our happiness, that nothing falls outside your love and care, and that everything and everybody is safe in your gentle, caring hands, in this world and the next.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Putting disappointment in perspective

Guest Column
By Sister alies therese
“A woman, so says Anthony deMello,SJ, went to the doctor with a very bad summer cold and nothing he gave her seemed to cure it. She was so frustrated. The doctor suggested the following: go home, take a hot shower and before drying yourself stand in front of the A/C, stark naked. ‘Will that cure me?’ No, but it might give you pneumonia and that I can cure!”
How many times have you tried to solve one problem by applying another answer? Life can get very confusing if we mix and match too many things. This includes our spiritual life as well as all the other aspects of our lives. On the other hand sometimes an ‘out of the box’ thought might just open up a new horizon!
Most of the time patience is required for obtaining answers to our deepest questions. We can repeat the answers of others, and I’m not implying they aren’t ‘correct,’ or we can search for a way to say it to ourselves that expresses our own experience. The ‘who am I, where have I come from, where am I going?’ type questions face us at each turn of age. Our transitional times of say 16, 25, 40, 60 or 80 years, for example, bring to bear different responses…not necessarily a different ‘answer’ but a deeper way, one would hope, of considering the matter. Allowing ourselves to pay attention to our hearts and the Heart of God invites us to grow deeply.
What do you do with disappointment? Here’s a word among many that describes how you might feel about your reality. Here are some responses I received: I get angry’ I get frustrated; I get worried; I blame myself; I blame others; and yet the most refreshing was: I get on with it!
Disappointment links us to not being in control, even when we thought we had done everything we were ‘supposed to’…and still ‘it’ didn’t work out. Perhaps it is a relationship or some task. Perhaps we felt we were a disappointment to parents or spouse?
Each day we have the opportunity to face our disappointments and to turn them into something even more fruitful. I was disappointed not to see Saturn or Jupiter because of the rain, but I saw a most magnificent light show crack across the purpled sky. Children are often disappointed because they are told one thing and then the adults do otherwise. Sometimes this cannot be helped…sometimes it can.
There are many stories from Scripture that show shades of disappointment. They also show a new beginning. Finding Jesus in the temple, for example, reminds us to pay attention to what is most important. Mary and Joseph were so worried and disappointed that Jesus was not with them on their journey home. They had to travel a whole day back to the city to find Him and when they did, He was doing something very unexpected, teaching. They were disappointed He had not been with them (was it really fear He was lost?)…they rejoiced at finding Him. Often being away from the Lord and coming back together brings the sweetest blessings.
If you run into disappointment: breathe. After that begin to ask yourself some questions: what is most important? How should I proceed? And, is God best served by this project/whatever? If indeed God has closed that door…look for the window He has cracked open. If it is of God you need not be disappointed for very long. Trust He will show you the way forward.
Our growth in faith is much like this. Is it easier to say ‘yes I believe’ when we are younger or older? The building of a spiritual life is critical as we journey because it is there we meet our Lord and there we face ourselves. It is within this growing body of both knowledge and experience that we discover how the plan of God shepherds us forward to final and full union. We have been given that ‘playbook’ in our Scriptures, the writings of saints and holy folks from over the centuries. Let’s take the opportunity every day to explore those writings and learn to apply them to our lives. It may not be as outrageous as standing naked in front of the A/C…but in fact it has much better promise of a ‘cure.’
The Book of Proverbs, full of such wisdom and wit, remind us of this:
“Trust wholeheartedly in God, put no faith in your own perception; in every course you take, have God in mind: God will see your paths are smooth. Do not think of yourself as wise, fear God and turn your back on evil: health-giving, this, to your body, relief to your bones.” (Prov3:5ff)
(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She is author of six books of spiritual fiction and is a weekly columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

Flood of rescuers calls to mind storms past

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
The mighty Cajun Navy appeared in all their glory, towing their powerboats from Lafayette and other points in Acadia down the highways leading to Houston and other towns vulnerable to the caprices of wholesale rain and flooding. Having cut their teeth cruising the forbidding waters of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, the Cajun Navy caravanned into Texas soon after Harvey hit Rockport just several days short of that awful Katrina rendezvous date 12 years prior. Their stylish arrival had all the makings of an action movie.
Although the Cajun Navy was the most prominent of all in appearance and numbers, many local and other Good Samaritans joined the rescue operation in their own powerboats, airboats, jet skis, low-powered skiffs, rowboats, flat-bottomed boats, other flotation devices, high-water vehicles and amphibious military vehicles. Some rescuers hailed from states hundreds of miles distant.
Of course, there were the spectacular helicopter rescues, some initiated by private helicopter companies, obviously scaring the beejeebers out of regular folk dangling on a cable high above the waters. It was better than Hollywood at its best. Do you think any of those being rescued dared to take selfies? I’ll wager some did.
It was weird that rescue boat pilots had to beware of submerged obstacles like fireplugs, cars and even street signs in some cases. Navigating etiquette was at a premium with so many in need of rescue and so many rescuers in the mix of waders with or without a load of scooped-up belongings, terrified people crawling out of semi-submerged cars, people with evident heartbreak bidding their homes goodbye, and an amazing number of neighbors helping others even with their own homes underwater. That included numerous first responders who did everything they could to help others, some even with their own homes wasted by the unruly waters.
Flooding by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was not a rain event, but a storm surge event that broke ill-constructed levees. By contrast, the epic flooding of Houston, Port Arthur, etc. was a rain event of biblical proportions that fell in such a short period of time that storm drains, bayous and rivers were overwhelmed.
Likewise, the horrendous, nameless hurricane that virtually destroyed the island of Galveston in 1900, killing an estimated 8,000 people, was not a rain event but a storm surge event that leveled 3,600 buildings. Historically, it was the most deadly.
The following account does not intend to diminish the 2017 devastation that took place recently in Houston and its environs. Believe it or not, as bad as Harvey was, he fell below the total 1861-1862 rains and floods of the least likely competitor of all: California. Don’t believe the lyrics, “It never rains in southern California.”
Writing in the Scientific American Magazine on January 1, 2013, B. Lynn Ingram/Michael Dettinger explain, “Reaching back hundreds of years, geologic evidence shows that truly massive floods, caused by rainfall alone, have occurred in California every 100 to 200 years. Such floods are likely caused by atmospheric rivers: narrow bands of water vapor about a mile above the ocean that extend for thousands of miles.” Give a nod to climate change dating back to geologic times!
“The atmospheric river storms … are responsible for most of the largest historical floods in many western states. The only megaflood to strike the American West in recent history occurred during the winter of 1861-62. California bore the brunt of the damage,” reeling under 10-15 feet of snow to the north and 66 inches of rain (4 times a year’s worth) to the south.” As implied, neighboring states got it too.
“This disaster turned enormous regions of the state into inland seas for months, and took thousands of human lives. The costs were devastating: one quarter of California’s economy was destroyed, forcing the state into bankruptcy.”
Although the downtown district of Sacramento was raised 10-15 feet during the seven years after the flood, Sacramento remains second only to New Orleans as the U.S. city most vulnerable to flooding. It should also be noted that any city that receives a good fraction of the rainfall that Houston did will suffer from flooding.
Consider what happened to Chicago on August 13-14, 1987 when almost 9.5 inches of rain fell. Since the city was in an extreme drought, people were welcoming the storm since the ground was extremely dry. Unfortunately, everyone got much more than anyone bargained for: $220 million in damages and 3 lives were lost. It may surprise some that, when the pump operators maintain all 24 pumping stations properly, New Orleans can manage that amount of rain reasonably well.
“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.)

Stuck in traffic

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Father Ron Rolheiser

There’s a famous billboard that hangs along a congested highway that reads: You aren’t stuck in traffic. You are traffic! Good wit, good insight! How glibly we distance ourselves from a problem, whether it is our politics, our churches, the ecological problems on our planet or most anything else.
We aren’t, as we want to think, stuck in a bad political climate wherein we can no longer talk to each other and live respectfully with each other. Rather we ourselves have become so rigid, arrogant and sure of ourselves that we can no longer respect those who think differently than we do. We are a bad political climate and not just stuck in one.
Likewise for our churches: We aren’t stuck in churches that are too self-serving and not faithful enough to the teachings of Jesus. Rather we are Christians who too often, ourselves, out of self-interest compromise the teachings of Jesus. We aren’t stuck in our churches, we comprise those churches.
The same is true apposite the ecological challenges we face on this planet: We aren’t stuck on a planet that’s becoming oxygen-starved and a junkyard for human wastage. Rather it’s we, not just others, who are too careless in how we are using up the earth’s resources and how we are leaving behind our waste.
Admittedly, this isn’t always true. Sometimes we are stuck in negative situations for which we bear no responsibility and within which, through no fault of our own, we are simply the unfortunate victim of circumstance and someone else’s carelessness, illness, dysfunction or sin. We can, for instance, be born into a dysfunctional situation which leaves us stuck in a family and an environment that don’t make for easy freedom. Or, sometimes simple circumstance can burden us with duties that take away our freedom. So, metaphorically speaking, we can be stuck in traffic and not ourselves be part of that traffic, though generally we are, at least partially, part of the traffic we’re stuck in.
Henri Nouwen often highlighted this in his writings. We are not, he tells us, separate from the events that make up the world news each day. Rather, what we see written large in the world news each night simply reflects what’s going on inside of us. When we see instances of injustice, bigotry, racism, greed, violence, murder and war on our newscasts we rightly feel a certain moral indignation. It’s healthy to feel that way, but it’s not healthy to naively think that it’s others, not us, who are the problem.
When we’re honest we have to admit that we’re complicit in all these things, perhaps not in their crasser forms, but in subtler, though very real, ways: The fear and paranoia that are at the root of so much conflict in our world are not foreign to us. We too, find it hard to accept those who are different from us. We too, cling to privilege and do most everything we can to secure and protect our comfort. We too, use up an unfair amount of the world’s resources in our hunger for comfort and experience.
As well, our negative judgments, jealousies, gossip and bitter words are, at the end of the day, genuine acts of violence since, as Henri Nouwen puts it: Nobody is shot by a gun that isn’t first shot by a word. And nobody is shot by a word before he or she is first shot by a murderous thought: Who does she thinks she is! The evening news just shows large what’s inside our hearts. What’s in the macrocosm is also in the microcosm.
And so we aren’t just viewers of the evening news, we’re complicit in it. The old catechisms were right when they told us that there’s no such a thing as a truly private act, that even our most private actions affect everyone else. The private is political. Everything affects everything.
The first take-away from this is obvious: When we find ourselves stuck in traffic, metaphorically and otherwise, we need to admit our own complicity and resist the temptation to simply blame others.
But there’s another important lesson here too: We are never healthier than when we are confessing our sins; in this case, confessing that we are traffic and not just stuck in traffic. After recognizing that we are complicit, hopefully we can forgive ourselves for the fact that, partially at least, we are helpless to not be complicit. No one can walk through life without leaving a footprint. To pretend otherwise is dishonest and to try to not leave a footprint is futile. The starting point to make things better is for us to admit and confess our complicity.
So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, irritated and impatient, muttering angrily about why there are so many people on the road, you might want to glance at yourself in rearview mirror, ask yourself why you are on the road at that time and then give yourself a forgiving wink as you utter the French word, touché.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Love overcomes fear

Millennial Reflections
By Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.

Father Jeremy Tobin

The pushback against the liberation of oppressed people, the great strides toward equality, is a constant threat in any society. The completion of what began with emancipation has made great strides. The country began to come together. People began to appreciate and accept diversity. The forces determined to turn back the clock seemed silly to many, but deadly earnest to others.
I believe the election, not once but twice, of the first African American president drove the pushback into high gear. From birtherism, to the tea party to the election of the current president to outright un-American attacks on anyone not white – racism has come out ugly and raucous, ignorant and violent, further tearing the country apart.
After the murders of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston South Carolina, we saw the confessed killer wrapped in the confederate flag. The confederate emblem on Mississippi’s state flag, long a symbol of hate and oppression to many, but a symbol of the lost cause and heritage to others, only continues to split the state apart.
The issue of confederate symbols whether statues or flags has gone national. Many are re-examining the history of these monuments, looking closely at when and why those statues appeared, which is at the same time Jim Crow laws appeared. Clarion-Ledger journalist Jerry Mitchell wrote about the topic in the Sunday, August 27, Perspective section of the paperI believe these stars and bars have become an international flag of racism and hate. Germany banned all symbols of the Third Reich, so the neo-Nazis took up the stars and bars to replace the swastika. Most recently, we saw that in the demonstration in Charlottesville.
More than 100 years later, we are still wrestling with the issues of the Civil War. Again, many are stating that defense of slavery was the cause and driver behind that war. This is the 21st century. We have not confronted and successfully dealt with America’s original sin of racism. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has formed a committee to deal with these issues and the current state of racism in the country.
Rising above all the debate and arguing, let us remember that the power to love is always greater than the power to hate. We go back to the beginning of the 20th century. Hate and violence ruled. Mississippi displayed its ‘strange fruit.’ Ida B. Wells went to Congress to lobby for anti-lynching laws to no avail. Two World Wars erupted spawning a philosophy of white supremacy that could only be quenched by mass genocide and gas ovens.
The push back was the Civil Rights Movement that preached the power of love over hate. The Movement furthered the call for true justice and human rights and used nonviolence to be the model for change.
Today we have foreigners, immigrants, with or without papers. There are those who would imprison them, break up their families and deport them. We have the poor, who some would judge and blame for their situation.
As Catholic Christians, we hear the Bible read out at every Mass. Recently we read from Isaiah: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants, and hold to my covenant…them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” (Is.56:1,6-7)
We can listen to the arguments about shifting demographics, how the country will become a majority minority country. We can examine what impact that is having on the current majority, but we must, as Catholic Christians, remember to keep love at the center of our discussions.
The power of love is the only power that can extinguish hate. It was the force of love and coming together that made the Movement succeed back in the day. One set of barriers came down, but love overcame fear, and can do it again.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

September offers new start for catechists

Kneading Faith
By Fran Levelle
There is so much to celebrate in September, kids are back in school, it’s football season, cooler temperatures return, and formation programs in our parishes get re-energized. For those of us in formational ministries (RCIA, adult faith formation, religious education, youth ministry and campus ministry) we have spent the summer planning for the new academic year. And, like the first college football game of the season, we too memorialize the return to formation programs in our own special way.
In 1971, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) designated the third Sunday of September to call forth and commission catechists in our parishes. The Church in the U.S. has been celebrating Catechetical Sunday ever since. As part of the recognition of the role of catechist in the life of the Church the USCCB also develops a theme and other useful materials. This year’s theme is, “Living as Missionary Disciples.”

No doubt, the Holy Spirit guided the bishop in their discernment of this year’s theme. I can’t imagine a more timely and needed reminder of our call to live the good news of the Gospel. If you are like me I am certain this poignant message was not lost on you as images of East Texas filled the airwaves witnessing neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. In a catastrophic event like the massive flooding in Houston creed, color, gender, age and economic status are not factors in who gets spared by a storm or who gets saved. I am reminded that we can preach by our actions much more effectively than we can preach with mere words alone. Our response should be immediate and as generous as possible.
In the same way, our response to our call to live our lives as missionary disciples should be immediate (as in every day) and generous (as in not counting the cost). Our missionary discipleship should not be the best kept secret at our schools, our parishes or our homes. Our missionary call to lead, to teach, to proclaim and to live as disciples of Christ should be manifested in a way that others want to experience the joy we possess.
As your catechist are called forth to be commissioned and blessed this year, I encourage you to ask yourself what it is you can do in your own way to help them fulfill their role as catechist, RCIA team members, youth ministers, campus ministers, and directors and coordinators of religious education. No one is asked to do everything, but we can all do something.
My hope is that the USCCB’s catechetical theme becomes much more than merely a theme this year. My hope is that we can all see the many and varied ways we are called to live out our missionary discipleship.
In that spirit, the diocese invites everyone involved in faith formation to a day of spiritual and educational enrichment modeled after the new Pastoral Priorities. Faith Formation Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 30, at Madison St. Joseph School from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Keynote presenters include Jim Schellman, former Director at the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, who will speak on inspiring discipleship and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Father Joseph Brown, SJ, professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL will speak on diversity. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will round out the day with the closing talk on serving others.
During breakout sessions, Father. Jason Johnston, will present a session on youth liturgy; Jessica McMillan is offering a breakout called creative catechesis; Wes Williams, is set to speak on adult faith formation; Father. Joseph Brown will present, ”Plenty Good Room: Thoughts on Hospitality, Diversity and Being Catholic!;” and, Jim Schellman will present, “Evangelization the Mission, Initiation the Job Description.” A $10 registration fee includes lunch. To register or get more information, contact Fran Lavelle at 601-960-8473 or fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org
One of my favorite 45 records from my youth was “See You in September,” by the Happenings. I am certain I lifted it from my older brother’s collection. The lyrics express the hopes of a young man, who, facing separation from his girlfriend for the summer, reminds her that he’ll see her in September unless he loses her to a summer love. For sure, it is a love song, but the lyrics always made me think of the other reunions I looked forward to going back to school.
September, like January, can be a hard reset for activities and routines that we want to be more intentional about. It can be a time to recommit ourselves to living our faith in a more profound way. You may have taken a break from “active ministry” or you may be a pew jockey that comes to Mass on Sunday but has little involvement in the life of the Church. It’s not too late to see where your call to living missionary discipleship leads you. Wherever you find yourself, rest assured, we in formational ministries are looking forward to seeing you in September.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)

Replace online anger with compassionate encounter

Light one Candle
By Toni Rossi

Toni Rossi

My friend Abby once told me, “Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, but some people hide it really well.” Who could disagree? We’ve all encountered people in life or online who get on our nerves and even stir up genuine anger. Healthy anger moves us toward Christ-like love and positive action. Unhealthy anger turns into a seething hatred of “the other,” whoever that might be.
Catholics aren’t immune, with many “I’m a better Catholic than you because…” arguments going on. The bickering doesn’t always result in civil, reasoned debate, but rather descends into personal insults. Why?
Social media allows us to experience community, which is a good thing. But when we mock a person or opinion we disagree with, it can produce a mob mentality where everyone piles on, creating a “dark glee,” as Pope Francis describes the feeling we get when gossiping about someone.
As humans, it’s natural to fall into this trap. But as Christians, we’re called to be better. Jesus said in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Sometimes, we justify our anger by noting that admonishing the sinner is a Spiritual Work of Mercy, and that Jesus could speak harshly, too. Jesus, however, was the Son of God, who knew people’s hearts, minds, and souls. Since you and I don’t have that ability, we need to be more diplomatic in admonishing the sinner, especially if it’s someone on social media we don’t personally know. After all, the goal is to change someone’s mind, which requires the person you’re talking with to be receptive to your ideas. When someone feels attacked, they become defensive, not receptive, so your chances of accomplishing something decrease.
So how can we deal with anger? If you read something online that you disagree with, say a prayer for the person to become more open to God’s mercy and truth. In a supernatural sense, it will have more effect than a snarky online comment. And make sure the prayer is humble, not like the Pharisee’s prayer from Luke 18 in which he praises himself for not being like the tax collector. If you do choose to respond, follow St. Paul’s example from Acts 17, talking to the pagans in Athens. He praises them for being religious, instead of condemning them for worshiping idols. Then he introduces the ideas of the one true God and His Son, Jesus.
Also, consider Jesus’s Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10. This story has become neutered in the modern world to refer to anyone doing a good deed. But there is a lot more going on. The Jewish people hated the Samaritans because of religious differences, yet Jesus specifically chose to make one the hero of His story. The message, it seems, is that there is divine goodness even in the people you can’t stand.
If being on social media leaves you angry, take a break. Reach out to people in the real world in a way that involves helping them and building them up. Those actions will produce a healthy joy and fulfillment. If you don’t want to give up social media, choose your battles wisely, and engage in them with Christian civility and responsibility. And make sure that any anger you experience is short-lived and moves you toward positive action. The only person that long-term anger will change over time is you.
(Toni Rossi is the Director of Communications, The Christophers. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, “Living Joufully in a stressed-out world,” write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.)

Confronting racism of modern age with lessons from the past

Guest Column

Will Jemison

By Will Jemison
In the fall of 2003, I was one of 12 Americans selected to spend two weeks exploring the rural former East German countryside and to attend an educational symposium at a local university. Although I’d heard of the many examples of cultural oppression that occurred during years of communist rule and Russian influence, nothing prepared me for my arrival at the hotel and special instructions for the black, Chinese and Indian students in my cohort learning that we would have to register at the local police station. This registration wasn’t to single us out as some sort of threat, but was to protect us from what we soon discovered was a skinhead rally that was planned for the town we were visiting.
At the age of 22, overt racism was foreign to me. I grew up and attended diverse schools, had school friends of multiple ethnic backgrounds and it was fairly common for folk of different races to be guests in our home. Although I was aware of the historical struggles of my parents, grandparents and ancestors, racism, as it had been defined to me, wasn’t something I knew. That changed for me on a very cool day in Germany in 2003.
What also changed for me was the belief that racism was something that was strictly about overt acts. The white nationalists of Germany not only sought to have a direct impact on blacks, Asians and Jews, they sought to ensure that more covert acts would be normalized by the government to ensure they would no longer need swastikas, or in America’s case, hoods, to show their impact.
Those covert acts included: sanctioned methods of housing discrimination, increased restrictions on university admissions and “native” first employment policies. Each of those acts, if enabled, sought to gradually reduce the economic and social progress of racial and ethnic minorities in Germany and place them in a sort of second class status.
White nationalism is racism. It’s racism rooted in violence and fear, and in the case of the Ku Klux Klan, one that seeks to destroy any group they don’t agree with, including Catholics.
By now, we’ve all heard of the events in Charlottesville, Va. A rally of racists, ironically armed with Asian-made tiki torches, marched for greater rights and to protect symbols of their Confederate “heroes.” Hopefully, the irony of them rioting over symbols of traitors to the American union isn’t lost on you. For those it isn’t, the Confederacy’s purpose was to undermine the American democracy and ensure slavery remained legal in what became present-day Southern states.
The notion of upholding symbols of the confederacy, whether it be a flag or a statue, is diametrically opposed to everything we as good Americans and Christians should value. Erecting monuments to traitors is akin to placing a statue of Benedict Arnold in the halls of Congress or of Lucifer in a church. However, this is exactly what we’ve allowed to occur. The perception of white supremacy has corrupted our political and social structures in this state and our country.
It’s this perceived supremacy that gave us the Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy was created in resistance to civil rights legislation and has been used to justify inaction, gerrymandering and a plethora of societal ills. During the 1950s and 60s, these monuments to confederate traitors were constructed, not to be reminders of great men, but to remind increasingly well-educated Negroes of their place. The Southern Strategy is also what gave rise to Donald Trump and his empty promises of border walls and immigration quotas that explicitly target black and brown people. The same Trump who himself lacks the moral and ethical competence to reject racism in all forms. Yes, the Southern Strategy continues to show its influence and last week, that influence gave rise to Charlottesville.
This strategy is continuously present in this state whether through legislation that seeks to ensure substandard education of our youth or to provide state-sanctioned discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. As Catholics, we should be alarmed at these increasingly overt acts of discrimination by our legislators because they directly oppose the Gospel.
It also finds expression in the refusal to welcome the stranger and the alien and to treat them with compassion and justice and further expression in the obstinacy of many who are deeply concerned about unborn children but callous and skeptical as young men and women of color are seemingly killed with impunity.
In recent days when the holder of our highest political office has condoned and equated Neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacists with those protesting their heinous ideology, I am reminded of the courage of the modern German people who have unabashedly acknowledged their past and become one of the world’s most humane and welcoming nation states.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from the beginning of his papacy has called upon Catholics, other people of faith and people of good will to embrace the radical call of Jesus of Nazareth to see all people as images of a God who loves all of us beyond measure and without limits. That insight is found in the foundational documents of our country in light of recent events, may we all strive to live that truth with even more fervor.
(Will Jemison is coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson)