‘Free State of Jones’ provides lesson in community action

Complete the Circle
By George Evans
This week I had an unusual movie experience. I went to see the “Free State of Jones” with Matthew McConaughey. It was a great movie. It made me wrestle with many feelings I have harbored for years. It solidified my current thinking and gave me some renewed hope that we can do better if we only commit to it.
I grew up in Vicksburg  and my predecessors were the victims of a brutal siege which terminated with civilians and soldiers eating dogs and cats to ward off starvation. Surrender of the city on July 4, 1863, after repelling numerous attacks by the armies of Generals Grant and Sherman, was the stuff of lore and stories from a young age emphasized by the surrounding National Military Park, the main roads of which were Union Avenue and Confederate Avenue.
As liberal and progressive as I have become in the ensuing years, there is still a small twinge of pain and hurt when I hear the South maligned. And then I look at the reality of slavery and its aftermath, lynchings, kluckers, Jim Crow and segregation and understanding that the institution of slavery was the cause of the Civil War and its awful carnage and slaughter I know that Biblical justice (Old and New Testament) mandate moving forward toward building a better South and a better U.S.A.
Free State of Jones helps remove the twinges of Old South romanticism so easy to embrace if one is white and rich as were the planters and slave holders. Cotton was like gold and slave labor made it that. Slavery also frequently gave even poor whites (and these were the great majority) a feeling of superiority toward someone.  Sin plays with us in some strange ways. Newt Knight of Jones County, Mississippi, deserts from the Confederate Army after the brutal battle of Corinth as the result of witnessing a very young kinsman being killed.
He goes back home to bury the youngster and gradually concludes that it makes no sense for poor whites who own no slaves to fight the battles for slave holders. As a deserter he is in the same class as a runaway slave and this shapes the movie. He joins up with a number of runaways and they gradually create a small but extremely resourceful army to protect the people of Jones and Jasper counties from the local Confederate troops ordered to confiscate food and goods from their own local people. Their efforts are surprisingly successful for the rest of the war.
I will tell no more about the movie for I hope that everyone reading this will attend and soon.  Movies of seriousness and character development don’t tend to stay long in Mississippi theaters. McConaughey is magnificent as Newt Knight and though I am not a movie critic, I thought the rest of the cast was also very good.
As we struggle today with all sorts of racial and economic problems like “black lives matter,” “economic inequality,” “failing budgets,” “corporate tax reductions,” Newt Knight and those who proclaimed the Free State of Jones at least suggest that coming together in solidarity and fighting for the common good of all men and women and not just for the wealthy and prominent is good for the spirit and the soul and can be successful. They appealed to General Sherman for help against the Confederates who they were already fighting, but were turned down, so they found their own way to protect their community.
With the political mess we face, the moral demise we have created, the tawdry remarks and attacks and ugliness which seem to attract folks and be effective, why not try to rally the troops in a peaceful but effective proclamation of freedom and goodness and graciousness? Why not answer our problems with solutions based on rightness and effective action?
If it can be done in Jones County in the midst of a terrible war and with little help, surely we can do better with all at our disposal if we only put aside self serving ambition and greed and embrace our discipleship as Jesus admonished us to do recently at Sunday Mass and put Him first. He will give us what we need to do it.  That beats cursing the darkness, complaining and doing nothing.
(George Evans, a retired pastoral minister, lives in Madison and is a member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Embrace the whole story of Easter season

George Evans
Every year at this time I am struck by the scope of the readings at Mass, both daily and Sunday. Beginning with the pageantry of Palm Sunday’s entry into Jerusalem and the history and presentation of the synoptic passion and death of our Lord and Savior we know we are in a sacred liturgical time.
We go with Jesus to visit his special friends in Bethany, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom he had recently raised from the dead for the last time before his death and we anticipate with Jesus the solemn nature of the days which loom ahead. We return with him to Jerusalem and the events cascade. We eat in the upper room, we have our feet washed, we experience the first Eucharist and eat his Body and drink his Blood.
We go with Jesus to the Garden but our human weakness overcomes us and we first fall asleep and then fear grips us as we see him taken into custody and led away to be tortured and abandoned by us, his closest friends. We watch him be humiliated, struggle with his cross to Golgotha and die ingloriously on the cross as we watch only from a silent distance.
We are petrified and can’t understand all that has just happened. We hide ourselves in a locked room and pray no one comes for us to die with him.
On Sunday morning more incredible things happen. First, Mary of Magdala goes to Jesus’s tomb but the stone has been rolled away and Jesus is no longer there. She runs back and tells Peter and John who didn’t believe her but did run to the tomb themselves. John being younger gets there first but defers to Peter who enters the tomb first and sees the linens which had wrapped his body and head neatly folded and placed where his body had been. They still don’t know what to make of it all so they return to their safe locked room and wait in shock and disbelief.
The scriptures next relate the fascinating and compelling story of Jesus joining two disciples on their way to Emmaus dejected from the recent events in Jerusalem and overwhelmed by the stranger who explains the scriptures to them and finally reveals himself to them in the breaking of the bread.
He leaves them and they are so excited they run back to the locked room and tell those gathered what had happened. They did not believe them either (Mark 16:13). Later on the same first day of the week, Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked room. Mark reports that Jesus “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.” (Mark 16:14)
Yet he immediately commands them “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) John reports on that first visit that when Jesus appeared he immediately said “Peace be with you” and showed them his hands and side and said to them “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
Thomas had missed this visit, was adamant that he would not believe unless he saw Jesus’s wounds for himself which occurred on another visit a week later and led to his unforgettable utterance “My Lord and my God.” The scriptures continue throughout the Easter season to tell us the beautiful stories of Jesus’s reconciliation with Peter following his appearance at breakfast at the Sea of Tiberias following the wondrous catch of fish, of the miracles of healing of Peter and John and their own miraculous escape from prison assisted by an angel. All of these give us reason to believe as John tells us “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”(John 20:31)
The readings in the Easter liturgies also inspire us to do what the apostles and disciples did as shown in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. They took Jesus seriously once he breathed the Holy Spirit into them and sent them. They went and preached everywhere “and great numbers of men and women were added to them” (Acts 5:14).
They built a church on what Jesus taught them and the Holy Spirit inspired them to do. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) Could not our church today use a healthy dose of being of one heart and mind. Would not our efforts to serve the common good rather than selfish needs and wants transform our community as the early church did theirs.
If we truly live the Easter story and followed the person at its center would we all not experience a new freedom and freshness found nowhere else except in the Risen Lord. We have nothing to lose. Let’s try it.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Foster care bill offers opportunity to advocate

Complete the circle
By George Evans
I have found that advocacy on behalf of the poor and vulnerable for the common good is very difficult for most Mississippi Catholics to embrace as part of their ministry. The U.S. Catholic Bishops have repeatedly urged us to take the Gospels and Catholic social teachings into the market place and the halls of the Legislatures, both state and federal, when issues important to people’s well being present themselves. Pope Francis and his two predecessor popes have used encyclicals of great power to exhort us to such action.
Many of us are not comfortable with contacting our legislators and expressing our support or lack thereof for legislation pending before them. And even more difficult may be suggesting legislation to be introduced. We tend to want to leave those things to other people. Yet we tend at the same time to loudly proclaim the greatness of our democracy and that it was founded on Christian principles. If we believe that then we need to take the time to be heard. There are many issues which need to hear our voices.
All of this has recently come to mind again with the Catholic Day at the Capitol sponsored by Catholic Charities and its Poverty Task Force held on February 11. Much work produced an excellent program attended by approximately 85 people from around Mississippi including both bishops (Jackson and Biloxi) and a good sprinkling of priests and sisters.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz welcomed the participants, stressed the importance of their attendance and reminded them of the remarks of Pope Francis to the U.S. Congress and his call to Christian responsibility for the common good. Bishop Roger Morin presided at the news conference on the south steps of the Capitol after Mass and lunch at St. Peter’s explaining that we were there as Catholics to urge the care and protection of children and the vulnerable as part of our responsibility for the common good.
The issues considered were adequate funding for various programs, including mental health care and the child welfare system in Mississippi. Of particular concern was the state foster care program which has been so poor for years that there is a real and present danger that Judge Tom Lee, a well respected Mississippi federal judge, could possibly decide in a case before him to bring in the federal government to run the foster care program in Mississippi because of the state’s failure to properly provide services necessary to protect and otherwise provide for children placed under its care and to abide by a previous consent order it had entered into years ago in the same case.
Unless significant steps are taken in the current Legislative session Judge Lee may have no choice but to take action which could seriously embarrass the state and adversely affect its economic attractiveness to potential economic development from outside interests.
Speakers at the Cathedral who have had years of involvement with the child welfare system, including two Catholic Charities department heads, told of instance after instance of chronically over worked and grossly underpaid state social workers unable to help foster children as decency requires resulting in the state’s failure to meet basic needs ranging from inadequate health care to frank abuse, both physical and mental and even death in more than one case. The need for help by the Legislature is critical and not optional.
Funding is always a point of contention in funding child welfare programs. This year Governor Phil Bryant has finally taken a lead in responding to the foster care crisis. Perhaps the threat of a federal take over is somewhat responsible and perhaps his best nature is showing itself. Regardless, it is a great time to join in contacting our legislators, particularly our senators and urging them to vote for and support the passage of the foster care funding bill which would provide an additional 34.5 million dollars for the needed additional personnel to help move foster care forward.
We were taught by Matthew Burkhart of Catholic Relief Services in an excellent address at the Feb. 11 meeting that personal contact is the most effective advocacy tool, followed by personal letter, telephone calls, personal emails and form petitions. Please contact your senator and representative and the governor and let them know that you think that the disaster in foster care needs attention and to please pass the foster care bill. What a great way to start as an advocate.
(George Evans is a retired attorney and pastoral minister. He is a member of Jackson St. Richard Parish..)

Initiative 42 offers positive step forward for education

Complete the circle
By George Evans
Most of my ministry at St. Richard Parish is adult formation, particularly in the area of Catholic Social Teachings and related subjects, and outreach programs, such as St. Vincent de Paul, visits to the home bound, Operation Shoestring summer program and tutoring middle school students. In each of these efforts I am struck by three main problems: poverty, family breakdowns and woeful education.
Most of what I do along with the others who work with me creates interface with all three problems daily. Poverty and family breakdown, particularly the needs of single parent families, are huge problems in need of consistent effort, dedication and prayer from individuals, churches and government at every level if we are to succeed.
These challenges are complex, difficult and demanding and beyond my ability to offer short range solutions other than to work hard in all of the help programs available through church and community. We all need to bring Gospel values with us on a daily basis into the streets where we live with Christ’s compassion to those poor and marginalized. This is what Pope Francis calls us to do and what he challenged our Congress and the United Nations to do.
Woeful public education is something we in Mississippi have generally been plagued with as long as I can remember. Approximately 90 percent of the students in Mississippi prior to college age are in public schools.  Burdened with the aftermath of segregation, agrarian poverty, lack of interest and political conflict, we have never funded education properly and the results show it. We have hovered at or near the bottom of per student expenditure and academic accomplishment in our public schools.
The concomitant economic impact is not surprising. We have hovered at or near the bottom of every economic indicator for years to the detriment of every citizen in the state. There cannot be any serious question that education and economic success, growth and development are related. We either all rise together or we sink together.
Unlike the problem areas of poverty and family breakdowns, there is a very simple concrete action concerning education available to all of us of voting age on Nov. 3. Approximately 200,000 Mississippians signed petitions to address the funding inadequacies by the Legislature of public education.
In 1997 the Legislature passed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) requiring them to fund public education according to a formula approved by the Legislature. Since that time the Legislature has followed the law it passed only two out of 18 years. This failure to fully fund MAEP was the motivating cause for the petitions requiring a constitutional amendment mandating proper funding of public education.
Significant opposition has arisen to the initiative (Proposition 42) from the Governor, Lt. Governor and many legislators. Argument is made that if passed, Prop 42 will take spending authority away from local school districts and place authority in the hands of a Hinds County judge. Supporters of  Prop 42, including former Supreme Court Justice George Carlson who has studied Prop 42 emphatically deny that position.
The procedure for legal enforcement of Prop 42, if passed, would begin by suit in Hinds Chancery Court but almost certainly be ultimately decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court because of the importance of such decision. Opponents of Prop 42 have proposed Prop 42A instead. As I understand that proposition, if passed, would basically leave everything as is. Had MAEP been funded annually, as expected, there would have been no need for Prop 42. Prop 42A is not a solution.
Many prominent supporters of education in the state, including Jim Barksdale, have helped fund the effort to pass Prop 42 on Nov. 3. Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape and COO of Federal Express and a leading philanthropist in our state, has spent millions supporting reading programs in public schools and establishing the Barksdale Honor College at the University of Mississippi.
He recently conveyed his strong support of Prop 42 because “all else has failed” and the Legislature has shown it will not follow what it previously enacted in MAEP in all but two of the 18 years since its passage.
I urge each of you to prayerfully consider your vote on November 3. We have a concrete real opportunity to embrace our Catholic Social Teachings on supporting the common good. We have a concrete simple way to help our young people prepare better for a high tech world and thereby get a better job, provide for a better family life and take a step away from or further away from poverty if that is where they now find themselves.
Its the right thing to do and I believe its what the Lord and His gospel call us to do.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Ruling highlights separation of civil law from morality

Complete the circle
By George Evans
Like many of you, as a Catholic, I have been trying for the last days and weeks to get my arms around the impact of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Regardless of whether we think the decision is correct or not, or whether we like it or not, there is no question that it is now the law of the land. What then does that portend for us as Catholics in our religious practice? After considerable struggle and thought my conclusion is NOTHING. The Supreme Court does not make moral law.
Civil law and Catholic morality are two different things. Both have an enormous impact on the way we live. Frequently the law changes the way people act. Think of the way the Civil Rights statutes in the 60’s changed voting, housing, accommodations, employment and myriad other parts of our lives. The blockbuster changes in public education effected by the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education has been monumental. Every Southerner who lived through what was a true social revolution based to a great extent on changes in law experienced the practical impact of law on life.
As a Catholic, I have always thought the Brown decision and laws of the Civil Rights Era were in lock step with Catholic morality. They moved this country much closer to its own destiny set forth in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and to the Old and New Testaments.
Genesis tells us that God created us in His image and likeness and the Gospels tell us His Son, Jesus, proved our worth by dying and rising for us and our salvation. Although legal, it was not moral to have segregated schools, churches, movie theaters, water fountains, bathrooms, etc. Segregation was legal in the south but not moral. Neither was slavery in its day. We now acknowledge the sin of legal segregation as well as slavery. We did not for a long time. I think the Civil Rights decisions and statutes are a great example of how law influenced behavior to be more in keeping with gospel values than did much of the preaching of the time.
On the other hand, Roe v Wade, another monumental Supreme Court decision more than 40 years ago, has had the opposite practical impact. By legalizing abortion it has conveyed the message to many that abortion is okay whether that was the intent of the decision or not. The result has been millions of innocent babies cast onto the trash heap.
Nothing could be further from Catholic morality. The law has not changed the clear teaching of Catholic morality condemning abortion. Those who claim otherwise are, at least objectively, deluding themselves. The sin of abortion is still with us. Roe v Wade has had the opposite effect from the Civil Rights decisions and statutes but also is evidence of how law can affect behavior one way or the other.
There are many areas which may not be quite as clear as Jim Crow and abortion. In my mind the failure in Mississippi of the legislature and governor to expand Medicaid is an affront to Catholic morality which stresses the duty to work for the common good and to care for our vulnerable brothers and sisters. I appreciate that financial arguments to the contrary are made.
I submit that they are hollow and trumped by the financial benefits of new jobs, critical support for hospitals and the moral imperative of healthcare for several hundred thousand people now doing without to the detriment of us all. If we accept Mt. 25 as being at least one standard for our personal salvation, perhaps we need to cure this absence of law to conform with Catholic morality.
Obviously there are many areas where law and morality relate – education funding, euthanasia, death penalty, mental health, immigration, etc. Too many to go into here. But what the Supreme Court has done in the case of same sex marriage highlights the difference between the two. Catholic morality teaches that same sex marriage is unacceptable and violates the consistent teaching of Scripture and the church.
As such we have no duty to accept it in our church practice while still recognizing it as the law of the land until such time as it may be changed. Our moral duty to love and respect all people remains our task including those who enter same sex marriage. Our moral duty to support and promote traditional marriage between a man and a woman continues and even increases as we work to uphold marriage as a special relationship between one man and one woman.
Pope Francis’s Synod in October in Rome will address the family which starts with a man and a woman in marriage. Let us pray for its success, for the success of future propagation, and for a change to the recent decision on same sex marriage.
Let us act in such ways that God’s kingdom comes now as well as later. Let us treat all people in such ways that our witness to the Jesus of the gospels will be irresistible to all who come into contact with us in our daily lives. Then we will have fulfilled our duty as citizens to law and as Catholics to Catholic morality.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Easter calls for real, personal conversion

Complete the Circle
By George Evans
The only problem with Easter for the Christian is getting over the exuberance and returning to ordinary daily life. There are only so many times you can say “Alleluia, HE IS RISEN, Alleluia” before it loses its impact. Fortunately the Holy Spirit is coming and Pentecost will re-energize us once again. The liturgical year marches on with its compelling peaks and valleys, its consolations and its challenges. It’s our job to roll with it, to drink deeply of its nuances and to repeatedly meet its central figure over and over ever more deeply.
As our country, and the Western world in general, continues its precipitous slide (perhaps rush) into deeper materialism, unbridled capitalism and rampant greed to the exclusion of the common good we question where to turn for relief and fulfillment.
Where do we turn in the face of poverty, disease, violence, loneliness. What do we do about wars and threatened wars, reductions in all the safety nets for the poor from social security to food stamps, expanding human trafficking and fear of death. Where do we turn in the face of one tragedy after another, deaths and suffering everywhere even among the young, slights based on egotism and selfishness from all sorts of people close and far.
We know because we are Christians and mainly Catholics reading this, that Jesus has “saved” us by his death and resurrection. But we don’t see that this makes a real difference in the way people think or act. It may  be that we don’t accept what Jesus has done and thereby we don’t allow it to flourish so that it makes a difference  in the way we act, the things and causes we support, the love and mercy we exhibit and the very way we live our lives.
What do our leaders tell us? Pope Francis is a great place to start. Over and over since becoming pope, he has urged us to remake this world of which we so often complain. Very simply he tells us the only way to start is by renewal of our personal encounter with Christ. If we have never had this existential experience, appeal to the Holy Spirit to lead us. He will not fail. The Joy of the Gospel tells us very early in paragraph 3 that “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that He is already there with open arms.” What does that mean for us?
When Jesus embraces us we cannot remain the same. We are created by God and the embrace by his Son brings us into the orbit of his love and mercy. This cannot fail to transform us. This is the heart of conversion. This is what Jesus did for us by his death and resurrection. This is what being saved really means. We are not the same. We live differently. We step into his shoes. As Pope Francis tells us, “True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.” (Par. 88). In fact, Jesus calls to us from the world, where He is present “in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas”. (Par.91)
I believe the difference in meeting Christ and simply believing in an abstract God or Trinity is what is life changing. We step into his shoes and become followers and not just disciples who profess belief with their minds but not with their hearts and souls. We treat people like he did.
We respect their dignity and care for their needs. We accept people as they are and work forward from there. We go out to the poor and marginalized. We visit the sick and feed the hungry. We work hard to make politics better to serve the common good not special interests to the detriment of others. We instill in our spouses, children and friends what it has meant to encounter Jesus so that we may share it with them.
The world in which we live gradually becomes better if we do these things. If we are forgiving, reconciling and gentle, we create joy and goodness as Jesus did. If we are self-giving rather than self-righteous, we change relationships for the better and our world is a slightly better place. If we do it together, think of what can happen. We wouldn’t lament the loss of our children or grandchildren. They would need to look no further than what we gave them. We wouldn’t worry about Americans defecting to ISIS. We wouldn’t have wars or threats of war in eight to 10 places at the same time.
It’s exciting to think of what a personal encounter with Christ can lead to. If only we could all try it, Pope Francis’ vision could come true. It’s worth a try. Pentecost is coming. What a great time to ask the Holy Spirit to help us encounter Christ.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Illness prompts Lenten reflection

Complete the Circle
By George Evans
A funny thing happened as I started Lent. I was geared to lose substantial weight and started my diet on Monday before Ash Wednesday. Daily Mass after exercise was on the program. Ash Wednesday and Thursday went fine until about 7:30 p.m. when I was overwhelmed with severe stomach pains and related gastro-intestinal problems. I had never had anything like this before. My wife, Carol, called an ambulance and I finally got to the ER at St. Dominic where I lay in the hallway for a while until a treatment room became available.
An IV was finally started (two paramedics had given up because veins seemed to have disappeared due to severe dehydration), merciful morphine was given and finally I went for a CT scan around midnight and they thought I had diverticulitis. By 3 a.m. I reached a room for the rest of a sleepless night. I saw a wonderful hospitalist the next morning and he wasn’t sure of the diagnoses and wanted to watch things. Toward the end of the day he still wasn’t sure and I was still sick and not sure the Lord wasn’t calling me home. He ordered an abdominal sonogram for Saturday morning. That was the trick.
He immediately diagnosed badly infected gall bladder with sepsis and e-coli in the blood stream. I selected a general surgeon from the three on weekend call. He came and agreed wholeheartedly with the internist and got my attention by scheduling surgery for 7:30 a.m. Sunday. I knew they saw something that needed immediate attention. I felt so bad I was pleased with the urgency. I think prayer and desperately clutching the Lord had gotten me to that point.
The surgery went well except the trip to surgery on Sunday morning at 7:30 almost scared me to death because everything was so dark and utterly quiet. I felt like I was going to the morgue and never was so happy to see a surgical nurse and the bright surgical lights on arrival.
The surgical pain upon awakening was very tolerable (laproscopic) and I thanked God again for medical advances and a great surgeon. I still felt terrible otherwise. Sepsis will knock you for a loop. It took another three days in the hospital before I began to feel like a human again. I had eaten nothing but ice chips and a little juice and liquids for six days. After two days I improved enough to go home after a week of hospitalization.
I have now been home a week. I have thought and prayed a lot. I have thanked God, the doctors, health care folks, Father Dan Gallagher and Father Mike O’Brien and other visitors. Even though I hope I am never that sick again, I can honestly say I have had  a positive experience. To be knocked low and down with time to pray and read good commentaries and God stuff is not all bad. To be utterly dependent on God and others brings the Lenten message home with force and reality. To experience the care and concern of health providers and spouse and children is nothing to belittle and helps frame suffering as God may see it. I have never invited suffering and never will but what I experienced I believe will help me in the future to face it again if come it will.
If you have to get sick, Lent is not a bad time for it to happen. The daily scriptures and the wonderful reflections available help improve the closeness with God which the sickness and pain initiate. I share just one example. The Lazarus story is one of my favorites.  The rich man, dressed in purple, and Lazarus, who had lain at his door with his sores, both died.  Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham and the rich man was in torment begging for help. But what had the rich man done for his punishment.
He had not been mean to Lazarus. He had not kicked him or abused him. He knew who he was. He had simply ignored him. He had not been generous as the biblical tradition that Abraham had exemplified and taught and as Lent brings home to us every year.
Does not this parable challenge us directly to respond to the enormous need we see locally and world wide. In his commentary on this gospel in “This Day,” John Klassen, OSB, abbot of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota reflects:
One of the scourges of globalization is the maldistribution of wealth. In 2014 the relief agency Oxfam reported that just one percent of the world’s population now controls nearly half of the planet’s wealth. The study says this tiny slice of humanity controls $110 trillion, or 65  times the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion people. In the U.S., the gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate than any other developed country: the top one percent captured 95 percent of post-recession  growth (since 2009), while 90 percent of Americans became poorer.
The numbers are staggering. Abbott Klassen  suggests that sometimes we don’t see the needy people in front of us. Sometimes our mental constructs impair our vision, and we don’t help. Is this not reminiscent of the rich man? Maybe if we all first see the needy person in front of us and start by helping him/her then we begin to address the global situation. Back on my feet and close to God by suffering and prayer, and even having lost a few pounds, I hope to start anew.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Using Lent to reconnect with God

Complete the circle
By George Evans
What do we do as we search again to make this a good Lent. Do we pray more? Yes. Do we go to daily Mass? Yes, if possible. Do we give up something? Yes, if its something that’s hard and means a lot to us like cussing, smoking or drinking. Do we treat our spouse, children or grandchildren better. Yes, and now we are getting to the God stuff because of the other stuff.
When we pray more and better in quiet and perhaps with scripture, go to Eucharist daily or at least more frequently, deny ourselves those pleasures we love or are addicted to then the God stuff all of a sudden smacks us in the face.
The reason is simple.  Prayer, sacrament, self denial and discipline purify and open us to allow the God who is always there with his voice calling and arms open to be heard by us and embraced by us. Once we hear him and embrace him then the God stuff automatically follows.
Instead of me, me, me we focus on you, you, you.  Remember Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law though he was tired after a long day and healing the daughter of a foreigner, a Greek woman, Syrophoenician by birth, even though he was trying to go unnoticed when he went to the district of Tyre.  He knew from prayer what his father wanted of him and he responded accordingly and this was his God stuff. And he periodically needed to hear and be touched by his father, just as we do, to keep going in his mission. Should we not do the same and serve and touch the other? Is this not what Lent is meant to be about?
From the first pages in Genesis God’s method is clear. After creating us he gave us a beautiful garden filled with all we needed, nourished and embraced us and gave us the command to take care of this world and the creation he had given us.
He didn’t tell us just to sit back  but rather to “be fertile and multiply,” “to have dominion over all the living creatures.” He used the Cain and Abel story in the best cross examination in Scripture to make it clear that YES, we are “our brother’s keeper.” He repeatedly blessed his covenant people, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah and the other prophets and after forming them sent them to do the great things in the Hebrew scriptures. It is always His way to love and form his people and then to send them to do the great leads of the Covenant. It always is a matter of coming to him and then going from him to bring him to others, to the world.
Jesus comes from the Godhead itself formed from all eternity in his relationship to his Father and brings to us the very life of that relationship.  Jesus goes from the Father and touches as many people as possible in his relatively short time on earth. But he touches them in such an extraordinary way by his life and Resurrection that the world is forever changed.
Time and dates are based on his short life. His disciples came to him after being called, and formed by him proceeded to bring him to the ends of the earth as commanded in the Great Commission, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”
Lent then is that special time when  we come again to Jesus and the Father with renewed emphasis on prayer, sacrament, self denial and openness to the Spirit who is the love of the Father and Son, and touched as we will be by their embrace then we go to bring them to all nations starting with every person we meet in day to day life.  We go to spouse, children, grandchildren, co-workers, friends and even enemies. And we take Christ with us to all.  And when we do, the great surprise is that we see Christ in each of them.
We go to the poor, homeless, beggars, widows, orphans, aliens – we go to all and we meet them in our  everyday life, not in some foreign country, and we serve them. We take Jesus with us because we have been formed by him and have been made strong enough by him to serve and we let him act through us as his hands and feet.
And finally our serving brings us  great peace and union with him, maybe for the first time. With the resurrection on Easter as we are touched with a glimpse of eternity arm and arm with our brothers we have served.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Let Isaiah inspire cooperation

Complete the circle
By George Evans
I am writing this column during the first week of Advent.  After hearing the voice of Isaiah from the Lectionary on Tuesday and Wednesday I knew I had my choice of topic as I stared at my blank computer screen. I find these two passages from Isaiah, 11:1-10 and 25:6-10, as the most meaningful, uplifting, inspiring and beautiful of anything in the Old Testament prophets. Please read them and join me in this Advent reflection.
“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Why is this shoot so special? Because, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” And because of this ‘’Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.”
This special one shall wear “Justice as the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” As Catholic Christians we know this special one in Isaiah’s prophecy is Jesus whose birth we wait with anticipation to celebrate shortly once again. To do so well we must wear justice as a band around our waist and judge the poor accordingly not by appearances or hearsay. We must sprout because the Spirit of the Lord has rested upon us as He did upon Jesus. Isaiah then paints the magnificent vision of what will happen when all the above takes place.
The wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the young lion, the cow and the bear, the lion and the ox shall all lie down together and be at peace and “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”
The knowledge of the Lord shall do all these things. It does it for us as well. Democrats and Republicans shall cooperate and rule for the good of all, progressive and conservative Catholics shall drop their anathemas directed at each other and embrace for the good of Christ’s body, the church. Rich and poor shall share the goods of creation given to all by the Lord of all and do the necessary tough work together to heal the scars of poverty, resentment, prejudice and fear in our culture. Our systems will be changed so that all prosper by the efforts of each other.
Isaiah’s Wednesday passage is so special I want it read at my funeral. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”
Everyone gets great food and wine.  No one can complain about that but we must all cooperate with the Lord to make it come true. And if we do, that same Lord will “Destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” That intimacy we all long for with the Lord which St. Augustine and all saints proclaim will finally be realized.
“On that day it will be said: Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us! For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”
The Jesus we long for again in this Advent season, though already with us, will come again in the blessed spirit of Christmas so that in the neediness of our flesh and blood we can be nourished in the incarnation of God into flesh and blood to forever show us the way and give us a model to follow.
Isaiah tells us what God will bring from the shoot from the stump of Jesse, how He will impact the world we live in, how He will bring peace and harmony to the animals and children, how on His holy mountain there will be no more harm or ruin for anyone. He invites us to eat rich food and drink choice wines, to have our tears wiped away forever, to rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.
We now need to buy in as He has taught us. To believe in Him as Lord and Savior, to seek and follow the will of the Father, to pick up our cross and follow him, to be a servant and not a master. To love unconditionally as He has loved us. To let love and compassion rule in our lives rather than anger and greed and to be active rather than passive. To welcome him again at Christmas with open arms and sheer delight. To enjoy rich food and choice wines and be glad and grateful that He has saved us.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Synod working with Holy Spirit on pressing issues

Complete the circle
By George Evans
The Synod of Bishops on the family has ended and a final document has been agreed on by the Bishops.  Traditional Catholic teaching has been reaffirmed after questions were raised following the October 13 delivery of a midterm report “that used strikingly conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to church teaching, including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and those in same-sex unions.”(Catholic News Service 10/18)
It should be noted that frank discussion was held on several points and “Pope Francis said he welcomed the assembly’s expressions of disagreement.” (Catholic News Service, 10/18)
Synod fathers voted on each of the document’s 62 paragraphs. “All received a simple majority, but three failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority ordinarily required for approval of synodal documents.” (Catholic News Service, 10/18)
Two of those paragraphs dealt with a controversial proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper that would make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. The document noted disagreements on the subject and recommended further study. The document’s section on homosexuality, which also fell short of supermajority approval, was significantly changed from its counterpart in the midterm report and included a quote from a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: ‘There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ (Catholic News Service, 10/18)
I think it is thus fair to say that nothing earth shaking happened at the Synod. Tradition was affirmed and some controversial questions were left open for further discussion.  Apparently the synod’s final report will serve as an agenda for the October 2015 world synod on the family, which will make recommendations to the pope.
It is also important to realize that synodal documents, whatever they may conclude, do not create doctrine.  As Catholic News Service informs us, “Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the absence of a supermajority indicated a lack of consensus and a need for more discussion, but stressed that none of the document carried doctrinal weight.  Pope Francis said he welcomed the assembly’s expressions of disagreement.”
The fact that free and, at times, heated discussion was the order of the day and was welcomed by the pope may be one of the great achievements of the synod. The church we all love moves slowly and carefully when it does move. The Holy Spirit we believe is always with it and embraces it with His love and concern. Pope Francis has started a process under the Spirit’s care and guidance. Of all the family issues with pressing pastoral concern, to me the one with the greatest immediate need for action is the divorced and civilly remarried Catholic issue. Presently church teaching excludes these church members from the Eucharist short of some very narrow pastoral exceptions. Many members are now former members because of frequent difficulty with the annulment process, lack of welcoming embrace from pastor or fellow church members or simple frustration, whether right or wrong, from the sense of condemnation by the church of their birth and all of their life. I have to believe that we can find with the help of the Holy Spirit a true and faithful solution to such situations that enriches rather than harms the Church of the loving and merciful Jesus. I know others may disagree on this point. I know that others may choose other family issues as more needy of immediate attention. My thought is to let the discussion/debate continue with prayer and discernment with a plea for God’s help.
For those of us not facing either of the two situations  which apparently engendered  the most debate in the recent synod – civil remarriage and homosexuality – it is critical to embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters who are. Our love, our prayer and our concern are not optional. Since we all are made in God’s image and likeness as Genesis reminds us early in the Bible and since we are our brother’s keeper as Gen 4:8-11 teaches in that wonderful unanswered question, we must pray for and support our pope and bishops during this coming year so they feel the hand of the Holy Spirit in making those decisions which best serve persons in all circumstances during the next year. Unless we each do our part we cannot rest in the peace of a job well done. Our church and all its people deserve the best from us all.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)