New Vicksburg Early Learning Center announces director

By Stephanie Brown
JACKSON – On Dec. 17, 2020, Vicksburg Catholic School announced that Katie Emfinger would take the reigns as the new director for the Sisters of Mercy Early Learning Center, set to open in late spring. Emfinger currently serves as the Title I and Resource Teacher at St. Francis Xavier, the Elementary Campus of Vicksburg Catholic School. She comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be invaluable as the community welcomes its youngest learners.

Katie Emfinger is the new director for the Sisters of Mercy Early Learning Center in Vicksburg.

Emfinger received her B.S. in Elementary Education from Belhaven University and her M.Ed. from Mississippi College. In 2010, she received her National Board Certification. While the early learning center will be a part of the Vicksburg Catholic School umbrella, assuming the role of director brings on the responsibility and exciting opportunity to build organizational culture from the ground up. Starting with a brand-new facility and staff, Emfinger will build on the strong Catholic environment found in VCS while also making the center its own unique entity. When asked what she is most looking forward to in her new position, she said, “I am looking forward to creating a loving, enriching environment, along with my team at the Sisters of Mercy Early Learning Center, for all children.”
Having been a member of the Vicksburg Catholic family for five years, Emfinger recognizes the value of educating the whole child. Her strong academic background, combined with her desire to teach in the Light of Christ, will surely create an environment where all children can thrive.
Emfinger recognizes the importance of building a true sense of community in the new facility and hopes to create a place where children grow and parents are confident in the care the center provides. “I am also looking forward to not only watching our children grow physically, but watching them grow spiritually, intellectually, socially, and emotionally as well. I want our children to leave every day knowing they are loved.”
St. Francis Xavier Principal Mary Arledge said, “When working in a school with loving and caring teachers and staff as we have at St. Francis Xavier, you become more of a family than coworkers. Katie has been part of the family for five years, and she is everything that an Early Learning Center needs for a director. She is a warm, loving, gentle, and caring person who makes a perfect fit when caring not only for infants through 3-year-olds but also for the new mothers who may leave their child for the first time. Katie is dedicated to the field of education and excited to begin educating the youngest learners of Vicksburg Catholic School.”

(Stephanie Brown is the assistant superintendent of the Office of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Madame Gireaudeau highlight of early diocese “Cradle Days” – part 1

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Before I begin this week’s article, let me say that having watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week by an incited mob, this brutal moment is now a part of our collective memory and a part of our history. How it is recorded will be a complicated and challenging task.
When we get beyond the rawness of this shock, how will we process it and how will we remember it? That is yet to be seen. History is indeed messy.
For now, let us turn to some more of our diocesan history. This week we will see how memory influences history as I begin a two-part article on French New Orleans Natchez connection.
In his book, Cradle Days of St. Mary’s, written in 1941, Bishop Richard O. Gerow, bishop of the diocese from 1924-1966, captures the early history of Catholic Natchez. He chronicles the days leading up to the establishment of the then Diocese of Natchez in 1837 and then carries the story forward through the early bishops.

Bishop John Joseph Chanche

The book is a treasure trove of how the church survived those days, and it features many of the people who helped establish the Catholic community. In the chapter entitled “Bishop Chanche Comes to Natchez,” Bishop Gerow highlights Madame Felicité Girodeau, who had come to Natchez from New Orleans with her husband Gabriel in 1802.
The Gireaudeau’s (proper spelling) were very active in the Catholic community and served as godparents in several of the baptismal records for both slaves and free. Mr. Gireaudeau served on the board of the Roman Catholic Society of Natchez. Sadly, he died in 1827 without receiving the last rites of the church as there was no priest assigned to the town at that time.
After Gabriel’s death, Madame Gireaudeau offered her parlor as a place for Mass when priest’s were sent to tend to the flock prior to Bishop John Joseph Chanche’s arrival in 1841. According to “Cradle Days” Madame Gireaudeau let Bishop Chanche, also of French decent, occupy one side of her house for several weeks until a house could be procured for him.
Allow me to share Bishop Gerow’s description of Madame Gireaudeau:
An interesting personage in the Catholic life of Natchez during this time was Madame Felicitê Girodeau, who had come to Natchez from Louisiana in 1802. She was a woman of education and culture, and above all, a devout Catholic.
Her husband, Gabriel Girodeau, who had kept a jewelry store on Main street and whose name is prominent in the record book of the minutes of the Roman Catholic Society of Natchez (he was for a time its president), had died in 1827, leaving her in comfortable circumstances but without children….
Of an active and charitable disposition, Madame Felicitê was present at all extraordinary occasions – in sickness, as an angel of kindness; at marriages; at births, and at deaths – whenever she could lend a helping hand. In all things pertaining to the church she had a prominent part, and her slaves – Betty, Alexandrine and Anne – attended to the cleaning and care of the Cathedral for many years….

NATCHEZ – Gravestone of Gabriel Gireaudeau rescued from the city cemetery in Natchez. It was beneath a second gravestone and is now on the grounds of the Basilica rectory. (Photos courtesy of Mary Woodward)

These slaves she treated kindly, and long before her death she made them free: they, however, continued to live with her as before….
At a later date (1859) Bishop [William Henry] Elder, realizing that Madame Girodeau could furnish information regarding the early history of the little congregation at Natchez, which information would be interesting to future generations, requested her to tell him the outstanding events. Accordingly, in her presence and at her dictation, the Bishop wrote eight pages of notes, which have been useful in the writing of this present history. She died on January 11, 1862.
Much of this account and description was taken from memories shared by an older resident of Natchez who recalled her childhood memories of Madame Gireaudeau. What an amazing woman! From the description given would you ever think that Madame Gireaudeau was a Free Woman of Color? Why was it left out of the memories? Did the one remembering know? Does it matter?
Considering the subject of this series, yes it does matter and in the second part of this article we will encounter the unique social custom of the “one drop designation” and the fascinating connection between the colony of Saint Domingue, New Orleans, Baltimore and our diocese.
To be continued …

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)

The Diaconate – Are you called?

By Deacon John McGregor
JACKSON – Have you ever thought or felt that God was calling you to greater service in the Catholic Church? Are you drawn to know more about your Catholic faith and to enter more deeply into a life of prayer and intimacy with Christ? If so, these could be indications that you are being called to the Permanent Diaconate. The Permanent Diaconate, restored by a Motu Proprio following Vatican II, is a ministry of service that is open to married and single men. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II, the deacon’s ministry “is the church’s service sacramentalized.”

Deacons are ordained to the Ministry of Service in three areas: word, sacrament and charity. As a servant to the word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, instruct the faithful and evangelize by word and deed, as did the great deacons St. Stephen and St. Francis. As a servant of the sacramental life of the church, deacons preside at baptisms, assist at the Eucharist, bring the Eucharist to the sick and suffering, witness marriages, bury the dead, and preside at Benediction. As a servant of charity, like the great deacon St. Lawrence, deacons report the needs of the community to the church and bring support and assistance to those in need. The deacon is called to be the “Icon of Christ the Servant” living out the life of charity for the people of God and inviting everyone to help feed the hungry, visit the sick and care for one another in our brokenness.

Because deacons have secular jobs and many are married with families, they are familiar with the daily stresses of life. By living and working in the secular world, the deacon seeks to model, in his person, the integration of what one believes and how one lives.

If you think you may be called to the permanent diaconate, the Diocese of Jackson is offering a series of five inquiry meetings via Zoom. Below are the dates and the topic for each of the inquiry meetings.

For Zoom meeting invitations and additional information, please contact:
Deacon John McGregor, D.Min.
Director of the Permanent Diaconate
john.mcgregor@jacksondiocese.org

Full immersion as beloved children of God

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Emerging from the Christmas season we hope and pray that we are blessed in spirit in the knowledge that our faith in the Son of God “conquers the world” as we proclaimed in the scriptures on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
This metanoia is so much more than any and all new year’s resolutions that too often fold and crumple like discarded wrapping paper. Rather, it is a renewed perspective alive in the Spirit of God who hovers, enlightening our minds, hearts and imaginations in the awareness that we are God’s children now, beloved in a way that surpasses all understanding.
On that first Christmas night, the heavens were opened with the chorus of angels singing, “glory to God in the highest.” Years later they were torn asunder at the Baptism in the Jordan River by the voice of the God of eternal glory, revealing that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of history and the beloved Son of the Father, the Word made flesh. “You are my beloved Son; on you my favor rests.”

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

In this time of raging pandemic, appalling civil strife and violence, and seemingly intractable rancor and division, where do we find the light and the power to live a life worthy of our calling as God’s children?
Look no further than to the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel, a Christmas day proclamation, which is resplendent with hope in the beloved Son of God, the eternal Word, for our unstable and disturbed times. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
Even now, the darkness has not overcome this divine life and light. Unfortunately, this vision for our lives can easily be lost in the assault of shadows, darkness and death.
Nonetheless, the Christmas season was a celebration of the light shining in the darkness, inviting us to renew our vision to see that God is with us, Emmanuel. The Incarnation raises us up to heaven’s door, and the Baptism of the Lord speaks of God’s full immersion in all things human, who lays aside his glory and humbly joins us in our sinfulness. Like the Blessed Mother, it behooves us to cherish the gift of faith in the manner she embraced the Christ child in her arms, pondering what this treasure means for our lives.
The mystery of our faith that conquers the world reveals to us that the wood of the manger is never separated from the wood of the Cross. The baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is inseparable from the crucifixion; his immersion in water anticipates his immolation on the Cross. It dawns upon us when we take these things to heart that the entire New Testament was written in the aftermath of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
How then does our baptism unite us to the beloved Son of God, the Light that shines in the darkness?
A passage that is often selected from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans for the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism and at many funeral liturgies unfolds the mystery. “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.” (Romans 6:3-6)
Forgiveness of sin, growth in the Lord, no longer slaves to sin, fear and hopelessness, and newness of life are essential signs that we are living a life worthy of our calling. It is a humble awareness inspired by the Holy Spirit, cleansed by waters made holy, and blood poured out on the Cross, that we belong ultimately to God.
We are beloved sons and daughters of God grafted onto the living vine, the Body of Christ, the church. The love of Christ impels us to live our baptism, our vocation, our discipleship growing in the power of faith to know that we are God’s beloved children, fully immersed in this world, committed to greater justice and peace for all, and always leaving an opening for eternal life to hover close to our daily preoccupations and decisions.

Inmersión total como hijos amados de Dios

Por Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Al salir de la temporada navideña, esperamos y oramos para que fuéramos bendecidos en el espíritu, al saber que nuestra fe en el Hijo de Dios “conquista el mundo”, tal y como proclamamos en las Escrituras durante la fiesta del Bautismo del Señor.
Esta metanoia, cambio profundo del corazón, es mucho más que todas y cada una de las resoluciones de año nuevo que con demasiada frecuencia se pliegan y arrugan como papel de regalo desechado. Más bien, es una perspectiva renovada viva en el Espíritu de Dios que se cierne, iluminando nuestras mentes, corazones e imaginaciones, al saber que somos hijos de Dios, amados de una manera que sobrepasa todo entendimiento.
En esa primera noche de Navidad, los cielos se abrieron con el coro de ángeles cantando: “Gloria a Dios en las alturas”. Años más tarde los cielos fueron rotos en pedazos, en el Bautismo en el río Jordán, por la voz del Dios de la gloria eterna revelando que este Jesús de Nazaret es el Cristo de la historia y el Hijo amado del Padre, el Verbo hecho carne. “Éste es mi Hijo amado, a quien he elegido.”

Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz

En esta época de furiosa pandemia, espantosas luchas civiles y violencia, rencor y división aparentemente intratables, ¿adónde encontramos la luz y el poder para vivir una vida digna de nuestro llamado como hijos de Dios?
No busque más que el Prólogo del Evangelio de San Juan, una proclamación del día de Navidad, que resplandece de esperanza en el amado Hijo de Dios, la Palabra eterna para nuestros tiempos inestables y perturbadores. “En el principio ya existía la Palabra; y aquel que es la Palabra estaba con Dios y era Dios. Él estaba en el principio con Dios. Por medio de él, Dios hizo todas las cosas; nada de lo que existe fue hecho sin él. En él estaba la vida, y la vida era la luz de la humanidad. Esta luz brilla en las tinieblas, y las tinieblas no han podido apagarla.” Juan 1:1-5
Incluso ahora, la oscuridad no ha vencido esta vida y luz divinas. Desafortunadamente, esta visión para nuestras vidas puede perderse fácilmente en el asalto de las sombras, la oscuridad y la muerte.
Sin embargo, la temporada navideña fue una celebración de la luz que brilla en la oscuridad, invitándonos a renovar nuestra visión para ver que Dios está con nosotros, Emmanuel. La Encarnación nos eleva a las puertas del cielo, y el Bautismo del Señor habla de la total inmersión de Dios en todas las cosas humanas, dejando a un lado su gloria, humildemente se une a nosotros en nuestra pecaminosidad. Nos corresponde apreciar el don de la fe, como la Santísima Madre, en la forma en la que ella abrazó al niño Jesús, reflexionando sobre lo que este tesoro significa para nuestras vidas.
El misterio de nuestra fe, que conquista el mundo, nos revela que la madera del pesebre nunca se separa de la madera de la Cruz. El bautismo de Jesús en el Jordán es inseparable de la crucifixión; su inmersión en agua anticipa su inmolación en la Cruz. Cuando tomamos estas cosas en serio, nos damos cuenta de que todo el Nuevo Testamento fue escrito después de la crucifixión y resurrección del Señor a través de la sombra del Espíritu Santo.
Entonces, ¿cómo nos une nuestro bautismo al amado Hijo de Dios, la Luz que brilla en las tinieblas?
Un pasaje que a menudo se selecciona de la carta de San Pablo a los Romanos para la celebración del sacramento del Bautismo y en muchas liturgias funerarias revela el misterio. “¿No saben ustedes que, al quedar unidos a Cristo Jesús en el bautismo, quedamos unidos a su muerte? Pues por el bautismo fuimos sepultados con Cristo, y morimos para ser resucitados y vivir una vida nueva, así como Cristo fue resucitado por el glorioso poder del Padre. Si nos hemos unido a Cristo en una muerte como la suya, también nos uniremos a él en su resurrección. Sabemos que lo que antes éramos fue crucificado con Cristo, para que el poder de nuestra naturaleza pecadora quedara destruido y ya no siguiéramos siendo esclavos del pecado.” (Romanos 6:3-6)
El perdón de los pecados, el crecimiento en el Señor, dejar de ser esclavos del pecado, del temor, de la desesperanza y la novedad de vida son señales esenciales de que estamos viviendo una vida digna de nuestro llamado. Es una conciencia humilde inspirada por el Espíritu Santo, purificada por aguas santificadas y la sangre derramada en la Cruz, de que en última instancia pertenecemos a Dios.
Somos hijos e hijas amados de Dios, injertados en la vid viva, el Cuerpo de Cristo, la Iglesia. El amor de Cristo nos impulsa a vivir nuestro bautismo, nuestra vocación, nuestro discipulado, creciendo en el poder de la fe para saber que somos hijos amados de Dios, inmersos de lleno en este mundo, comprometidos con una mayor justicia y paz para todos y siempre dejando un espacio a la vida eterna que revolotea cerca de nuestras preocupaciones y decisiones diarias.

In new year, share the blessing of your time

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – At the beginning of a year people hope will mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis urged them to create a “culture of care,” including by sharing the gift of their time with others.
Despite suffering from a bout of sciatica, nerve pain, that left him unable to preside over Mass Jan. 1 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope sent a homily focused on God’s blessings and on sharing those blessings with others.
Consecrating the new year to Mary, the pope prayed that she would “care for us, bless our time, and teach us to find time for God and for others.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, read the pope’s homily as he celebrated the Mass for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and for the Catholic Church’s celebration of World Peace Day.
Only about 100 people, all wearing masks, were in the socially distanced congregation for the Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Two dozen cardinals, also wearing masks, concelebrated.
In the homily he wrote, Pope Francis returned to themes from his World Peace Day message – “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace” – and a recent general audience talk about prayers of blessing.
“This year, while we hope for new beginnings and new cures, let us not neglect care,” the pope wrote. “Together with a vaccine for our bodies, we need a vaccine for our hearts. That vaccine is care. This will be a good year if we take care of others, as Our Lady does with us.”
“The Lord knows how much we need to be blessed,” the pope wrote. “The first thing he did after creating the world was to say that everything was good and to say of us that that we were very good.”
But with the birth of Jesus, he said, “we receive not only words of blessing, but the blessing itself: Jesus is himself the blessing of the Father.”
“Every time we open our hearts to Jesus, God’s blessing enters our lives,” he said.
The example of Mary, blessed in a special way, he wrote, “teaches us that blessings are received in order to be given.”
Referring to the Latin roots of the word “benediction” – to speak well – Pope Francis wrote that “we, too, are called to bless, to ‘speak well’ in God’s name.”
“Our world is gravely polluted by the way we speak and think badly of others, of society, of ourselves,” he said. But complaining and denigrating others “corrupts and decays, whereas blessing restores life and gives the strength needed to begin anew.”
The blessing of Jesus’ birth, he wrote, is all the more amazing because God sent the savior into the world as a baby, who was formed in the flesh within the womb of Mary.
“The heart of the Lord began to beat within Mary; the God of life drew oxygen from her,” the pope wrote. “Through Mary, we encounter God the way he wants us to: in tender love, in intimacy, in the flesh.”
As 2021 begins, he said, people should make a commitment to finding time for others.
“Time is a treasure that all of us possess, yet we guard it jealously, since we want to use it only for ourselves,” he wrote. “Let us ask for the grace to find time for God and for our neighbor – for those who are alone or suffering, for those who need someone to listen and show concern for them.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

What is your practice?

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Today, the common question in spiritual circles is not, “What is your church or your religion?” But, “what is your practice?”
What is your practice? What is your particular explicit prayer practice? Is it Christian? Buddhist? Islamic? Secular? Do you meditate? Do you do Centering prayer? Do you practice Mindfulness? For how long do you do this each day?
These are good questions and the prayer practices they refer to are good practices; but I take issue with one thing. The tendency here is to identify the essence of one’s discipleship and religious observance with a single explicit prayer practice, and that can be reductionist and simplistic. Discipleship is about more than one prayer practice.
A friend of mine shares this story. He was at a spirituality gathering where the question most asked of everyone was this: what is your practice? One woman replied, “My practice is raising my kids!” She may have meant it in jest, but her quip contains an insight that can serve as an important corrective to the tendency to identify the essence of one’s discipleship with a single explicit prayer practice.
Monks have secrets worth knowing. One of these is the truth that for any single prayer practice to be transformative it must be embedded in a larger set of practices, a much larger “monastic routine,” which commits one to a lot more than a single prayer practice. For a monk, each prayer practice is embedded inside a monastic routine and that routine, rather than any one single prayer practice, becomes the monk’s practice. Further still, that monastic routine, to have real value, must be itself predicated on fidelity to one’s vows.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Hence, the question “what is your practice?” is a good one if it refers to more than just a single explicit prayer practice. It must also ask whether you are keeping the commandments. Are you faithful to your vows and commitments? Are you raising your kids well? Are you staying within Christian community? Do you reach out to the poor? And, yes, do you have some regular, explicit, habitual prayer practice?
What is my own practice?
I lean heavily on regularity and ritual, on a “monastic routine.” Here is my normal routine: Each morning I pray the Office of Lauds (usually in community). Then, before going to my office, I read a spiritual book for at least 20 minutes. At noon, I participate in the Eucharist, and sometime during the day, I go for a long walk and pray for an hour (mostly using the rosary as a mantra and praying for a lot of people by name). On days when I do not take a walk, I sit in meditation or Centering prayer for about fifteen minutes. Each evening, I pray Vespers (again, usually in community). Once a week, I spend the evening writing a column on some aspect of spirituality. Once a month I celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, always with the same confessor; and, when possible, I try to carve out a week each year to do a retreat. My practice survives on routine, rhythm and ritual. These hold me and keep me inside my discipleship and my vows. They hold me more than I hold them. No matter how busy I am, no matter how distracted I am, and no matter whether or not I feel like praying on any given day, these rituals draw me into prayer and fidelity.
To be a disciple is to put yourself under a discipline. Thus, the bigger part of my practice is my ministry and the chronic discipline this demands of me. Full disclosure, ministry is often more stimulating than prayer; but it also demands more of you and, if done in fidelity, can be powerfully transformative in terms of bringing you to maturity and altruism.
Carlo Carretto, the renowned spiritual writer, spend much of his adult life in the Sahara Desert, living in solitude as a monk, spending many hours in formal prayer. However, after years of solitude and prayer in the desert, he went to visit his aging mother who had dedicated many years of her life to raising children, leaving little time for formal prayer. Visiting her, he realized something, namely, his mother was more of contemplative than he was! To his credit, Carretto drew the right lesson: there was nothing wrong with what he had been doing in the solitude of the desert for all those years, but there was something very right in what his mother had been doing in the busy bustle of raising children for so many years. Her life was its own monastery. Her practice was “raising kids.”
I have always loved this line from Robert Lax: “The task in life is not so much finding a path in the woods as of finding a rhythm to walk in.” Perhaps your rhythm is “monastic,” perhaps “domestic.” An explicit prayer practice is very important as a religious practice, but so too are our duties of state.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

Call by Name

As I wrote my Christmas cards last month, I dated them in the top right corner with the notation Coronatide. The time of isolation due to the pandemic will certainly be held in our memories for many reasons. Certainly, there was tragedy for many, stress for even more, and suffering of one kind or another for all. And yet, we know as Christians that no suffering is ever wasted when we enter into it ready to receive the graces we need to endure. One of the graces that the Lord gave me was a greater willingness to enter into silence and stillness. I also read more books this past year than I ever had before.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

The final book that was on my list this past year was Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher who has been well published in the past few decades. This book was first released in 1986, and yet it rings very true today. Kreeft writes about the challenges of trying to apply virtues like prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude in a society that exalts “self-fulfillment” as the greatest good in the universe. We are taught from a young age (through cultural osmosis if not at home) that production is king. We must make money, we must reach certain concrete societal expectations, etc., in order to be fully functioning and fully alive.
This attitude ignores a tenant of the faith that we profess: the fact that our very life comes from and is leading us back to the Lord. We have to make God our number one priority. We have to look to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ to be fully alive. Jesus simply sought to do his Father’s will, and that’s it. This is difficult for us because religion has taken a back seat to just about everything else today. If soccer tournaments and hunting trips take precedent for many over Sunday Mass, then surely what our culture sees as good will take precedent over what Jesus says is good.
To be fully alive is to slowly and surely avoid sin and do good, and to receive the freedom that comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship is strengthened by the sacraments and it should drive everything that we do. Living fully alive in God will help our human relationships grow and will help us to have an abiding peace in this world before we have complete happiness in the next. So, live fully alive in 2021, and listen to the voice of the Lord in prayer and at Mass.
You may be wondering: what on earth does this have to do with vocations? Well, it’s simple: vocation comes from the word “to call” and you won’t hear the call if you aren’t intent on listening to the Lord rather than the noise of the World.

If you want to know more about becoming a priest or religious brother or sister, please contact Father Nick Adam at 601-969-4020 or nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org. You can also learn more about vocations by visiting to www.jacksonpriests.com.

Follow vocations on Facebook and Instagram @jacksonpriests

A neglected (by most of us) feast

THINGS OLD AND NEW
By Ruth Powers
By now for most of us the Christmas decorations have come down and been stored away for another year. Some took them down by New Years; others at the more traditional Epiphany, but in other times and in other parts of the world, they remain in place until another important feast in the early life of Christ — Candlemas on Feb. 2.
Candlemas is known officially in the church by a couple of names: The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast day celebrates the events recounted in Luke 2:22-38 and illustrates clearly that the Holy Family were observant Jews and Jesus was brought up in the context of his Jewish heritage. In Jewish law, a woman was considered to be ritually “unclean” for 40 days following the birth of a son. She could not touch anything sacred or enter any sacred place until she had undergone ritual purification. To be purified, the woman was to go to the priest and provide a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering. If the woman could not afford to provide a lamb, then she could offer two turtledoves or pigeons. The fact that Luke 2:24 records Mary as offering the birds gives us the insight that Jesus did not grow up in a wealthy or influential family. In addition, at this time it was the law that a woman’s first born male child was to be presented at the Temple and dedicated to God.
This feast day also commemorates another epiphany, or disclosure, of the nature and role of Jesus, and also of Mary. The Holy Family encounters Simeon, a “just and devout” old man who has been told that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. He is moved by the Holy Spirit to come to the Temple that day and recognizes the child Jesus as the one who has been promised. He prophesies that Mary will also suffer, (“and you yourself a sword shall pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”)
Simeon’s beautiful prayer upon seeing Jesus now forms part of Night Prayer which is said every night in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is called the Nunc Dimittis from its first few words and says, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” His prophecy to Mary also forms the basis of her title as Our Lady of Sorrows and the image of her which shows her heart pierced by a sword. They also encounter the prophetess Anna, who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and “speaks about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
This is an ancient feast in the church, dating to sometime at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth. It is a feast associated with light for a number of reasons, mainly in recognition that Christ is called the Light of the World and that Simeon refers to him as “a light to reveal You to the nations.” Because of this association, a custom arose in the early Middle Ages of blessing candles to be used in the home for the rest of the year on this day; so the celebration became commonly known as the Candle Mass, or Candlemas.

Ruth Powers

In addition, this feast day displaced certain pagan celebrations such as the Roman Lupercalia or the Celtic Imbolc that also revolved around the fact that at this time of year the days become noticeably longer as we move toward Spring. In many countries in Eastern Europe Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas season; and the withered greens used to decorate are taken down and burned in bonfires at this time while houses are cleaned and freshened to provide welcome for the coming Spring (the probable origin of the custom of spring cleaning).
Just for fun there are some other customs and traditions that link the celebration of Candlemas with the coming of Light and Spring. In Northern Europe, there is a weather prediction rhyme about the day: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, come winter, have another flight; if Candlemas bring clouds and rain, go winter and come not again.” This was brought to the United States by German settlers and should be familiar as the basis of the groundhog prediction on Feb. 2. In France it is customary to eat crepes or pancakes on Candlemas. If someone can successfully flip the pancake with one hand while holding a coin in the other, the coming year will bring prosperity (the round pancake is said to symbolize the sun). Finally, bouquets of the snowdrop flower, also called Candlemas bells, are brought inside on February 2. A legend says that an angel helped these flowers to bloom even though it was still winter as a sign of hope for Eve, who wept in despair at the cold and death that had entered the world, and those flowers have come to be a symbol of Christ bringing hope to the world. So, bring your candles to be blessed and celebrate Feb. 2 as a reminder of the coming of the Light of the World.

(Ruth is the Program Coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez.)

Faithfulness goes the distance

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
What comes to mind when you hear words like faithful, loyal, dedicated and committed? Most would probably think of some couple whose marriage has lasted sixty or seventy years. You might also give the example of someone who continues to work for the same organization for decades, despite more lucrative offers from other companies. Maybe you would consider an activist who has remained steadfast in support of a cause, even to the point of being jailed rather than compromise his beliefs. And let’s not forget those whose devotion to God is so strong that they seem to be involved in practically every ministry in their parish.
But the best example, the model we should all strive to emulate, is not related to human fidelity but rather to God’s. All throughout the Old Testament we find covenants the Lord made with His chosen people. And in every single case He kept His commitment, even though the Israelites failed to keep theirs. In fact, much of the Old Testament landscape is littered with these broken covenants and all sorts of other transgressions.

Melvin Arrington, Jr

Scott Hahn, in his book A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture, examines in detail the covenants God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, and the specific signs that accompanied each of them, namely – the Sabbath, the rainbow, circumcision, the Passover, and the everlasting throne, respectively. Hahn then demonstrates how the Lord fulfilled all those promises and brought them to fruition in Jesus, the New Covenant, under the sign of the Eucharist. Throughout the ages God has kept his commitments to His people. He is always faithful, even when we’re not.
Faithfulness, the seventh of the nine Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, is an expression of love, a love that demands fidelity, loyalty and commitment. The latter quality is especially tricky, and it can become a sticking point because it’s usually easy to make a commitment but often much more problematic to follow through on it. St. Camillus (d. 1614) got to the heart of the matter when he observed: “Commitment is doing what you said you would do when the feeling you had when you said it has passed.”
As Christians we are called to keep our commitments to the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the outcast, the forgotten. But just saying that we love our neighbor is not enough. We are responsible for putting our faith into practice; we’ve got to move; we’ve got to act. Our calling is to be a beacon of hope to those in need. And the way we demonstrate that we care is by going out into our communities and ministering to our brothers and sisters with love and compassion. That’s what it means to be faithful. While it’s true that our efforts may not always produce positive results, we should take encouragement from these words of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “God does not ask us to be successful but to be faithful.”
So, have I been true to my calling? How am I doing with regard to my faithfulness? Well, to be honest, the answers would have to be “not always” and “from time to time not so good.” There have been occasions when I didn’t pray for someone who needed my prayers, instances when I made excuses for not calling, visiting, or writing someone who was ill or lonely and, sadly, moments when I refused to offer assistance to a person who was looking to me for a helping hand. In other words, I just flat out failed. But despite these failures, my neighbor is still out there, and he’s still counting on me.
Past shortcomings should never be used as an excuse for missing out on new service opportunities that come along every day. At some point we will surely fall, but when that happens our only option will be to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to doing the work we’ve been called to do. After all, life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, and we’ve all got to persevere if we’re going to go the distance on the spiritual path.
So, every morning, shortly after waking up, I try to remember to offer a little prayer asking the Lord to remind me of my responsibilities as a Christian, reveal to me specific service opportunities for the day, and also help me muster the energy to perform those tasks to the best of my ability. And when my strength begins to wane, I know God will come to my aid because, as I Thessalonians 5:24 says: “the one who calls you is faithful.” Heavenly Father, help me to always be faithful, too. Help me to be the “good and faithful servant” you want me to be, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)