Losing the song in the singer

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Often when listening to someone singing live or on television, I close my eyes to try to hear the song so as not to let the singer’s performance get in the way of the song. A song can be lost in its performance; indeed, the performance can take over so that the song is replaced by the singer.
When anyone is performing live, be it on a stage, in a classroom, at a podium, or in a pulpit, there will always be some combination of three things. The speaker will be trying to impress others with his talent; he will be trying to get a message across; and (consciously or unconsciously) he will be trying to channel something true, good, and beautiful for its own sake. Metaphorically, he will be making love to himself, making love to the audience, and making love to the song.
It is the third component, making love to the song, which makes for great art, great rhetoric, great teaching, and great preaching. Greatness sets itself apart here because what comes through is “the song” rather than the singer, the message rather than the messenger, and the performer’s empathy rather than his ego. The audience then is drawn to the song rather than to the singer. Good singers draw people to the music rather than to themselves; good teachers draw students to truth and learning rather than to themselves; good artists draw people to beauty rather than to adulation, and good preachers draw their congregations to God rather than to praise of themselves.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Admittedly, this isn’t easy to do. We are all human, so is our audience. No audience respects you unless you do show some talent, creativity, and intelligence. There’s always an unspoken pressure on the singer, the speaker, the teacher, and the preacher, both from within and from without. From within: I don’t want to disappoint! I don’t want to look bad! I need to stand out! I need to show them something special! From without, from the audience: What have you got? Show us something! Are you worth my attention? Are you bright? Are you boring? Only the most mature person can be free of these pressures. Thus, the song easily gets lost in the singer, the message in the messenger, the teaching in the teacher, and the message of God in the personality of the preacher.
As a teacher, preacher, and writer, I admit my own long struggle with this. When you first start teaching, you had better impress your students or you won’t have their attention or respect for long. The same with preaching. The congregation is always sizing you up, and you had better measure up or no one will be listening to you. Moreover, unless you have an exceptionally strong self-image, you will be a perennial prisoner of your own insecurities. Nobody wants to look bad, stupid, uninformed, or come across as talentless. Everyone wants to look good.
Moreover, not least, there is still your ego (and its power can never be underestimated). It wants to draw the attention and the admiration to itself rather than to what is true, good, and beautiful. There is always the temptation for the messenger to be more concerned about impressing others than about having the message come through in purity and truth. The subtle, but powerful, temptation inside every singer, teacher, speaker, preacher, or writer is to draw people to themselves rather than to the truth and beauty they are trying to channel.
I struggle with this in every class I teach, every article or book I write, and every time I preside at liturgy. Nevertheless, I make no apologies for this. It is the innate struggle in all creative effort. Are we trying to draw people to ourselves, or are we trying to draw them to truth, to beauty, to God?
When I teach a class, how much of my preparation and energy is motivated by a genuine concern for the students and how much is motivated by my need to look good, to impress, to have a reputation as a good teacher? When I write an article or a book, am I really trying to bring insight and understanding to others or am I thinking of my status as a writer? When I preside at Mass and preach is my real motivation to channel a sacred ritual in a manner that my own personality doesn’t get in the way? Is it to lead people into community with each other and to decrease myself so Christ can increase?
There is no simple answer to those questions because there can’t be. Our motivation is always less than fully pure. Moreover, we are not meant to be univocal robots without personalities. Our unique personalities and talents were given by God precisely as gifts to be used for others. Still, there’s a clear warning sign. When the focus of the audience is more on our personalities than on the song, we are probably making love more to ourselves and our admirers than to the song.

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

The Mass of Easter Day

SPIRIT AND TRUTH
By Father Aaron Williams
The last segment of our study of the liturgies of Holy Week is the Mass of Easter Day. As I mentioned in an earlier column, historically there was no special Mass for Easter Day, per se. The Vigil was originally envisioned as lasting all-night and then ending shortly before dawn, making the Vigil Mass the Mass of the day as well. However, as time went on and the Vigil grew more and more complicated, it became more common to celebrate a separate Mass on Easter morning with its own proper prayer texts and readings.
This is why apart from the presence of the sequence (Victimæ Paschale Laudes), the Easter Mass is no different from any normal Sunday Mass — having no special rites or particular rubrics as we see in the liturgies during the week. As a side-effect, this serves to underscore the Paschal character of every Sunday celebration. Each Sunday, we revisit the mystery of Our Lord’s Resurrection. It is fitting that when we arrive for Mass on Easter Morning that we feel as if everything is once again as it should be. The Resurrection, after all, is a divine recapitulation — Christ restores creation to its state before the fall, which is why the Resurrection happened in a garden. Humanity fell from grace within a garden, so it is fitting that our restoration to grace would likewise occur in a garden.
If we compared the celebration of Easter Day from the traditional rite of Mass to our modern celebration, we would find very little textual differences. The prayers and readings are virtually unchanged. The modern rite, however, does give the interesting option to use the Gospel of the Road to Emmaus at Easter Masses which occur in the evening, which gives this well-loved passage its own proper place in the lectionary.

Father Aaron Williams

The sequence of Easter Day is a beautiful work of Christian poetry. The text contains a curious passage where the singer asks Mary Magdalene to retell us the story of the Resurrection, making this the only time in any liturgical text where we address someone other than God. Even on feast days of the Blessed Mother, liturgical texts never address Mary directly, but always speak to God regarding the mystery being celebrated. The Easter sequence is the one exception. This, perhaps, can underscore the unique role Mary Magdalene played in the early church as the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ — announcing to all of the Apostles the news of the Resurrection.
Though our modern celebration of Easter is not particularly unique from any other Mass, there are a few examples from history of some local churches having their own customary rites associated with Easter Day. Perhaps the most significant of these comes from the Medieval English liturgy. The missals of Salisbury and York explain a rite which preceded the Easter Sunday Mass where the priest and ministers first process to the altar which served as the Altar of Repose during the Paschal Triduum. Unlike our modern celebration where the Blessed Sacrament is restored to the normal tabernacle after communion at the Easter Vigil, in the English custom the Blessed Sacrament remained secure at the Altar of Repose until the Mass of Easter Day.
Once the priest reaches the altar, the choir would begin singing the traditional hymn of thanksgiving (Te Deum) while the priest slowly raised the ciborium up from the altar and over his head, as if Christ was literally rising up from the tomb. For this reason, the English traditionally called this altar the ‘sepulcher’ instead of the ‘altar of repose.’
After the elevation of the ciborium, the priest would carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession back to the normal tabernacle — traditionally with the procession proceeded by a banner or image depicting the Risen Christ. We find a similar custom in Medieval Spain, except there it was more common for a single Host to be used rather than a full ciborium.
Some medieval parishes were even equipped with a special tabernacle or pyx which was suspended over the altar by a pulley system. In this case, the ‘elevation’ rite occurred by placing the Blessed Sacrament inside this tabernacle and then slowly winding the pulley until the tabernacle reached its normal height. An example of a tabernacle of this sort can be found in the oratory chapel of the Dominican parish in New York City: St. Vincent Ferrer. This was such a common ritual in European tradition that by the time of the renaissance it became common for churches to have a golden dove suspended over the altar with a small opening to serve as a pyx.
Suffice it to say by the time of the 19th century Enlightenment, this rite was no longer seen as effective as it was on Medieval Christians and most local churches began to drop it from their liturgical texts until by the dawn of the 20th century it essentially disappeared.

(Father Aaron Williams is the administrator at St. Joseph Parish in Greenville.)

My father’s shirt

GUEST COLUMN
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC
Matthew 11:30 – For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I have a photograph of me taken several years ago on Memorial Day. I am wearing my father’s army shirt from the Korean War. The medal around my neck has the emblem commemorating 50 years since the Korean War. I know I’m supposed to call it a conflict, but it deserves the word war, in my book.
I don’t even know how to describe all that in a way that it makes sense to non-veterans. That is because I tuned out most of my dad’s war stories while he was still living. Since his death, I feel like a custodian for what he stood for. The good that he stood for.
Korea is in the news again. I find it fascinating now. I feel proud of what those young men did. How many even know the dates of the Korean war? Was it North Korea or South Korea? What was the conflict about? Now, I know. Now, it matters to me.

Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

That’s just an example of how my father’s death has affected me. He was a man’s man, to say the least. He was a gruff, take no prisoners man and was the head of a family of women.
He wasn’t the peace maker but the policy holder. I find myself in that role. I’m not trying to fill his shoes, but I am wearing his army shirt.
Can you believe it fits me? My Dad was always a large man, in my eyes. Now I realize, at the age of 18, he was my size. For those of you who don’t know me, that’s 120 pounds soaking wet. If I exaggerate.
Much of my father’s agitation and gruff demeanor was attributed to being a war veteran. That may or may not have been true. The point is, as he began needing more care due to his health, he showed a side to him that I will admire for the rest of my life.
Talk about a hero. He went out of this world with the dignity of a war hero for sure.
It was a five-year stretch, after his last by-pass surgery. When he couldn’t walk far enough to get to a doctor’s office, he let me push him in a wheelchair. That took dignity on his part. He remained cheerful and complimented me constantly. Sometimes he liked to call me Charlie, for reasons I never understood.
Managing him, his chair, myself and sometimes my mom wasn’t for the faint hearted. It really did take skill. I’d push the door open, swing him around and catch the door with my foot or backside, in time to pull him in backward-all while managing to keep my purse from falling off my shoulder. I wasn’t always successful. Asking my dad to hold my purse was never an option, in my mind. I would not compromise his dignity in that way. Thank goodness cross-body purses became popular. I never had to stoop to a fanny pack … Besides, a fanny pack is too small for the inevitable mound of medical paperwork.
My father went into hospice care in November 2010. He remained in his house of 46 years. He had congestive heart failure and COPD. Many diseases linger. This one is certainly no exception.
We went through many stages. The day we came home from the emergency room with a hospital bed in his living room was big. But that did not stop his dignity.
He always welcomed visitors. He moved the two feet from the bed to his place at the table every day, even when we cautioned him not to. If the noise from his oxygen machine got on his nerves, he attempted to get out of bed and turn the thing off himself. That was not always a successful decision, but he did not let that keep him from what independence and say-so he had left.
The last few months were winter. It was a very cold winter for our region. Many after midnight calls came. It was always a fall (or slide) to the floor. It never failed that he greeted us with a strong and welcoming voice. See what I mean about dignity. A war hero. A vet. We would greet each other like two soldiers.
The next day he would brag on us a lot. He’d say, “I don’t know how you get me up off the floor so easily.” To which I would reply, “I’ve had training, Daddy.”
Maybe that is one reason why it was so hard to see him go. How do you close the chapter on someone like that? How does anybody watch as they close the casket on a loved one-much less your Daddy?
My father’s legacy did not end when they closed the lid. As a matter of fact, that’s when it really began.
This will be the tenth Father’s Day without my father. It hasn’t been ten years since he left. It has been ten years and three months.
On Father’s Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, I wear my father’s Korean War shirt. Much of his role in the family passed to me. I thank him for showing me how to soldier on with dignity.
My father’s last words to me were, “If you can get me comfortable, I’m going to go on out of here.”
He did. I thank him for trusting me and letting me love him in ways that were not possible before his health declined.
Caregiving does not have to be a burden. If you will go with it, it can be quite healing.

(Reba J. McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for over 25 years. She continues to work as a mental health consultant, public speaker and freelance writer in Jackson, Mississippi. Reba can be reached at rebaj@bellsouth.net.)

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

By Father Clement “Clem” Olukunle Oyafemi
JACKSON – Early in the year 2002, a few months after the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York (9/11), I was invited to officiate at a wedding in Detroit. It was a time of extreme fear and uncertainty throughout the entire country. No one was willing to trust anyone.
So, I flew from New York to Detroit, landing around 6 p.m., early enough for the wedding rehearsal. Dressed fully in my clerical wear, I made it easier for anyone to identify me, and I was also expecting my designated driver to stand at the airport with my name on card as was usual.
Unfortunately, there was no sign with my name, nor was there anyone to ask who I was. I waited and waited at the airport but there was no one to get me. By midnight I made up my mind I was going to stay the night in the nearest hotel and then take a cab to the church the next day to witness the wedding.
As I was approaching the front desk, two young men moved toward my direction, and one of them intentionally brushed his elbow against me and quickly said, “Am sorry sir.” I looked at him and smiled. Then he began a conversation. “By the way, are you Father Clem from New York? Then I said, “Yes, why are you asking?” And the man responded, “Well, I am your designated driver. We have been waiting here for six hours and we couldn’t find you.”
I told the two young men, “I have been here for six hours also, and I have been looking for my name on a sign, but couldn’t find it.” The man responded, “Dr. Cochabamba made a sign with your name on it and gave it to us when we were leaving for the airport. But we threw it away telling him, ‘We know what a priest looks like.’”
I asked him, “So why didn’t you find me? As you can see, I’m wearing my clerical suit.” The other man responded, “Because, we were told that your name is Father Clement, and you were coming from New York. We pictured a tall, white man with a beard, and in his early sixties. So, when we saw you, we did not pay attention, because you did not match the image of the ‘Father Clem’ we had in our heads.”

Father Clement Olukunle Oyafemi

Just like the two designated drivers in the story, who had me pictured incorrectly in their minds, the majority of the people, in the time of Jesus, had a different image of the Messiah in their minds. Jesus didn’t “fit the mold” of their expected image of the savior. And that is why they did not accept him.
By asking the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus was questioning his disciples about his identity. (cf Mt 16:15) This question is very essential to the Christian faith. It is very important for us to know the identity of Jesus so that we may relate correctly with him. And trust me, Jesus will never entrust his church to those who do not know him.
Peter’s confession, as we see in the gospel passage, represents the apostles, and all people who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and the Son of God. The response given by the apostles to the question, “Who do people say that I am?” shows, clearly, that many people, in the time of Jesus, did not really know him. And if you do not know a person’s identity, you may not know how to relate to him/her. Some thought he was Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. They were very much mistaken. They did not know him, even after three years of his mission among them.
Notably those two men who came to the airport had a different image of me in their heads. Similarly, there are so many Christians today who do not really know Christ. They neither know his person nor his teaching. So how can they truly follow him? Someone can go to church for one hundred years without knowing Christ. The knowledge we are talking about is not book knowledge. It is experiential knowledge. If I may ask rhetorically; how can we love who we do not know? How can we serve who we do not love? Leadership in the church is based on loving service. And that is a big challenge for us today.
The universal church celebrates two great personalities in the history of Christianity – Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. These great apostles knew the true identity of Christ. Peter was chosen by Christ to be his first vicar on Earth (pope). He was endowed with the powers of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. (cf Mt 16:13-19) He was charged with the role of shepherd of Christ’s flock after having affirmed his love for Christ, three times. (cf Jn 21:15-17) St. Peter led the church and suffered martyrdom in the year 64 AD. Buried at the hill of the Vatican, recent excavations revealed his tomb on the very site of St. Peters Basilica. The head of the universal church is called “pope”, which means “father.” Pope Francis is the 266th pope after St. Peter.
Although Paul did not meet Christ in person, he met him in a miraculous way. Christ chose him after his conversion on the road to Damascus. (cf Acts 9:1-16)
Paul is regarded as the greatest missionary of all time. He was advocate of pagans and called the apostle of the Gentiles. Paul testified to Christ, not only in words, but in action. He traveled, worked and taught more than any of the apostles who were called before him. Only Pope John Paul II has surpassed him in terms of missionary journeys. Like Peter, Paul also suffered martyrdom. He was beheaded and buried on the site where the Basilica, bearing his name, now stands.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, let us pray that God may continue to raise courageous and fearless leaders to lead his church from generation to generation. Through the intersession of Sts. Peter and Paul, may the Lord sustain the church and keep us true to his teachings. Amen.

(Father Clement Olukunle Oyafemi – Father “Clem” is the Coordinator of the Intercultural Ministry of the Diocese since 2020. He has two master’s degrees, one in theology and one in religious education and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He shares with Sister Thea his passion for the Lord and music. Father Clem founded the Rejoice Ministry of African Worship Songs –AFRAWOS– in 2002.)

Called by name

PEARL – St. Jude hosted the diaconate ordination of Andrew Bowden on May 15, 2021. Pictured are all seminarians for the Diocese of Jackson. Pictured left to right: Grayson Foley, Tristan Stovall, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Carlisle Beggerly, Deacon Andrew Bowden, Ryan Stoer, William Foggo and Father Nick Adam. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to raise priests and religious for our parishes, schools and ministries. I spent some time in Little Rock, Arkansas in early May to discover why the heck they have so many seminarians. They have about 30 seminarians and about 25 of them are from Arkansas. They also have nine men and women who are studying for religious life. This is Little Rock, not New Orleans. This is a diocese that is 5% Catholic and very rural. And they have 30 seminarians and nine men and women studying for religious life! I studied their vocations poster, and it reveals a diverse cast of characters representing many corners of their very large diocese. There are some wonderful missionaries who have come to study for the diocese, but the vast majority come from within.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

I left my visit extremely fired up: we can do this! The thing that impressed me most about Little Rock’s program is the culture that has been built over years of collaboration between the Vocation Department, the Bishop’s Office and the Chancery, parish leadership, and the people of God. Everything in that department is geared toward serving the people of God in Arkansas. There is a clear message that God could be calling you to serve, and we are going to support you in that call. It takes a village, and we are that village.

This sort of support is certainly present in communities in our diocese. It took a village for Andrew Bowden to be ordained as Deacon Andrew Bowden on May 15. It took a village for Tristan Stovall to be supported through the RCIA process in Philadelphia and finally to see him off to seminary formation. It took the villages of St. Paul Flowood, St. Richard and St. Joseph Schools and St. Joseph Starkville to inspire Will Foggo to enter the seminary this past year. But we can create a bigger, more cohesive village, and that’s what I learned in Little Rock. This summer I hope our village gets a little bigger as I host our first ever Quo Vadis? Young Men’s Retreat. This fall I hope it gets even bigger with our second annual Homegrown Harvest Seminarian Gala. And I also understand that this village will not be built overnight, and I am not building it alone. If you have ideas or just want to get involved in supporting our seminarians and young men and women who are discerning, please let me know. You can always email me at nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org. There are great things happening in the church, and there are great things happening in our diocese. Please continue to pray for vocations, and live in great hope, because the Lord will respond to these prayers, and we need to support one another as we look to build up our culture of vocations.

Seminarian poster for the Diocese of Little Rock. (Photo by Malea Hargett, editor of Arkansas Catholic)

Pneuma: can you hear me now?

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
The ‘season of the Spirit’ is upon us and have we used the many opportunities to explore the ‘beauty?’ As we ‘turn green’ from the glory of Easter/Pentecost’s golds and reds we are called to practically live out what has been given. We discover in the Scriptures and from contemporary writers, the various ways this Pneuma has been heard and experienced. What sort of life might we live having received such ourselves? How do we set ourselves up to receive? How do we respond to the generosity and kindness of God?
Carlo Carretto, (Selected Writings, 1994, Ellsberg, Ed. page 83) … points us to our reality:
“And then, what do rocks matter? What matters is Christ’s promise, what matters is the cement that binds the rocks into one: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can build the Church with stones as ill-hewn as we.”
To admit I am ill-hewn is always an ‘ouch’ as I’m pretty sure God meant better for us! But the Spirit shows me a different picture and promises to transform. Pope Francis in the Joy of the Gospel (2013) speaks of:
“Spirit-filled evangelizers, fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit … Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words but above all a life transfigured by God’s presence…”
And then the Scriptures showed us:
“A strong heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing the rocks before the Lord — but the Lord was not in the wind … and after the fire there was a whispering sound. When he heard this Elijah hid his face in his cloak.” (1Kings 9)
“The tiny whisper is imperceptible and tells of the spirituality of God. It was fitting Elijah, whose mission it was to re-establish the covenant and restore the pure faith, would have returned to Horeb where the covenant was revealed to Moses and through him to Israel’s people.” (NAB, notes, page 336)
Have we heard the driving wind or the small voice? God is generous, clearly a hope in us that we don’t miss our call, indeed, that we get the memo!

Sister alies therese

“From up in the sky there came a noise like a strong, driving wind: the wind and the Holy Spirit are associated in John 3:8: ‘the wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes but you do not know where it comes from nor where it goes. So it is with everyone begotten of the Spirit.’” (NAB, notes, page 1172)
I don’t know where I’m going half the time (perhaps not in an ‘ultimate sense’). Is this a blessing of aging? Anyway, this Spirit does not just call on us once … or even twice. Frequently we can hear that whisper, or large boom, when we are at prayer, or trying to pray. Note:
CCC 2623: On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of the Promise was poured out on the disciples, gathered ‘together in one place. While awaiting the Spirit, ‘all these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.’ The Spirit who teaches the church and recalls for her everything Jesus said was also to form her in a life of prayer.”
CCC 2655: …Prayer internalizes and assimilates the liturgy during and after celebration. Even when it is lived out ‘in secret’, prayer is always the prayer of the church; it is a communion with the Holy Trinity.’
So, the coming of God’s Spirit is really to form us ill-hewn ones for prayer, for that marvelous encounter with Jesus. If God, as Spirit, has gotten our attention, what next? W. H. Auden in Prayer, the Nature of in a Certain World, 1970, writes:
“To pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever one so concentrates attention…that one completely forgets the ego and desires, one is praying.
To forget my ego … ah, that is where I am indeed ill-hewn! You?
In Praying With Icons, Jim Forest, 1997, points out:
“When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, God divided the nations. But when God distributed tongues of fire, God called everyone to unity. Therefore with one accord we glorify the all-Holy Spirit.” — Kontakion for Pentecost
How is this Spirit wending her way through our pandemic ridden world? Are we not, indeed a people in darkness awaiting illumination? Are we not a people called to unity, burned together by this fire? This unity comes in prayer and action, and trust in an unseen God.
Finally, in The Word in the Desert, Douglas Burton-Christie 1993, mentions Abba Cronius, who reminds the brothers/sisters that “vigilance, singlemindedness, and abandonment to God’s will gives birth to the Holy Spirit in one’s soul.” (page 207)
We pray the Spirit will give us just these graces for that birth that we might together glorify God, ill-hewn as we are.
Blessings.

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

Rich kids growing up without money – or understanding

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Gloria Steinem once confessed that, while never having been overweight, she has always been concerned about her weight because the genes she inherited from her parents predisposed her in that direction. So, she says, I think of myself as a fat woman who is slim at the moment. Her comment helped me to understand something I misunderstood years before in a classroom.
Early on in my seminary studies, taking a course on the sociology of poverty, I was struggling to accept our professor’s explanation as to why poverty isn’t always the consequence of personal failure, but is often the product of unchosen circumstances, accidents and misfortune. Many of us in the class weren’t buying it, and this was our logic. Most of us had come from very humble economic backgrounds and believed that we had pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Why couldn’t everyone else do the same?
So we protested: we grew up poor. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t get free school lunches. We had to work to pay for our clothes and books. Our parents never took any handouts. Nobody helped them – they took care of themselves. So have we, their kids. We resent those who are getting things for nothing. Nothing came to us free! We’ve earned what we have.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Our professor answered by telling us that this is precisely why we needed a course on the sociology of poverty. He wasn’t buying the notion that we had grown up poor and had earned things by our own hard work. Then, this surprising phrase: “None of you were poor as kids; you were rich kids who grew up without money; and where you are today isn’t just the result of your own hard work, it’s also the result of a lot of good fortune.”
It took me years (and Gloria Steinem’s comment) to understand he was right. I was a rich kid who grew up in a family without money. Moreover, so much of what I naively believed that I’d earned by my own hard work was in fact very much the product of good fortune.
I doubt our society understands that. A number of popular clichés have us believe that one’s background should never be an excuse for not being a success in this world, that success is open equally to everyone. We’ve all inhaled the clichés. Any poor kid can grow up to be President of this country! Any poor kid can go to Harvard! Anybody industrious can make a success of his or her life! There’s no excuse for any healthy person not having a job!
Is this true? Partially, yes; kids from poor economic backgrounds have become president, thousands of poor kids have found entrance into the best universities, countless kids who grew up poor have been highly successful in life, and people who are motivated and not lazy generally do make a success of their lives. However, that’s far from the whole story.
What really makes for the separation of rich and poor in our world? Is everyone really on equal footing? Is it really virtue that makes for success and lack of it that makes for failure?
In a best-selling book, Elderhood, Louise Aronson, makes this comment about her mother and Queen Elizabeth, both who aged wonderfully and gracefully: “They both were born into privilege: white, citizens of developed countries, wealthy and educated. Both were gifted with great genetic DNA, and both had the good fortune of not ever having been assaulted, abused, felled by cancer, or in a debilitating car accident. … These advantages are not a matter of character. Indeed, willpower and capacity for wise decisions are often by-products of fortunate lives.” (Emphasis, mine)
Success isn’t predicated only on personal character, hard work and dedication. Neither is failure necessarily the result of weakness, laziness, and lack of effort. We aren’t all born equal, set equally into the same starting blocks, have equally gifted or abusive childhoods, are allotted equally the same opportunities for education and growth, and then are parceled out equally the same measure of accidents, illness and tragedy in life. However, it’s because we naively believe that fortune is allotted equally to all that we glibly (and cruelly) divide people into winners and losers, judge harshly those we deem losers, blame them for their misfortunes, and congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved, as if all the credit for our success can be attributed to our own virtue. Conversely, we see those who are poor as having only themselves to blame. Why can’t they pull themselves up by their bootstraps? We did!
But … some of us have genes that predispose us to become fat, some of us are rich kids who grow up without money, and willpower and capacity for wise decisions are often the products of a fortunate life rather than a matter of character. Recognizing that can make us less cruel in our judgments and far less smug in our own successes.

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

They were filled with the Holy Spirit

By Father Clement “Clem” Olukunle Oyafemi
JACKSON – On Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the Catholic Church. In other words, we celebrate the inauguration of the Universal Church. When Jesus rose from the dead, the first gift he gave to the church was the Holy Spirit. He says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:22-23).
Before his ascension, Jesus makes a promise to his disciples. He says to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Padre Clement Olukunle Oyafemi


On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and as the Bible attests, “They were devout men (and women) even in Jerusalem from every nation on the earth … and each one was bewildered to hear these men (the apostles) speaking his own language.” (Acts 2:6) They questioned: How does it happen that each of us hears them (the apostles) in his own native language? (Acts.2:8) What is the implication of this message? How does it affect us today?
What happened on Pentecost was a miracle. The miracle was that God spoke to people of different nationalities in their own native tongues through the Apostles who were uneducated men. It was a reverse of the division that was experienced at the Tower of Babel (cf Gn 11:1-9). Praise God!. The human race is once again united after many centuries of division and confusion. Through the Holy Spirit the divided world, marked by misunderstanding, conflicts and confusion, is now united.
Today there is a serious attempt by some schools of thought to teach the whole world the same verbal language to unite them. That, however, seems to be an expensive joke.
What we need today is “inculturation.” That is to allow the gospel message to be born in every culture. Today we are challenged to break down the barriers of division and sectarianism. We are challenged to bring the Gospel to every race and culture and help them understand the marvels of God in their own native languages. We are challenged to help people connect with God in their own concrete historical conditions. We do not need to learn any foreign language to communicate with God, our loving Father. If the church is defined as “the people of God,” then, the language of the church must be the language of God’s people in every part of the world.
What we really need in today’s church is the language of love. It is non-verbal and does not require an interpreter. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to speak the nonverbal language of love, which cannot be taught by any human technique. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to understand each other in family, in the church, and in society.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the church will have the courage to carry out the universal Mission entrusted to her by Jesus. She will be comforted, directed, and strengthened especially at difficult times. At confirmation, each one of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is meant give us the courage to always witness the Faith, even in the face of death.
May the Holy Spirit, which came on Pentecost day, come upon each, and every one of us and renew the face of the entire earth.

(Excerpt from the book Theological Reflections for Sundays and Solemnities of Liturgical Year B, 2011 by Father Clem-alias Clemente de Dios, Coordinator of the Intercultural Ministry of the Diocese since 2020. Father Clem has two master’s degrees, one in theology and the other in religious education, and a BA in Philosophy. Sharing with Sister Thea Bowman a passion for the Lord and music, Father Clem founded the Rejoice Ministry of African Worship Songs –AFRAWOS– in 2002.)

They were filled with the Holy Spirit

By Father Clement “Clem” Olukunle Oyafemi
JACKSON – On Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the Catholic Church. In other words, we celebrate the inauguration of the Universal Church. When Jesus rose from the dead, the first gift he gave to the church was the Holy Spirit. He says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:22-23).
Before his ascension, Jesus makes a promise to his disciples. He says to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Padre Clement Olukunle Oyafemi

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and as the Bible attests, “They were devout men (and women) even in Jerusalem from every nation on the earth … and each one was bewildered to hear these men (the apostles) speaking his own language.” (Acts 2:6) They questioned: How does it happen that each of us hears them (the apostles) in his own native language? (Acts.2:8) What is the implication of this message? How does it affect us today?
What happened on Pentecost was a miracle. The miracle was that God spoke to people of different nationalities in their own native tongues through the Apostles who were uneducated men. It was a reverse of the division that was experienced at the Tower of Babel (cf Gn 11:1-9). Praise God!. The human race is once again united after many centuries of division and confusion. Through the Holy Spirit the divided world, marked by misunderstanding, conflicts and confusion, is now united.
Today there is a serious attempt by some schools of thought to teach the whole world the same verbal language to unite them. That, however, seems to be an expensive joke.
What we need today is “inculturation.” That is to allow the gospel message to be born in every culture. Today we are challenged to break down the barriers of division and sectarianism. We are challenged to bring the Gospel to every race and culture and help them understand the marvels of God in their own native languages. We are challenged to help people connect with God in their own concrete historical conditions. We do not need to learn any foreign language to communicate with God, our loving Father. If the church is defined as “the people of God,” then, the language of the church must be the language of God’s people in every part of the world.
What we really need in today’s church is the language of love. It is non-verbal and does not require an interpreter. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to speak the nonverbal language of love, which cannot be taught by any human technique. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to understand each other in family, in the church, and in society.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the church will have the courage to carry out the universal Mission entrusted to her by Jesus. She will be comforted, directed, and strengthened especially at difficult times. At confirmation, each one of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is meant give us the courage to always witness the Faith, even in the face of death.
May the Holy Spirit, which came on Pentecost day, come upon each, and every one of us and renew the face of the entire earth.

(Excerpt from the book Theological Reflections for Sundays and Solemnities of Liturgical Year B, 2011 by Father Clem-alias Clemente de Dios, Coordinator of the Intercultural Ministry of the Diocese since 2020. Father Clem has two master’s degrees, one in theology and the other in religious education, and a BA in Philosophy. Sharing with Sister Thea Bowman a passion for the Lord and music, Father Clem founded the Rejoice Ministry of African Worship Songs –AFRAWOS– in 2002.)

Called by Name

Our Prediscernment Prayer Nights wrapped up in late April and I want to thank all the parishioners who came to the various parishes to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I ended up visiting ten parishes in across the diocese. It was really incredible that our final stop on the tour brought our largest crowd as we had a packed house at St. Michael’s in Forest! A special thanks to all the pastors and parish leaders I worked with as we made these evenings of prayer available to so many.

As we continue to make changes to our COVID protocols I am excited to announce that I will be hosting a Men’s Discernment Retreat this summer at Our Lady of Hope in Chatawa. This retreat center was formally St. Mary of the Pines and has been sold to a Catholic group from the Diocese of Baton Rouge. The retreat will run from June 22-24 and is for young men ages 15-25. I’m hopeful that many of the young people who came to pray with us this winter and spring can build up bonds of friendship with one another at the retreat this summer. We will have keynote talks addressing important facts about discernment and the reality that the Lord is calling each of us to a vocation. But most of all this will be a time of fun and fellowship, helping young men from various backgrounds and at various stages in their lives get to know one another and find support.

It has been almost a year since I began as full-time vocation director, and I pray that this retreat will be a visible sign of the work that is being done in cultivating discerners from our diocese. It is so important that young people who think they might have a call to priesthood or religious life have other like-minded individuals to spend time with. Discerning a vocation can be isolating, but the more we can support one another the more young people will feel empowered to do God’s will.

I have been so impressed by the dedication of so many young people in our midst who are seriously considering God’s will in their life. Please continue to pray for these young men and women and pray that the young men who would benefit from attending this retreat will have the courage and the capability to sign up! If you are interested or you want to know how to refer a young man to sign up, please log onto www.jacksonpriests.com/comeandsee or simply email me at nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org or more information.

GREENWOOD – Bishop Kopacz leads an hour of prayer for vocations with Father Nick Adam at Immaculate Heart of Mary. (Photo courtesy of Father Nick Adam)