Retreats offer unique connection to Christ’s life

Complete The Circle
By George Evans
I am writing this after recently returning from what has become my annual retreat at Manresa Retreat House in Convent, Louisiana, located on the River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Manresa is a Jesuit retreat house on the banks of the Mississippi with great facilities including an antebellum main residence building, a beautiful chapel, and wonderful new conference center, not to mention several avenues of oaks. It is a magnificent retreat setting on many acres.
Being a Jesuit institution, our retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder. Although these kinds of retreats have been conducted for 500 years, there always seems to be something new or different in the annual sojourn, at least by way of emphasis. This year was no different for me among the 16 from St. Richard Parish who joined the 95 from Baton Rouge for the retreat.
The retreat master was terrific. One of the distinguishing things he stressed was truly pondering different scriptural passages in the manner of lectio divina and putting oneself in the scene of particular gospel passages. St. Ignatius stressed this exercise, and though I had previously been encouraged to do so it had always been difficult for me to benefit from it. For some reason, perhaps the Holy Spirit, it worked better this time.
Let me share a couple of scenes we entered into on retreat and see if they are meaningful to you. Be with Jesus as he walks into the Jordan river to be baptized by John the Baptist. Feel the chill and wetness of the water. Sense the Spirit descend upon you with Jesus and hear the Father tell Jesus and you that you are His beloved Son along with Jesus in whom He is well pleased.  When we leave with Jesus we are ready to follow him. (Mt 3:13-17)
We then go into the desert with Jesus and become hot and hungry and we withstand, with Jesus, the devil’s temptation to do it his way and the world’s way by pleasing the crowd, grasping at political rule or by seeking religious power. We resist our culture’s enticement to greed, to things, to rampant pleasure and luxury. (Lk 4:1-13)
We go back home with Jesus to Nazareth where he stands  up in the Synagogue and reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”( Lk4:16-19) Jesus has set forth his mission and his father’s will for him and therefore for us as his followers.  He has given his inaugural address and asked us to help him complete his work.
We later go with Jesus when he sees Zacchaeus, a short man who had climbed a tree in order to see Jesus in the pressing crowd. We experience Jesus reaching out to this rich, sinful, hated tax collector asking, to the astonishment of everyone in the crowd, to stay in his house. We see and hear Zacchaeus’ conversion and promise to give half his possessions to the poor and repay four times over anything he has extorted. We are excited about the celebration we will experience with Jesus at Zacchaeus’s house that night.(Lk 19:1-10)
As time goes by we hear many parables and stories from Jesus. One is the Last Judgment in which Jesus separates the sheep on the right from the goats on the left and we hear him tell those on his right that they will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world and those on his left to depart from him into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And like those on the right and left we are anxious to know the reason and he tells us along with the others there:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. When asked about doing or not doing these things he replied, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…..what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ (Mt 25:31-46)
We leave this scene struck by its directness and simplicity. We resolve to act in accord with what we have heard. We ask to be forgiven. We go to confession at the retreat. We experience a freedom and liberation. We understand its not enough just to pray and go to Mass. We have to reach out to others in charity and justice by making the system better.  We ask for the grace to enter gospel scenes with Jesus again in the future. We invite you to join us. We go home in peace and with joy.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)
Editor’s note: see retreats on page 6

Baptism calls us to life-long faith formation

Complete the circle
By George Evans
Elsewhere in this issue of Mississippi Catholic you will find coverage of educational opportunities offered by the Office of Faith Formation of the diocese covering all aspects of lay ministry and lay formation.  One does not need to have a title in the local parish, be a teacher in a Catholic school, an employee on the parish staff or have any designation whatsoever other than being an adult Catholic to participate in many of the offerings. In fact, by baptism we are all called to formation throughout our life by the Gospel of Jesus.
Many if not most Catholics have sold themselves short for years with the understanding that what they learned from their parents and families or the good Sisters in the parochial schools was and is enough for their spiritual formation for life. When we think about it and compare that understanding to what we do in every other aspect of our lives something doesn’t compute.
The lessons, prayers and devotionals we learned in our youth are invaluable. Without them it is likely that there is no foundation on which to build further spiritual formation. However, if we quit our spiritual growth, devotional life and understanding at 12, 18, 25 or whatever age, is there any reason we shouldn’t get bored, disinterested or turned off by our religious experience as the rest of our life continues to grow, develop, and mature?
We complain a lot about the consumerism, secularism, self-indulgence and selfishness of our current society. If we quit meeting God in a progressively adult way always being formed in our knowledge and spirituality as we are in our other education, work, social development and skills are we not responsible, at least in part, for the darkness of which we complain?  How can an education which stops in our youth serve our religious and spiritual development needed as a parent, head of a household, spouse and teacher?
Pope Francis in his extraordinary exhortation “Joy of the Gospel” admonishes us that the new evangelization he calls for not only requires a faithful acceptance  of the kerygma, the first proclamation that Jesus loves us, saves us and lives at our side, but “also calls for ongoing formation and maturation.” (Par. 160)  “Education and catechesis are at the service of this growth.” (Par. 163)  Our pope understands and challenges us to be prepared to impact and challenge a world more diverse, technological, sophisticated and multicultural than ever before. We cannot effectively do this with a lack of knowledge and spiritual formation.  He makes it clear:
It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation.  It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love.  Along    with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”(Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament  authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbor: “The one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the whole law…therefore love of neighbor is the fulfilling of the law”(Rom 13:8,10) (Par 161)
Again, it’s up to us to be the Lord’s hands and feet, his messengers to those who have not heard his word and to a world aching for the love, peace and joy which only He can bring. First, as the pope tells us we need to be as formed and transformed as we can be in order to do the best job possible.  Does not the Lord deserve this if he entrusts evangelization to us?  Do we not owe it to ourselves to know the Lord as fully and as intimately as we can?
The diocese and many parishes offer great opportunities for “formation and maturation” as Pope Francis calls it in his challenge. May we all take full advantage so that we grow in faith and love to better love and serve our Lord and neighbor.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Reflecting on an incomplete revolution

Complete the Circle
By By George Evans
I remember the summer of 1964 and plan to participate in some of the 50th anniversary events of Mississippi Freedom Summer at Tougaloo College on June 25-29. I was a native of Vicksburg, had finished college a year before and had just completed one year of law school and had started seminary studies at a Benedictine Monastery in Conception, Missouri. Mississippi was in an absolute turmoil.  I’m not sure we knew it at the time but a social revolution was in progress. Students, both black and white, were pouring into the state from colleges all over the country with the sole intent of registering new voters.

The summer before the freedom riders had come. That effort had been directed at integrating accommodations and bus stations. Progress in that area was on the way. This was different. These students, and those in charge, were staying here for weeks or months, not passing through or being sent to Parchman.

They were working to organize people who had never before voted and who, for the most part, had not been taught how to register to vote nor encouraged to do so. Tension ran high. A major black vote could threaten the way of life of segregation and white supremacy which prevailed.  The threat of school integration had lingered for 10 years since Brown vs. Board of Education and deep down whites knew the delay couldn’t last forever (it ended six years later in 1970).  A black vote along with the federal action being taken could mean a power shift.

The tension that built with incident after incident during the early days of June, erupted with the killing of three civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner on June 21-22 in Neshoba County. They were missing for weeks after being released from jail at night. National media and the best the FBI had to offer descended upon Mississippi and Neshoba County. National news reported daily.
The bodies of the three workers were found in an earthen dam in Neshoba County 44 days later, Aug. 5, 1964. The outrage over their deaths, assisted in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mississippi had shot itself in its foot.

Freedom Summer 1964 brought forth some leadership from churches and synagogues, particularly the Catholic and Episcopal bishops, some other church leaders and the Jewish rabbis pleading for restraint and tolerance in the name of Judeo-Christian principles. In truth, as I saw it at the time, this effort was welcomed, took courage and made me proud. But it was limited and unsupported by the vast majority of the churches and people who remained silent.
The accommodation that the churches had made for years with segregation was taking its toll. Change is never easy and for most whites, this was CHANGE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I think we were all (even those who embraced the changes) a little afraid of what the future held because of the uncertainty that a social and cultural revolution brings. This was a change in a way of life. This was a true social/cultural revolution.

Looking back after 50 years we see great progress. Black elected officials are found all over Mississippi in great numbers. More and more black Mississippians graduate from college and professional schools and take their place in meaningful and well-paying jobs in business, education, the arts and professions. Restaurants and theaters and recreational venues of all kinds reverberate with  black patrons and couples and perhaps even more significantly with mixed race patrons and couples.  Schools and universities are well integrated.
Despite the progress enormous work still remains. The African American poverty rate in Mississippi is awful and disproportionate to that of Caucasians and Asians. The same is true for those in prisons and those born out of wedlock. The tensions of 50 years ago have abated but new fears and anxieties between races still endure and God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself still goes wanting.

Churches have made progress but until secular materialism is confronted and overcome the self absorption and narcissism it leads to will continue the need for a new social/cultural revolution as did segregation. Until we buckle down on that enormous undertaking we will not achieve that which many hoped to achieve 50 years ago – justice, peace, prosperity. There will be no further progress in race relations and no further social/cultural revolutions until we reach out and touch and embrace our neighbor, actually love our neighbor as ourself.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)