Seek waters of divine mercy

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Today, for a number of reasons, we struggle to be generous and prodigal with God’s mercy.
As the number of people who attend church services continues to decline the temptation among many of our church leaders and ministers is to see this more as a pruning than as a tragedy and to respond by making God’s mercy less rather than more accessible. For example a seminary professor whom I know shares that after 40 years of teaching a course designed to prepare seminarians to administer the sacrament of penance today sometimes the first question that the seminarians ask is “When can I refuse absolution?” In effect, how scrupulous must I be in dispensing God’s mercy?
To their credit their motivation is mostly sincere, however misguided. They sincerely fear playing fast and loose with God’s grace, fearing that they might end up dispensing cheap grace.
Partly that’s a valid motive. Fear of playing fast and loose with God’s grace, coupled with concerns for truth, orthodoxy, proper public form and fear of scandal have their own legitimacy. Mercy needs always to be tempered by truth. But sometimes the motives driving our hesitancy are less noble and our anxiety about handing out cheap grace arises more out of timidity, fear, legalism and our desire, however unconscious, for power.
But even when mercy is withheld for the nobler of those reasons we’re still misguided, bad shepherds, out of tune with the God whom Jesus proclaimed. God’s mercy, as Jesus revealed it, embraces indiscriminately, the bad and the good, the undeserving and the deserving, the uninitiated and the initiated.
One of the truly startling insights Jesus gave us is that the mercy of God, like the light and warmth of the sun, cannot not go out to everyone. Consequently it’s always free, undeserved, unconditional, universal in embrace, and has a reach beyond all religion, custom, rubric, political correctness, mandatory program, ideology and even sin itself.
For our part then, especially those of us who are parents, ministers, teachers, catechists and elders, we must risk proclaiming the prodigal character of God’s mercy. We must not spend God’s mercy, as if it were ours to spend; dole out God’s forgiveness, as if it were a limited commodity; put conditions on God’s love, as if God were a petty tyrant or a political ideology; or cut off access to God, as if we were the keeper of the heavenly gates. We aren’t. If we tie God’s mercy to our own timidity and fear, we limit it to the size of our own minds.
It is interesting to note in the gospels how the apostles, well-meaning of course, often tried to keep certain people away from Jesus as if they weren’t worthy, as if they were an affront to his holiness or would somehow stain his purity. So they perennially tried to prevent children, prostitutes, tax collectors, known sinners and the uninitiated of all kinds from coming to Jesus. However, always Jesus over-ruled their attempts with words to this effect. “Let them come! I want them to come.”
Early on in my ministry I lived in a rectory with a saintly old priest. He was older than 80, nearly blind, but widely sought out and respected, especially as a confessor. One night, alone with him, I asked him, “If you had your priesthood to live over again, would you do anything differently?” From a man so full of integrity, I fully expected that there would be no regrets. So his answer surprised me. Yes, he did have a regret, a major one, he said: “If I had my priesthood to do over again, I would be easier on people the next time. I wouldn’t be so stingy with God’s mercy, with the sacraments, with forgiveness. I fear I’ve been too hard on people. They have pain enough without me and the church laying further burdens on them. I should have risked God’s mercy more!”
I was struck by this because, less than a year before, as I took my final exams in the seminary, one of the priests who examined me, gave me this warning: “Be careful,” he said, “don’t be soft. Only the truth sets people free. Risk truth over mercy.”
As I age, I am ever more inclined to the old priest’s advice. We need more to risk God’s mercy. The place of justice and truth should never be ignored, but we must risk letting the infinite, unbounded, unconditional, undeserved mercy of God flow free.
But, like the apostles, we well-intentioned persons are forever trying to keep certain individuals and groups away from God’s mercy as it is offered in word, sacrament and community. But God doesn’t want our protection. What God does want is for everyone, regardless of morality, orthodoxy, lack of preparation, age or culture, to come to the unlimited waters of divine mercy.
George Eliot once wrote: “When death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.”
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

St. Catherine’s Village expands Campbell Cove Alzheimer care

MADISON – On Wednesday June 18, St. Catherine’s Village had a non-traditional groundbreaking for an expansion to Campbell Cove, the Alzheimers care unit at the retirement facility founded by the Dominican Sisters. Bishop Joseph Kopacz blessed containers of dirt which were then added to a tree that will be planted in the St. Catherine‘s memory garden. Current Campbell Cove residents made the flowers hung in the tree to honor a memory special to them. The unit, which has already served more than 200 people, is presently full. Village residents and area donors have made the expansion possible.


Groundbreaking participants (l-r) Billy Ware, president of Mid State Construction; Jessica Warren, CDFL Architects and Engineers, PA; Bishop Kopacz, Claude Harbarger, president of St. Dominic Health Services; Mary Hawkins Butler, Madison Mayor; Mrs. and Mr. Dudley Huges, residents; Nora Walker, residents’ council president; Sr. Dorothea Sondgeroth, OP, associate executive director of the St. Dominic Health Services Foundation; Sonny Stone, chair of St. Catherine’s Village Board of Directors and Mary Margaret Judy, executive director of St. Catherine’s Village; shovel soil into a tree planter at Campbell Cove, June 18. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

Drawdown benefits parish trust

Benefit participants  silent auction featured more than 100 items. Above, Father Joe Tonos, pastor, welcomes.  (Photo by Gene Buglewicz)

Benefit participants silent auction featured more than 100 items. Above, Father Joe Tonos, pastor, welcomes.  (Photo by Gene Buglewicz)










OXFORD – More than 500 people gathered at St. John the Evangelist Parish Friday, May 16, for the annual drawdown to benefit the Clayton Steven Trust. The trust, founded in memory of Steven, an Ole Miss student who died in a car accident, provides assistance to the needy in the Oxford-Lafayette County community including food vouchers, medical assistance, groceries and utility payments.

Father Joe Tonos welcomes guests to the drawdown.

The fund has recently been used to pay for full-term stays in Haven House, a facility for recovering addicts. The evening included a silent auction, $10,000 drawdown and “wine pull.” Proceeds of $43,000 were reaised for the trust.  To support this trust or get more information on parish trusts contact the Catholic Foundation, (601)969-1880.

Rice Bowl donations at work in diocese

By Maureen Smith
Many families made the CRS Rice Bowl a part of their Lenten sacrifice, but may have forgotten to actually turn in their collections. Catholic Relief Services says it’s not too late. Rice Bowl money can be submitted until August 31. Since the beginning of CRS Rice Bowl in 1975, donations have been designated to support both local and global hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. Seventy-five percent of the revenue comes to CRS to support development projects overseas while 25 percent remains in dioceses in the U.S. to support local hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. In the Diocese of Jackson, the money is distributed out of the Catholic Charities office in Vardaman. Jettie Pettit, who runs that office, shared with Mississippi Catholic the story of one family who benefitted from the generosity of its neighbors.
On May 6, Lorenzo Villanueva came to my office asking for help to pay his electric bill. Clients must fill out a form telling us what emergency left them in need of aid. When I read his response, I asked if he would tell me his story. On February 14, he was taking his wife out to eat for Valentine’s day and to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.

They were also celebrating something else: His wife had had a miscarriage the second year of their marriage and was told that she would not be able to have a child because of damage to her womb. He said they had prayed for a miracle and God had blessed them by letting his wife become pregnant. On the night of their celebration, Selena was almost eight months pregnant and everything was looking good. As Villanueva pulled out from a stop sign, a speeding car ran into them on the passenger side. He was thrown from the car and suffered cuts, bruises and a broken arm. He tried to get his wife out of the car, but had to wait for the ‘jaws of life.’ At the hospital, doctors told him that Selena had no brain activity and was clinically dead. At this point, both he and I were crying.
The doctor detected a fetal heartbeat, so Selena was put on life support until the fate of the unborn child could be known. On February 16, doctors delivered five-pound-three-ounce Sofia and placed her in her father’s arms. Then, Lorenzo held his wife’s hand as the machines were turned off and she died. Sofia had to stay in the hospital for three weeks due to breathing problems while Lorenzo buried her mother and tried to alternate his time between a few hours work and many hours at the hospital. Due to hospital bills and minimum work, he got behind on his bills. Thanks to Rice Bowl funding, we were able to get him caught up on his utility bills. Father and adorable daughter are learning to go on with their lives.
Any family that wishes to make a donation to this year’s Rice Bowl collection can submit it to their parish or submit it directly to CRS and the agency will send the diocesan share to Catholic Charities. Find out more at

Jubilarians celebrate gift of priesthood




By Mary Woodward
The month of June has been a month of jubilee celebrations for clergy and religious throughout the diocese and country. Women religious celebrating special anniversaries are profiled on page seven of this edition of Mississippi Catholic. Celebrations for these jubilarians were held at province homes in Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin. We congratulate and thank these remarkable women for their commitment to the consecrated life.
From June 3 until June 18 five diocesan priests celebrated Masses of Thanksgiving and were honored by family and friends for a combined 265 years of service in the vineyard.
On June 9, Father Frank Corcoran, who is retired and living in Greenville, celebrated 60 years of priestly life.  Msgr. Michael Flannery, pastor of Madison St. Francis Parish; Father David O’Connor, pastor of Natchez Assumption  Parish and St. Mary Basilica; and Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino celebrated 50 years of priestly life June 3, 6, and 18, respectively. On June 10, Father Robert Dore of Columbus Annuciation marked 25 years of ordination.
All of the celebrations honored the gift of priesthood both ministerial and the “common priesthood of the faithful.” Each observance highlighted the life of the ordained within the life of the church and his service to the presbyterate as well as the priestly life.
Both ordained and laity participate in the priesthood of the church. In his homily on June 6, Bishop Latino focused on the dignity of the priesthood and defined its dimensions using the Cathechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):
Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. the faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.” (CCC #1546)
The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace – a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit –  the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. the ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. (CCC #1547)
Although each celebration was one evening in the life of the church. Each life of service honored is a witness to the building up of God’s Kingdom. Each of these lives is a testimony to the church’s mission in the world to bring the Good News to all, especially those who are marginalized, oppressed, wounded and alone.
We give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of priesthood and the men who carry out the office.

St. Therese VBS dedicated to religious life


Betsy Carraway, (left) leads the children in singing “Thank you Father” during St. Therese Parish’s Vacation Bible School. (Photos by Elsa Baughman)

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – St. Therese Parish Vacation Bible school (VBS) children dedicated their theme, “Circus of the Stars,” to the 24 religious sisters living at St. Mary of the Pines Retreat Center in Chatawa. According to Betsy Carraway, the director of the VBS, they are all older than 80-years-old and two are older than 100. VBS has held June 16-20.
Carraway said the children made cards for the sisters and retired priest Father Alfred Camp. “The cards say ‘Thanks for saying yes to God,” “We love you,” and one of them says, “Thanks for being God’s husband,” she said laughing but adding, “they got it wrong but the idea is they (religious women) marry Christ and then he is their husband, that’s beautiful.”
She is thrilled this is a Catholic VBS. “K4J (Kids for Jesus) is a wonderful program that helps children understand the faith and grow in virtue,” she added.
During the week participants learned about the virtue of balance, she said. “They had a balancing act where they had to work, play, rest and pray every day.”
Carraway noted they also learned about four saints, St. John Bosco, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Vianney and St. Teresa of Avila and Friday was dedicated to Mary, the Mother of K4J starts. “I am so pleased they learned about all these saints and other things they would have not learned if they didn’t have attended this special Catholic program,” she added.


Father Alfred Camp talks with the children during his visit to St. Therese.

On Friday, every child received a photo of one of the sisters living in St. Mary of the Pines so they can pray for her individually. The sisters will receive the cards the children made for them plus a monetary donation from the children.
Early on Friday, June 20, Father Camp visited the children to tell them about his life and how he decided to become a priest.
“When I was 12-year-old, one of the nuns at school, Sister Alfred (that’s my name!) said to me, ‘you know, someday you will make a good priest,’” he told the children. “I was young and impressionable and I believed her! That’s all it took,” he added as he related the story of how at the age of 13 he entered the seminary.
Father Camp went on to tell the 23 children gathered around him that during his first months in the seminary he missed his mother, his father and home and that at times he cried himself to sleep because he was lonely but he got used to life in the seminary and soon it was a lot of fun. The children asked Father Camp questions about his life as a priest in the Diocese of Jackson and now as a retired priest living at Madison St. Francis of Assisi Parish.

Bishops continue Fortnight for Freedom; religious freedom highlights days of prayer

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As a nation we eagerly look ahead later next week to commemorate and celebrate our nation’s most revered national holiday, the Fourth of July. We cherish our political, religious and civil freedoms, and in recent times the Church has honed in on that freedom that has priority of place in the First Amendment of our Constitution, Religious Freedom.
The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Catholic Church, along with many other religious leaders, theologians, lay practitioners, and community servants believe that a significant threat to religious liberty is afoot in the land.  (Their joint July 2, 2013 statement may be found on page 14.) The Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate of insurance coverage for sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs in the Affordable Care Act commonly referred to, as Obamacare is the direct threat to religious liberty. Many people of faith and good will are observing that the government has taken it upon itself to narrowly define who is entitled to enjoy the religious freedom that is guaranteed in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
The HHS’ mandate seeks to narrowly exempt from the Health Care Law only those who are employed in houses of worship, and is not extending the same religious liberty to those who work and serve in in Catholic health care facilities, educational institutions and social services.
The Church believes that the mission Jesus Christ entrusted to us is a seamless garment of worship, Word, and service that is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be arbitrarily dissected by unjust laws. This is nothing short of prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or the freedom to serve.
In other words, religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued a statement about the administration’s contraception and sterilization mandate that captured exactly the danger that we face:
Most troubling, is the Administration’s underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its “religious” character and liberties. Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths. The Administration’s ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization’s religious principles. This is deeply disappointing.
This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.
As Christians of various traditions we object to a “naked public square,” stripped of religious arguments and religious believers. We do not seek a “sacred public square” either, which gives special privileges and benefits to religious citizens. Rather, we seek a civil public square, where all citizens can make their contribution to the common good. At our best, we might call this an American public square established in the First Amendment of our cherished Constitution.
As Freedom Summer unfolds before us, we recall the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Americans shone the light of the Gospel on a dark history of slavery, segregation, and racial bigotry. The civil rights movement was an essentially religious movement, a call to awaken consciences, not only an appeal to the Constitution for America to honor its heritage of liberty.
In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, “The goal of America is freedom.” As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:
I would agree with Saint Augustine “An unjust law is no law at all.” Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.
It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.
We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.
Have a blessed Fourth of July that sparkles with the dignity of life at all stages, the blessing of liberty on all levels and the pursuit of happiness that finds its source and summit in the One who bestows all life and freedoms.

KCs knock it out of park for local, national charities


By Mary Woodward
PEARL – Thursday, June 19, was “KC Night at the Ballpark” at Trustmark Park, home of the Mississippi Braves, a Double-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves. The annual event is sponsored by local Knights of Columbus Councils and helps promote the charitable acts of the organization. Bishop Joseph Kopacz threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches of the game. The pitch was a little outside, but did not bounce.
A Fourth Degree Honor Guard presented the nation’s colors for the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.  More than 125 local knights and friends participated in the event, which gave the broader community a look at the Catholic church and its organizations.
According to PRNewswire-USNewswire, the Knights of Columbus set a new all-time record for charitable donations and service hours in 2013 while helping in communities worldwide, including by responding to a number of large-scale humanitarian crises.

The Knights’ Annual Survey of Fraternal Activity for the year ending Dec. 31, 2013, reports Knights donated record amounts of money and hours of volunteer service — more than $170 million and more than 70.5 million hours.
Contributions increased for the 14th consecutive year, growing by more than $2.3 million to $170,135,754.
“Charity has been at the heart of the Knights’ mission for the past 132 years,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Whether with funds or service, and whether quietly helping someone overcome a personal tragedy or assisting in the aftermath of a widely known humanitarian disaster, the outpouring of charity by our members produces meaningful results, especially by helping to bring peace of mind to those who find themselves in incredibly difficult situations.”
Following the late April tornado outbreak in Central and Northeast Mississippi, Knights of Columbus Councils swung into action, processing hundreds of volunteers, bringing in 1,100 pounds of donated food and water, and putting in more than 7,000 hours of volunteers service in Lee, Rankin and Warren counties.
The response to unexpected tragedies was accomplished while the Knights continued their strong support within their communities through initiatives like the Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids and Food for Families, programs supporting those with intellectual disabilities, organizing blood drives, and providing funding and volunteer time to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics and the American Wheelchair Mission.
Cumulative figures show that during the past decade the Knights of Columbus has donated nearly $1.5 billion to charity and 683 million hours of volunteer service in support of charitable initiatives.
The Knights of Columbus was founded by Venerable Father Michael McGivney, a New Haven parish priest, in 1882. The organization was formed to provide charitable outreach and care for the financial well being of Catholic families, focusing on the protection of widows and orphans, and on strengthening the faith of its members.

Bill Maher not understanding faith or Bible

Word on Fire
By Father Robert Barron
I don’t know what possesses me to watch “Real Time With Bill Maher,” for Maher is, without a doubt, the most annoying anti-religionist on the scene today. Though his show is purportedly about politics, it almost invariably includes some attack on religion, especially Christianity. Just last week, his program included a brief conversation with Ralph Reed, the articulate gentleman who used to run the Christian Coalition and who is now a lobbyist and activist on behalf of faith-related causes.
For the first three or four minutes, Reed and Maher discussed the social science concerning children raised in stable vs. unstable families, and Reed was scoring quite a few points in favor of the traditional understanding of marriage. Sensing that he was making little headway, Maher decided to pull the religion card, and from that point on things went from bad to worse.
Maher said, “Now you’re a man of faith, which means someone who consciously suspends all critical thinking and accepts things on the basis of no evidence.” Astonishingly, Reed said, “yes,” at which point, I shouted at the TV screen: “No!” Then Maher said, “And I believe that you take everything in the Bible literally,” and Reed replied, “yes,” at which point I said, “Oh God, here we go again.”
Maher then did what I knew he would do: he pulled out a sheet of paper which included references to several of the more morally outrageous practices that the God of the Bible seems to approve of, including slavery. Pathetically, Reed tried to clear things up by distinguishing the chattel slavery of the American south from the slavery practiced in the classical world, which amounted to a kind of indentured servitude. “Oh I get it,” Maher responded, “God approves of the good kind of slavery.” The audience roared with laughter; Reed lowered his head; Maher smirked; and the cause of religion took still another step backward.
I would like, in very brief compass, to say something simple about each of the issues that Maher raised. Faith, rightly understood, does not involve any surrender of one’s critical intellectual powers, nor is it tantamount to the acceptance of things on the basis of no evidence. What Bill Maher characterizes as “faith” is nothing but superstition or credulity or intellectual irresponsibility. It is an ersatz “knowing” that falls short of the legitimate standards of reason. Real faith is not infra-rational but rather supra-rational, that is to say, not below reason but above reason and inclusive of it.
It is beyond reason precisely because it is a response to the God who has revealed himself, and God is, by definition, beyond our capacity to grasp, to see, fully to understand. It involves darkness to be sure, but the darkness that comes, not from an insufficiency of light, but from a surplus of light.
If you are ever tempted to agree with Bill Maher on the nature of faith, I would invite you to read any page of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton and honestly ask yourself the question, “Does this sound like someone who has suspended his critical faculties?”
As for the Bible, the moment you say, as Ralph Reed did, that you take the entirety of the Scriptures literally, you are hopelessly vulnerable to the kind of critique that Bill Maher raises. In its marvelous statement on Biblical interpretation, Dei Verbum, Vatican II says that the Bible is the Word of God in the words of men. That laconic statement packs a punch, for it clarifies why the fundamentalist strategy of Scriptural interpretation is always dysfunctional.
God did not dictate the Scriptures word for word to people who received the message dumbly and automatically; rather, God spoke subtly and indirectly, precisely through human agents who employed distinctive literary techniques and who were conditioned by the cultures in which they found themselves and by the audiences they addressed.
Thus one of the most basic moves in Scriptural exegesis is the determination of the genre in which a given Biblical author was operating. Are we dealing with a song, a psalm, a history, a legend, a letter, a Gospel, a tall tale, an apocalypse? Therefore, to ask, “Do you take the Bible literally?” is about as helpful as asking, “Do you take the library literally?”
A further implication of Dei Verbum’s statement is that there is a distinction between, as William Placher put it, “what is in the Bible and what the Bible teaches.” There are lots of things that are indeed in the pages of the Scriptures but that are not essential to the overarching message of the Scriptures, things that were in the cultural milieu of the human authors but that are not ingredient in the revelation that God intends to offer.
A good example of this would be the references to slavery that Maher cited. The institution of slavery was taken for granted in most ancient cultures and therefore it is not surprising that Biblical authors would refer to it or even praise it, but attention to the great patterns and trajectories of the Bible as a whole reveals that the justification of slavery is not something that “the Bible teaches,” which is precisely why the fight against slavery in the western culture was led by people deeply shaped by the Scriptures.
Suffice it to say the kind of conversation that Bill Maher and Ralph Reed had is decidedly not the best way forward.
(Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, “Catholicism”  and the recently released documentary, “Catholicism:The New Evangelization.” Learn more at

Lay ministers play important role in diocese

By Maureen Smith
Since the Catholic Diocese of Jackson does not have enough priests to staff every parish and mission full time with an ordained pastor of its own, the church has called on lay members to help with administrative, educational and other jobs. These people, called lay ecclesial ministers (LEM), are appointed by the bishop, go through a formation process through the diocese and fall under the supervision of a priest. Pastoral ministers, such as music leaders or youth leaders, also serve their church using their gifts, but are not appointed by the bishop the way LEMs are.
“LEMs have the regular administrative duties a pastor would normally have – such as presiding over the parish council and finance committee, maintaining sacramental records and serving as administrator of parish property. LEMs are also empowered by the bishop of the diocese to preach the Word of God at a daily Communion service or at a Sunday service in the absence of a priest; and baptize in the absence of a priest, as well as coordinate and perform other sacramental and liturgical ministry,” explained Sheila Przesmicki, who serves as the LEM at Booneville St. Francis of Assisi parish.
Paula Fulton became the LEM at Louisville Sacred Heart Parish June 1, replacing a retiring Barbara Sturbaum who served in the position for 21 years. She will work with two assistants to serve the Catholic community there. “I want our church members to find projects and participate in the community.
Hopefully our membership will grow and include more young families,” said Fulton. She became interested in lay ministry when a pair of nuns came to run her parish because of the priest shortage. She said now she is committed to the idea of lay leadership. “If our church is going to continue to grow and thrive, lay leaders must evolve and become committed to continuing our presence in small communities,” she said.
A pastor must first recommend someone to start training to be an LEM. The training, offered and coordinated by the Office of Faith Formation includes academic and practical knowledge. “Lay Ecclesial Ministers, Pastoral Ministers and others who serve as lay leaders have the opportunity for an annual weekend retreat, a week-long training every June at Lake Tiak O’Khata, participation in LIMEX or Spring Hill College courses, as well as theology courses provided through the Diocesan Catechist Certification process,” explains the training document from the Faith Formation office on how a lay person becomes an LEM. They also have the opportunity to take classes to learn other practical skills such as parish administration, team leadership and education.
Both Spring Hill College and the University of Loyola in New Orleans, which offers the LIMEX program, offer extension programs in the diocese in which people can earn a master’s degree in theology. LEMs need this kind of academic training when they are running the day-to-day operations of a parish, planning liturgical celebrations and dealing with issues in a parish, but LEMs do not administer sacraments. The LEM will collaborate with the priest who ministers to the spiritual needs of a community.
Przesmicki said she did not have an ‘a-ha’ moment leading her into lay leadership, but has been involved in the work of the church since she was a child. “My first job in ministry was in the fourth or fifth grade when Father (her pastor) asked me to straighten up the books in church and make sure the kneelers were up on Mondays. He paid me a dollar to do it and I was just so pleased to have something to do,” she said. She took on larger roles as the years passed until she was called to replace a retiring sister who ministered to the parish in Houston. She said the gradual call kept leading her to more and more work in the diocese.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) outlines the role, supervision and training of lay people who serve in ministry in a document called “Co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord.” “Today in parishes, schools, church institutions, and diocesan agencies, laity serve in various ‘ministries, offices and roles’ that do not require sacramental ordination but rather ‘find their foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, indeed, for a good many of them, in the Sacrament of Matrimony.’
“What Pope Paul VI said of the laity thirty years ago—and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically repeats — has now become an important, welcomed reality throughout our dioceses,” reads part of the introduction. The Diocese of Jackson has 17 parish LEMs and countless other lay catechists, parish leaders and more.
“The term “lay ecclesial minister” is generic. It is meant to encompass and describe several possible roles. In parish life — to cite only one sphere of involvement —  the pastoral associate, parish catechetical leader, youth ministry leader, school principal, and director of liturgy or pastoral music are examples of such roles. Participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, as described in the Code of Canon Law, canon 517 §2,12 is another example,” continues the USCCB document.