Christianity’s ‘noon-day’ fatigue

IN EXILE

Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
There’s a popular notion which suggests that it can be helpful to compare every century of Christianity’s existence to one year of life. That would make Christianity 21 years-old, a young 21, grown-up enough to exhibit a basic maturity but still far from a finished product. How insightful is this notion?
That’s a complex question because Christianity expresses itself in communities of worship and in spiritualities that vary greatly across the world. For instance, just to speak of churches, it is difficult to speak of the Christian church in any global way:. In Africa, for the most part, the churches are young, full of young life and exploding with growth, with all the strengths and problems that come with that.
In Eastern Europe the churches are still emerging from the long years of oppression under communism and are struggling now to find a new balance and new energy within an ever-intensifying secularity. Latin American churches have given us liberation theology for a reason. There the issues of social injustice and those advocating for it in Jesus’ name and those reacting against them have deeply colored how church and spirituality are lived and understood.
In Asia, the situation is even more complex. One might talk of four separate ecclesial expressions and corresponding spiritualities in Asia: There is Buddhist Asia, Hindu Asia, Moslem Asia and a seemingly post-Christian Asia. Churches and spiritualities express themselves quite differently in these different parts of Asia. Finally there is still Western Europe and North America, the so-called “West.” Here, it would seem, Christianity doesn’t radiate much in the way of either youth or vitality, but appears from most outward appearances to be aged, grey-haired and tired, an exhausted project.
How accurate is this as a picture of Christianity in Western Europe, North America and other highly secularized part of the world? Are we, as churches, old, tired, grey-haired and exhausted?
That’s one view, but the picture admits of other interpretations. Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, along with many Enlightenment figures, saw Christianity as a spent project, as a dying reality, its demise the inevitable death of childhood naiveté. But Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, looking at the same evidence, saw things in exactly the opposite way. For him, Christianity was still “in diapers”, struggling still to grow in maturity, a child still learning to walk; hence its occasional stumbles.
Contemporary spiritual writer, Tomas Halik, the recent winner of the prestigious Templeton Award, suggests still another picture. For Halik, Christianity in the West is undergoing a “noon-day fatigue,” a writer’s block, a crisis of imagination. In this, he is very much in agreement with what Charles Taylor suggests in his monumental study, “A Secular Age.” For Taylor, what we are experiencing today is not so much a crisis of faith as a crisis of imagination and integration. Older Christian writers called this a “dark night of the soul” and Halik suggests that it is happening to us not at the end of the day but at noontime.
My own sympathies are very much with Halik. Christianity, the churches and the spiritualities in Western Europe and North America aren’t old and dying, a spent project. Rather they are young, figuratively speaking only 21 years old, with still some growing up to do. But and here is where I agree with conservative critics, growth into that maturity is not guaranteed but is rather contingent upon us making some clear choices and hard commitments inside a genuine faith. As any parent can tell you, there are no guarantees that a 21 year old will grow to maturity. The opposite can also happen and that’s true too for Christianity and the churches today. There are no guarantees.
But, inside of faith and inside the choices and commitments we will have to make, it is important that we situate ourselves under the correct canopy so as to assign to ourselves the right task. We are not old and dying. We are young, with our historical afternoon still to come, even as we are presently suffering a certain “noon-day fatigue.” Our afternoon still lies ahead and the task of the afternoon is quite different than the task of the morning or the evening. As James Hillman puts it: “The early years must focus on getting things done, while the later years must consider what was done and how.”
But the afternoon years must focus on something else, namely, the task of deepening. Both spirituality and anthropology agree that the afternoon of life is meant to be an important time within which to mature, an important time for some deeper inner work and an important time to enter more deeply our own depth. Note that this is a task of deepening and not one of restoration.
Our noon-day fatigue will not be overcome by returning to the task of the morning in hope of refreshing ourselves or by retiring passively to the evening’s rocking chair. Noon-day fatigue will be overcome by finding new springs of refreshment buried at deeper places inside us.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Loneliness still plagues ‘connected’ society

Light one Candle
By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
In a videotaped address to the 2017 TED conference, a yearly gathering where innovative thinkers give talks about their ideas, Pope Francis recently spoke about the value of every person in society, saying, “Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.”
The Pope’s TED talk provided a moving moment during a conference focused on technology and the future. Northeast Public Radio’s Nina Gregory watched from a simulcast viewing area outside the theater and said of the talk, “There were people around me who cried, others who watched, rapt…. He got a standing ovation in the theater.”
Pope Francis has spoken in the past about the need to harness technology to bring people together rather than simply allowing modern innovations to diminish human interaction. In his message delivered ahead of the 48th World Communications Day, Francis talked about loneliness in the modern world, saying, “A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive…. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.” But later he says, “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment…. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us.”
Our Christopher News Note on loneliness highlights that a sense of isolation is not unique to modern existence. In his spiritual classics “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” and “Dark Night of the Soul,” St. John of the Cross, a 16th century doctor of the Church, explores the loneliness that can occur in our relationship with God. He explains that sometimes God allows us to feel isolated in order to draw us into a deeper relationship. St. John knew loneliness well. His writings evolved out of mystical poetry he penned while locked in a 10-by-6 foot cell during a time of persecution within his own order.
Mother Teresa’s writings reveal that she experienced a long “dark night of the soul,” resigning herself to do God’s will and help others despite her own sense of spiritual isolation. She wrote of her relationship with God: “Let Him do with me whatever He wants as He wants for as long as He wants if my darkness is light to some soul – even if it be nothing to nobody – I am perfectly happy to be God’s flower in the field.” Mother Teresa understood that the trials she experienced could help her grow closer to God by prompting her to live a life dedicated to alleviating the sense of isolation experienced by others.
In his recent Urbi et Orbi blessing from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis talked about how we overcome loneliness to find friendship with God through our interactions with others, saying, “The Risen Shepherd goes in search of all those lost in the labyrinths of loneliness and marginalization. He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness, and helps them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.”
When we experience a sense of isolation, we must recognize God’s call to reach beyond our own suffering to offer friendship to those in need, and when we do that for each other, we discover the friendship of God.
(For free copies of the Christopher News Note OVERCOMING LONELINESS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@

Focus on love of father, family key to evangelization

Our Sunday Visitor
The arrival of Father’s Day in contemporary society raises what can be a challenging issue for passing on the faith from one generation to the next. When a third of millennials don’t affiliate with any kind of religion – in effect forswearing any kind of family belief – while a quarter of the generation had parents who were divorced or separated, one has to wonder whether God the Father has become an inadvertent stumbling block in people’s spiritual development.
On the one hand, we have a generation that has fallen victim to what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture.” Permanence is shirked, not always by choice. Young adults frozen out of the job market feel “crushed by the present,” the pope once noted. They cannot even lift their eyes to dream of a better future or take the practical steps necessary for starting out on their own in a lifelong commitment with a husband or wife.
Add to this the residual wounds that can so often accompany father figures – disappointments, betrayals, abandonment – and we can understand more clearly how family life has become another casualty of the throwaway mentality, as evidenced by declining rates of people seeking out the sacrament of matrimony.
On the other hand, the church worships God the Father as the first person of the Trinity and the source of all creation, someone Jesus taught us to lovingly relate to as “abba” – daddy – to whom we entrust our needs, problems and desires.
It’s trusting in God the Father and fostering that deep relationship with our creator who adopts us as his own children upon our baptisms that allows us to grow as persons and respond to the call to be disciples. This is why the church has put so much emphasis on the evangelizing nature of the family in recent years. In the 2014-15 Synods of Bishops, the issue emerged time and again that the family is where young people learn and receive the spark of faith.
Those gatherings, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, said last November, “were called to assure families that God is close to them in moments of joy and sorrow, and that the church is near, accompanying them on this pilgrimage of faith, where each domestic church can show solidarity with and charity toward other families, especially struggling ones.”
The nuncio added that the fruits of the synod “show forth the merciful face of the Father to men and women, husbands and wives, to the elderly and to our children.”
Picking up on this important work of bringing people to the God the Father, the Vatican will hold another assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2018, looking specifically at young people and the challenges of discernment.
It’s an endeavor worth so much of the church’s energy, time and focus – helping others to hear the call of God the Father in their lives and accompanying them as they unlock the mystery of God’s loving plan for them. We must make clear his desire for a deep, trusting and loving relationship with each of us. This is the power of a church that goes to the peripheries and tends to the “field hospital.” It’s the merciful healing power of God the Father who lovingly creates us, reflected in the world.
(This unsigned editorial titled “Focus on the Father” is from the June 7 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana.)

Death as ‘going on ahead’

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

“I go on ahead to prepare a place for you!” Jesus speaks those words to his disciples on the eve of his death as he sits at table with them and senses their sadness as they grapple with his dying, his going away. His words are meant to console them and give them the assurance that they aren’t being abandoned. It’s just that he is going on ahead to prepare a place for them to come and join him later.
That story speaks to me very personally because of how one of my sisters died. She was young, the mother of a large family and seemingly too young to leave her young children behind. She was dying of a cancer that, while relentlessly doing its deadly work, mercifully left her relatively pain-free and clear in mind and heart to the very end. The cancer eventually took her to a point where she could no longer eat, but could still be nourished for a time by intravenous transfusions. But these too eventually no longer worked and, once unhooked from the intravenous needles, she was told that she had roughly a week still to live. She chose to spend those last days in a hospital rather than at home, with her family having easy, 24-hour, access to her hospice bed.
The days leading up to her death were a sacred time. I took her communion several days before she died and, with her head still very clear, she told me what I should say at her funeral liturgy. She had chosen that exact text where Jesus, on the night before he dies, tells his heavy-hearted disciples that he is going ahead, to prepare a place for them. She shared how, before every one of her children was born, before she went to the hospital to give birth, she had carefully prepared everything at home for the new arrival, the crib, the diapers, the clothing, the room. She brought each of her children home to a place she had carefully prepared. And now she was going on ahead of them again, to prepare another place for them.
I preached those words at her funeral and despite our grief and despite the fact that in moments like these there is nothing really that can be said that takes away the pain, her raw testimony of faith left us with an image that placed us all, not least her husband and children, inside a bigger story, a faith-narrative, that highlighted two things.
First, the image of her going on ahead of her children awakened our grieving faith to the truth that a mother can go on ahead to prepare a place for her children in much deeper ways than simply bringing a new-born home from a hospital. Second, her “going ahead” was also showing her children and the rest of us, how to die, how to do that act that we all someday must do. After you watch a good person die, you become less afraid to die yourself because you see how it can be done in an ordinary way, by an ordinary person, in a way that you can also do. In her dying, she prepared a place for us.
But this isn’t a lesson only about dying. This image, I go on ahead to prepare a place for you, is a metaphor which defines the essential task of our adult, mature years. Our task as “elders,” whether that be as a mother or father, an older brother or older sister, an uncle or an aunt, a teacher, a clergyman, a nurse, a worker, a colleague or a friend, is to live in such a way so as to create a place where the young can follow. Our task as adults is to show the young how to live at a place where they’ve never been as yet.
And it is both a noble and humble task. Most of us cannot live up to the lofty ideals we see lived out in the lives of the great saints, though their lives have created an ideal place for us. However, while not everyone can live as Mother Teresa did, perhaps they can live like you do and your life can be their exemplar for meaning, wholeness, anonymous sanctity and dying without unnecessary fear.
I’ve been graced to be at the deathbed of a goodly number of ordinary people who died very ordinary-looking deaths, with no choirs of angels silently chanting in the background, no alleluias on their lips, with pain and thirst dominating their concerns, with their hands being tightly grasped by loved ones and their hearts still very much focused on the pain of leaving this world. And that’s not a bad way to die. In how they managed their deaths they prepared a place for me. Looking at how they died, I am far less fearful and can more readily say: I can do this!
What a grace to have someone go on ahead to prepare a place for you!
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Blessed Mother honors fatherhood through Fatima

Guest Column
By Sister Constance Veit, lsp

Sr. Constance Veit

Last month we watched Pope Francis travel to Fatima for the centenary of Our Lady’s apparitions to the three shepherd children, Lucia dos Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto. Much has been said and written about Fatima this year. I’ve learned a great deal about how the Fatima message encapsulates the essential elements of Christian life – prayer, sacrifice, redemptive suffering and holiness of life.
I also discovered is that the last apparition at Fatima, which took place on October 13, 1917, is the only approved apparition in the history of the Church in which the Holy Family appeared together. While the immense crowd that day witnessed the miracle of the sun, the children saw Our Lady standing with St. Joseph and the child Jesus, both of whom were blessing the world.
Lucia, the oldest of the visionaries, became a Carmelite and spent her life spreading the message of Fatima. She felt that through the vision of the Holy Family, God wished to remind us of the true purpose of the family in the world.
“In the message of Fatima, God calls us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Nazareth, into which he chose to be born and to grow in grace and stature, in order to present to us a model to imitate, as our footsteps tread the path of our pilgrimage to Heaven,” Lucia wrote in her book entitled “Calls from the message of Fatima.”
Lucia wrote that parents’ greatest mission is to instill in their children the knowledge of God and his commandments. “Nothing can dispense parents from this sublime mission,” she wrote, for God has entrusted it to them and they are answerable to God for it. “Parents are the ones who must guide their children’s first steps to the altar of God, teaching them to raise their innocent hands and to pray, helping them to discover how to find God on their way and to follow the echo of his voice.”
What remains most engraved in the hearts of children, Lucia wrote, is what they have received “in their father’s arms and on their mother’s lap.” These words touched me in a very personal way as I paused to recall the memories of my parents most deeply engraved in my heart, especially those of my dad.
As a stay-at-home mother who was outgoing and talkative by nature, my mom played the more prominent role in the life of my family, but my father was a quiet, strong and faithful presence as well. For this I am very grateful.
My father fulfilled what Pope Francis wrote in his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (n. 177), “A father helps the child to perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort.” These words remind me of the quiet yet consistent way my father helped me to succeed in math and science and of the efforts he made to help me explore college and career possibilities.
God sets the father in the family, Pope Francis wrote, “to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present.”
When I read these words I remembered the time my father showed up, silent and stern, at a cast party my sister and I were attending following our high school musical. He had come to bring us home rather than let us ride with another teen in the middle of a blizzard. Although we were quite embarrassed at the time, I later appreciated the fact that my father cared enough to inconvenience himself.
Finally, I thought of my father when I read these words from Pope Francis: “Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it.”
How often, over the years, my siblings and I tried to assert our independence, trying hard to hide the fact that we needed dad’s help or advice, yet he was always there to share his knowledge, skills and wisdom with us.
As we continue to honor Our Lady during this centenary year of her apparitions at Fatima, let’s also thank God for St. Joseph and for our own fathers, who faithfully fulfilled their vocation in the heart of our families, whether they are still with us or have already passed on from this life to the Father’s house.
(Sister Constance Veit, LSP, is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Sacrifice in thanksgiving

Seminarian REFLECTION
By Deacon Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

When I was a student at St. Joseph School in Madison,  each year I volunteered to serve the Baccalaureate Mass which Bishop Joseph Latino would celebrate for the graduating class. After a few years, I noticed that his homily each year had a common theme: thankfulness for Catholic education, for parents and for God’s many blessings.
Of course, all of us have much for which we may be thankful, but principally among these blessings is that of the extreme love of God – a love which is in a small way mirrored by the love of parents who make many sacrifices so that their children may have a good education, or even so that they may have what they need to live healthy and holy lives. Yet, the gift of God’s love, which was made Incarnate in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, is so generous that humankind, unaided, is incapable of rendering to him the true thanksgiving he deserves.
The paradox is that, in Christ, we are capable of giving proper thanks to God because he has blessed us with the proper means –”our thanksgiving is itself [his] gift,” as is said in one of the prefaces used at Mass. In the Old Testament, God commanded the chosen people to offer daily the Todah offering (cf. Leviticus 7:12). This was not a bloody offering like the sacrifices offered to atone for sins, but was an offering of unleavened cakes and oil.
The Hebrew word todah translates as ‘thanksgiving’ and thus this offering, unlike the sin offerings of flesh, was a purely sumptuous expression of man’s thankfulness to God.
It is interesting, therefore, that the apostles, when considering how they were going to refer to the daily offering of the Lord’s supper, chose to call it the Greek word eucharistia, which literally translates as ‘thanksgiving.’ The apostles recognized that the offering of bread and wine in the New Covenant was a continuation of the todah of the Old Covenant. But, unlike the Old Covenant, which required separate offerings for thanksgiving and for sin, this new sacrifice was not merely bread but also flesh.
It was not merely an offering in thanksgiving but an offering that atones for sins as well. In essence, Christ took the entire gambit of sacrifice from the Hebrew Temple system and refined it into his one sacrifice: i.e the Eucharist is at once the todah, the sin offerings and the Passover (Paschal) sacrifice.
This could not be the case unless this bread and this wine which are offered daily in the Mass were not more than mere food, but truly flesh as well. St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes this beautifully in the sequence he wrote for the feast of Corpus Christi – the Lauda Sion. He says: On this altar of the King this new Paschal Offering brings and end to ancient rite…Here beneath these signs are hidden priceless things, to sense forbidden; signs, not things are all we see. Flesh from bread and Blood from wine, yet is Christ in either sign, all entire confessed to be. And whoever of Him partakes, severs not, nor rends, nor breaks: all entire, their Lord receive.
As many young people are celebrating their own high school and college graduations, they would do well to take the advice of Bishop emeritus Latino and be thankful for the gift of their education, but I would add that they may best express their thankfulness through their continual participation in the supreme act of thanksgiving we have in the Mass – which means that as they leave their parents’ homes, they need to ask themselves where they will go to Mass this coming fall. How will they continue to offer Eucharistia to God for all his many gifts and blessings?
(Deacon Aaron M. Williams is preparing to begin his eighth year of seminary formation. For the next few months, he will be serving in a diaconate internship at Meridian Saints Patrick and Joseph parishes. During the summer, Aaron also participates in a program at the Liturgical Institute of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake near Chicago where he is pursuing a masters degree in liturgy. He and his classmate, Deacon Nick Adam, will be ordained priests for our diocese on May 31, 2018)

Coming full circle – from storybooks to spirituality

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Father Ron Rolheiser

My first love was literature, novels and poetry. As a child, I loved storybooks, mysteries and adventures. In grade school, I was made to memorize poetry and loved the exercise. High school introduced me to more serious literature, Shakespeare, Kipling, Keats, Wordsworth, Browning. On the side, I still read storybooks, cowboy tales from the old West, taken from my dad’s bookshelf.
During my undergraduate university years, literature was a major part of the curriculum and I learned then that literature wasn’t just about stories, but also about social and religious commentary; as well as about form and beauty as ends in themselves. In classes then we read classic novels: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, The Heart of the Matter, East of Eden. The curriculum at that that time in Canada heavily favored British writers. Only later, on my own, would I discover the richness in Canadian, US, African, Indian, Russian and Swedish writers. I had been solidly catechized in my youth and, while the catechism held my faith, literature held my theology.
But after literature came philosophy. As part of preparation for ordination we were required to earn a degree in philosophy. I was blessed with some fine teachers and fell into first fervor in terms of my love of philosophy. The courses then heavily favored Scholasticism (Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas) but we were also given a sound history of philosophy and a basic grounding in Existentialism and some of the contemporary philosophical movements. I was smitten; philosophy became my theology.
But after philosophy came theology. After our philosophical studies, we were required to take a four-year degree in theology prior to ordination. Again, I was blessed with good teachers and blessed to be studying theology just as Vatican II and a rich new theological scholarship were beginning to penetrate theological schools and seminaries. There was theological excitement aplenty, and I shared in it. In Roman Catholic circles, we were reading Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Schnackenburg, and Raymond Brown. Protestant circles were giving us Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr, and a bevy of wonderful scripture scholars. The faith of my youth was finally finding the intellectual grounding it had forever longed for. Theology became my new passion.
But after theology came spirituality. After ordination, I was given the opportunity to do a farther graduate degree in theology. That degree deepened immeasurably my love for and commitment to theology. It also landed me a teaching job and for the next six years I taught theology at a graduate level. These were wonderful years; I was where I most wanted to be, in a theology classroom. However, during those six years, I began to explore the writings of the mystics and tentatively launch some courses in spirituality, beginning with a course on the great Spanish mystic, John of the Cross.
My doctoral studies followed those years and while I focused on systematic theology, writing my thesis in the area of natural theology, something had begun to shift in me. I found myself more and more, both in teaching and writing, shifting more into the area of spirituality, so much so that after a few years I could no longer justify calling some of my former courses in systematic theology by their old catalogue titles. Honesty compelled me now to name them courses in spirituality.  
And what is spirituality? How is it different from theology? At one level, there’s no difference. Spirituality is, in effect, applied theology. They are of one and the same piece, either ends of the same sock. But here’s a difference: Theology defines the playing field, defines the doctrines, distinguishes truth from falsehood, and seeks to enflame the intellectual imagination. It is what it classically claims itself to be: Faith seeking understanding.
But, rich and important as that is, it’s not the game. Theology makes up the rules for the game, but it doesn’t do the playing nor decide the outcome. That’s role of spirituality, even as it needs to be obedient to theology. Without sound theology, spirituality always falls into unbridled piety, unhealthy individualism, and self-serving fundamentalism. Only good, rigorous, academic theology saves us from these.

But without spirituality, theology too-easily becomes only an intellectual aesthetics, however beautiful. It’s one thing to have coherent truth and sound doctrine; it’s another thing to give that actual human flesh, on the streets, in our homes and inside our own restless questioning and doubt. Theology needs to give us truth; spirituality needs to break open that truth.
And so I’ve come full circle: From the story books of my childhood, through the Shakespeare of my high school, through the novelists and poets of my undergraduate years, through the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, through the theology of Rahner and Tillich, through the scripture scholarship of Raymond Brown and Ernst Kasemann, through the hermeneutics of the Post-Modernists of my post-graduate years, through forty years of teaching theology, I’ve landed where I started – still searching for good stories that feed the soul.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Communication priorities takes personal touch

Editor’s corner
By Maureen Smith  

Maureen Smith is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Jackson

What does it mean to communicate? It’s a broad question with almost endless answers. We spent months in this department writing a Communications Plan – talking about forms of communication, passive, conversational, print, digital, paid, earned – all very technical stuff.  
Then, I spent a couple months writing and executing a new plan for communicating the new mission, vision and pastoral priorities. I thought about ‘touchpoints,’ repetition, delivery mechanisms and follow-up. Again, all technical and strategic concepts.
Then, the pastoral priority team hit the road. At the end of all the planning and strategy, the proofreading, coding, printing and populating, we knew the best way to communicate was person-to-person. What Pope Francis has referred to again and again as creating the culture of encounter.
Emails have no ‘tone of voice,’ texts can be misinterpreted (especially if you suffer with an autocorrect with a sense of humor), social media allows people to be anonymous and mean, but when you sit down with another person in the same space, you have an opportunity to enter into relationship. I believe real communication takes place when we are present to one another. As the meetings unfolded, I was delighted to encounter people who were excited about the new priorities. Others were apprehensive about their role or about the future for their faith communities. Being together allowed us to share our excitement, fears and questions. It’s hard to comfort a frustrated person in an email, but when you can look them in the eye and really listen, you can get to the heart of the matter.
I love when I can pack up and hit the road. Yes, I can, and do, interview people by phone. I gather photos and facts from afar, but the stories are always better when I can attend an event or gathering. I always end the day with a new friend and some little tidbit of joy to inspire me.
I was delighted to go on what I jokingly called the “Pastoral Priority Tour.” I felt like I could reconnect with the people who help me keep Mississippi Catholic rolling along smoothly. Yes, I can call and thank them or send a quick email, but I would rather give them a hug in person.
Every year, Pope Francis releases a theme for World Communications Day. This theme carries through the year for those of us who work in church communication. This year’s theme is “Fear not, for I am with you: (Is 43:5): Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time.” In his message, Pope Francis cautions against the tendency to report only ‘bad’ news, reminding communicators that how we choose to tell our stories influences how people react to them.
“Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?
“For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God’ (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.” (Pope Francis’ message for World Communication Day, 2017).
Thank you for your support of Mississippi Catholic and the Department of Communications. Whether you are an occasional reader or regular contributor, I appreciate your “presence” as I write, travel, post, call and try to find new ways to communicate the Good News.
(Maureen Smith is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Brother inspires missionary discipleship

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson

The catechetical theme for the upcoming academic year,“Living as Missionary Disciples,” is a theme that closely echoes the diocesan pastoral priorities currently being implemented our parishes and schools, especially our priority to facilitate life-long formation of intentional disciples.  
We all know that mission statements, masterplans and envisioning processes are only as successful as their implementation. Often, we get caught up in the language of a plan and lose sight of the overall goal. Every plan – be it architectural, business or master, cannot be realized without action. People enact plans. When I think of “Living as Missionary Disciples,” many images come to mind.  I think of people like St. Patrick who was relentless in his pursuit of the hearts and minds of the Irish people. I think of modern day missionaries like St. Teresa of Calcutta, who literally loved people to death.  
The Diocese of Jackson has been blessed for decades by those who came before us from “somewhere else” to live the gospel and share God’s love with the people of Mississippi. One such soul passed from this world earlier this spring. Brother Terry O’Rourke died on March 10 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served as a Glenmary Missioner for 58 years including service in Mississippi.  
I served as a Lay Missioner for the Glenmary Sisters in the late 1990s in Western Kentucky. Coming to Mississippi I was excited to find so many Glenmary priests, brothers and lay missioners living in our diocese. I felt like it was a family reunion of sorts whenever I got to visit with the Glenmary lay missioners, brothers and priests. Fathers Bob Dalton, Tim Murphy and Steve Pawelk; Brothers Joe Steen, and Terry were among my favorites.
Brother Terry spent the majority of his ministry as a champion for social justice. His true love was building and providing safe and affordable housing for the poor.He spent 15 years working with the Brothers’ Building Crew, a group of Glenmary Brothers who did construction work. He also advocated for Legal Aide for the poor, AIDS funding and ending the death penalty. He was a tremendous supporter for lay ministry, especially with women in leadership.  
In addition to putting a plan into action, Brother Terry was a lifelong learner. Just when some folks start getting comfortable with the idea of a remote control and an easy chair, He was pursuing higher education goals. When he was in his mid-60s, he earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago. Missionary disciples never stop learning. Never.
There is a saying in Glenmary that the most important thing one might do all day is go to the post office. We really never know where or when we will encounter people in need of God’s love. All the doing of Brother Terry’s life served as a witness to his commitment to those who live on the margins. However, it was never really about the doing; it was always about being present. He understood the ministry of presence.  
Brother Terry had a very special place in the hearts and minds of those he served. For me, it might have been his Irish wit or his quick smile. It could have been his quiet, gentle way. Whatever it was, my heart was enlarged every time I sat down with him and his dog, Obie. Sometimes we would communicate by using words. But words, with Brother Terry and reportedly St. Francis, were not always necessary to preach the gospel. There was comfort in knowing that we did not have to have a conversation in order to have a visit. It was in those silent spaces that gratitude flourished. The aged face of Brother Terry, his sparking Irish eyes and monk-esque beard are forever imprinted in my memory. When I think of missionary disciples or I think of life-long formation, I think of Brother Terry. Gently, carefully and lovingly living discipleship. His faithfulness illuminated the path for so many others to find their way.  
So, like I mentioned earlier, people enact plans. And people give witness when they live as missionary disciples. We, “the people” all have a role in bringing our pastoral priorities to fruition in our homes, schools and parishes. I encourage all of us to really think about how we can make a contribution. How can we find our way, define our charism of discipleship, nurture our thirst for life-long formation?  
“I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives”–Tracy Chapman. BrotherTerry, your example of discipleship remains an inspiration.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

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.)