On true friendship

Father Ron Rolheiser

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
One of the richest experiences of grace that we can have this side of eternity is the experience of friendship.
Dictionaries define friendship as a relationship of mutual affection, a bond richer than mere association. They then go on to link friendship to a number of words: kindness, love, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, loyalty, understanding, compassion, comfort and (not least) trust. Friends, the dictionaries assert, enjoy each other’s company, express their feelings to each other and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the other.
That basically covers things, but to better grasp the real grace in friendship a number of things inside that definition need explication.
First, as the Greek Stoics affirmed and as is evident in the Christian spirituality, true friendship is only possible among people who are practicing virtue. A gang is not a circle of friendship, nor are many ideological circles. Why? Because friendship needs to bring grace and grace is only found in virtue.
Next, friendship is more than merely human, though it is wonderfully human. When it is genuine, friendship is nothing less than a participation in the flow of life and love that’s inside of God. Scripture tells us that God is love, but the word it uses for love in this case is the Greek word agape, a term which might be rendered as “family,” “community” or “the sharing of life.” Hence the famous text (“God is Love”) might be transliterated to read: God is family, God is community, God is shared existence and whoever shares his or her existence inside of community and friendship is participating in the very flow of life and love that is inside the Trinity.
But this isn’t always true. Friendship and family can take different forms. Parker Palmer, the contemporary Quaker writer, submits: “If you come here faithfully, you bring great blessing.” Conversely, the great Sufi mystic, Rumi, writes: “If you are here unfaithfully, you bring great harm.” Family and community can bring grace or block it. Our circle can be one of love and grace or it can be a one of hatred and sin. Only the former merits the name friendship. Friendship, says St. Augustine, is the beauty of the soul.
Deep, life-giving friendship, as we all know, is as difficult as it is rare. Why? We all long for it in the depths of our soul, so why is it so difficult to find? We all know why: We’re different from each other, unique and rightly cautious as to whom we give entry into our soul. And so it isn’t easy to find a soulmate, to have that kind of affinity and trust. Nor is it easy to sustain a friendship once we have found one. Sustained friendship takes hard commitment and that’s not our strong point as our psyches and our world forever shift and turn. Moreover, today, virtual friendships don’t always translate into real friendships.
Finally, not least, friendship is often hindered or derailed by sex and sexual tension. This is simply a fact of nature and a fact within our culture and all other cultures. Sex and sexuality, while they ideally should be the basis for deep friendship, often are the major hindrance to friendship. Moreover, in our own culture (whose ethos prizes sex over friendship) friendship is often seen as a substitute and a second-best one at that, for sex.
But while that may be in our cultural ethos, it’s clearly not what’s deepest in our souls. There we long for something that’s ultimately deeper than sex–or is sex in a fuller flowering. There’s a deep desire in us all (be that a deeper form of sexual desire or a desire for something that’s beyond sex) for a soulmate, for someone to sleep with morally. More deeply than we ache for a sexual partner, we ache for a moral partner, though these desires aren’t mutually exclusive, just hard to combine.
Friendship, like love, is always partly a mystery, something beyond us. It’s a struggle in all cultures. Part of this is simply our humanity. The pearl of great price is not easily found nor easily retained. True friendship is an eschatological thing, found, though never perfectly, in this life. Cultural and religious factors always work against friendship, as does the omnipresence of sexual tension.
Sometimes poets can reach where academics cannot and so I offer these insights from a poet vis-à-vis the interrelationship between friendship and sex. Friendship, Rainer Marie Rilke suggests, is often one of the great taboos within a culture, but it remains always the endgame: “In a deep, felicitous love between two people you can eventually become the loving protectors of each other’s solitude. … Sex is, admittedly, very powerful, but no matter how powerful, beautiful and wondrous it may be. If you become the loving protectors of each other’s solitude, love gradually turns to friendship.”
And as Montaigne once affirmed: “The end of friendship may be more important than love. The epiphanies of youth are meant to blossom and ripen into something everlasting.”

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happend

Sister alies therese

FROM THE HERMITAGE
By Sister alies therese
It’s that time again: graduation, whether it is from Pre-K or, High school or college. Someone has become a dentist, a vet or doctor. Some folks also participated in other sorts of graduations — ordination, completing flight or art school, or a major promotion in the workplace. Some have even married or made solemn vows! Let’s just say that to graduate is to move with some new skill or commitment to the next level. Usually that also brings new responsibilities. And those responsibilities reflect a deeper you! Dr. Suess says: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You!”
External markers in our life are very important. They may take the form of a formal graduation. However, we need to pay attention to our inner markers, growing ever deeper, showing how we’ve matured, or learned some new life skill: how to forgive, how to laugh, or how to love, for example. It is more likely that our inner life is where we experience movement towards God. That is where we actually graduate and discover our process of becoming fully who we are. Or, as Dr. Suess says: “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”
Becoming is clearly our goal. We use the phrase: become the very best version of yourself. Sometimes the way to prove that we have progressed is by walking through the external markers of graduating or passing difficult exams. Other times, it is sneaking a peek at those inner markers. Perhaps it will be during prayer time, retreat time, alone time in the stillness, where we intuit somehow something has grown within and we’ve changed by becoming more ‘myself in God.’ Dr. Suess asks: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
Our questions such as this move us forward and challenge us to allow God to enfold within us gifts we are to use to serve the community and grow in holiness. Recently we were reminded of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit when we celebrated Pentecost. Those gifts and many more mentioned throughout the Scriptures call us to stand out — to be witnesses, visible to others not for ourselves but for them to want to be like us in the doing of good deeds, the deeds of God. Consult Mt.5:16 on this.
There are others, too, whose deeds of prayer and sacrifice are more hidden. Yet they too, offer back to God the gifts they have received that others might live. Perhaps they will not see the outcome of these poor prayers or sacrifices but they will grow in trust and deeper in love with God so that they might continue their mission. We are all, however, called to an ever deepening love of God, allowing God to love us.
Mostly we are called to smile as we sacrifice for others. Dr. Suess says: “Life’s too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”
We need each and every person to continue to form the precious community of the Beloved. There are no hidden diplomas or degrees or even excellent exam results — only the promise of an on-going love to be shared and put at the service of an awesome God.
Dr. Suess wrote 46 books, the first in 1936 and it had 27 rejections before publication. He was very involved in anti-racist and inclusion work ncluding Horton Hears a Who, reminding us: “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
He was never a doctor of anything but he did have lots of external markers to reward his work: two Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Laura Ingalls Wilder and a Peabody Award. His simplicity, humor and challenge remind us of our call to grow and become ever more thoughtful, caring, and to lighten up and laugh a little, by expressing our joy on the journey. Perhaps your life will be marked with many markers both external and internal, perhaps not. Not to worry. You are not forgotten. Not only that but your smile and your light are designated by God to do good and to be seen that God might receive the glory.
I was reminded of this in Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? “When I was quite young and quite small for my size, I met an old man in the Desert of Drize. And he sang me a song I will never forget. At least, well, I haven’t forgotten it yet. He sat in a terribly prickly place. But he sang with a sunny sweet smile on his face: ‘When you think things are bad, when you feel sour and blue, when you start to get mad…you should do what I do! Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky! Some people are much more, oh, ever so much more…oh muchly much-much more unlucky than you!…Thank goodness for all of the things you are not! Thank goodness you’re not something someone forgot, and left all alone in some punkerish place like a rusty tin coat hanger hanging in space…”
Great summer reading for all you brain-i-acs who need a little rest! Reinhold Niebuhr understood when he remarked: “Laughter is the beginning of prayer.” BLESSINGS.

(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She is author of six books of spiritual fiction and is a weekly columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

What is your piece of paradise here?

Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD,

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Due to ministry, rarely have I had an opportunity to view the Kentucky Derby’s Run for the roses, aka “The most exciting two minutes in sports.” Official bugler Steve Buttleman sounded the clarion call to the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. Defying the all-time record downpour that drenched the track, everyone and everything else, more than 153,000 paying customers thrilled to the University of Louisville Choir’s rendering of My Old Kentucky Home.
As the historic music rang throughout Churchill Downs, the roots of my hair tingled. It was then that, observing their happy faces, I realized that, for perhaps most of the folks there, this was their piece of paradise.
One could counter that, surely, those people have other cherished pieces of an earthly paradise in their lives. That is perfectly reasonable and desirable. Indeed, truly blessed, fortunate – whatever you want to call them – are those whose prime piece of paradise is their family. Yes, it can be affirmed that the happiest people in the world are those whose piece of earthly paradise is theirsoul mate and children.
With wanderlust almost a part of their DNA, being a jetsetter regionally and globally has always been a piece of paradise for many who have no great interest in settling down in a conventional way of life. With more affordable supersonic airliners just a few years away, jetsetters will take delight in having breakfast in Asia, lunch in Europe and dinner in the U.S.A., whether aloft or on the ground.
Plugged into a world of electronic devices such as tablets, e-readers, MP3 players and smartphones that provide apps to open up a world of information, music, movies and other entertainment, Millennials lead the charge into today’s electronic version of what they perceive as their piece of paradise.
However, they must be constrained to look deep into their own reaction to and connection to electronic devices that, at best, may deter them from meaningful communication with their family and friends. At worst, those devices become vices that draw users away from practical realities and entice them to harsh addictions.
Although entertainment is an integral part of our lives, we must shun addiction to almost nonstop entertainment on a cell phone, computer, TV, at the cinema, at a sports stadium, at a racetrack, being a nightclubber always out to play on the town or regional circuit, or anything that stifles the pursuit of transcendent values in life.
Notwithstanding, this is their piece of paradise for many a wayfarer down here.
Considered classier for the most part than nightclubbing, being a socialite in a Who’s Who world, bathing in the reflected light of celebrities, superstars in sports, business moguls, the megarich or the cream of any so-styled significant profession is the lifelong fascination and dogged pursuit of too many people to count. The Upper Crust, of course, is a bunch of crumbs held together with their own dough.
Hail the greatest celebrity and megastar of all time, the apprentice carpenter who had no formal schooling, yet knew more than the top geniuses of all time! Even though he was born in a borrowed cattle cave and was buried in a borrowed cave hewn out of the rock, his life and supernatural exploits split the reckoning of time into whatever happened before him and whatever happened after him.
Spliced somewhere in all this is the perennial pursuit of the American Dream, to which we can add the Asian, European, African Dream, etc., a piece of paradise. In this, our earthly pursuit of a piece of paradise, we have to align our civil identity and property ownership to Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”
A true piece of paradise, the killer smile of a big baby girl in 2006 as I applied ashes to her forehead on Ash Wednesday at Saint Augustine Church in New Orleans was one of the indelible highlights of my life. Perforce, I had to smile in return.
While driving back to my parish in Prairie View, Texas in 1983 with most of the Sedillo family, we stopped briefly just beyond Houston to buy some snowballs. Slumping in the rear of the station wagon, Anthony slurped his large snowball and asked, “Mama, are we in heaven?” Yes, a piece of paradise can be a moment frozen in time under widely varying circumstances tailor-made for individuals. And it is real!
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

On Suicide and Despair

Father Ron Rolheiser

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
For centuries, suicide was considered as an act of despair and despair itself was seen as the most grievous sin of all. In many religious circles, despair was seen as the most sinful of all acts and ultimately unforgivable.
Sadly, a strong residue of that remains, suicide is still seen by many as an act of despair, an affront to God and to life itself, an unforgivable relinquishing of hope. Many church people still see suicide as an act of despair and as the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. But this is a misunderstanding. Suicide is not an act of despair and is not an act which cannot be forgiven. That suicide is an act of despair is not what the Christian Churches and certainly not the Roman Catholic Church, believe or teach.
My purpose here is not to disparage what our churches teach about either suicide or despair, but rather to highlight with more accuracy what they do teach. The same holds true for people who still believe that suicide is an act of despair and an unforgiveable sin. I am not disparaging their belief but trying rather to free them from a false fear (based on a misunderstanding) which surely must cause them grief and anxiety vis-à-vis loved ones who have died by suicide.
Suicide is not despair. Dictionaries define despair as the complete lack or absence of hope. But that’s not what happens in most suicides. What does happen?
The person who is taking his or her own life is not intending that act as an insult or affront to God or to life (for that would be an act of strength and suicide is generally the antithesis of that). What happens in most suicides is the polar opposite. The suicide is the result of a mammoth defeat.
There’s a powerful scene in the musical adaption of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. A young woman, Fantine, lies dying. She tells of once being youthful and full of hopeful dreams; but now worn-down by a lifetime of poverty, crushed by a broken heart and overcome by physical illness, she is defeated and has to submit to the tearful fact that “there are storms we cannot weather.”
She’s right and anyone who does not accept that truth will one day come to a painful and bitter understanding of it. There are things in this life that will crush us and surrender isn’t an act of despair and indeed isn’t a free act at all. It’s a humbling, sad defeat.
And that’s the case with most people who die from suicide. For reasons ranging from mental illness to an infinite variety of overpowering storms that can break a person, there’s sometimes a point in people’s lives where they are overpowered, defeated and unable to continue to will their own living – parallel to one who dies as a victim of a drought, hurricane, cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s. There’s no sin in being overpowered by a deadly storm. We can be overpowered and some people are, but that’s not despair (which can only be willful and an act of strength).
To begin with, we don’t understand mental illness, which can be just as a real and just as death-producing as any physical illness. We don’t blame someone for dying from cancer, a stroke or a physical accident, but we invariably cast moral shadows on someone who dies as a result of various mental illnesses which play a deadly role in many suicides. Happily, God is still in charge and our flawed understanding, while generally permanently tainting the way someone is remembered in this world, doesn’t effect salvation on the other side.
Beyond mental illness we can be defeated in life by many other things. Tragedy, heartbreaking loss, unrequited obsession and crippling shame can at times break a heart, crush a will, kill a spirit and bring death to a body. And our judgment on this should reflect our understanding of God: What all-loving, merciful God would condemn someone because he or she, like Victor Hugo’s, Fantine, could not weather the storm? Does God side with our own narrow notions where salvation is mostly reserved for the strong? Not if Jesus is to be believed.
Notice when Jesus points out sin he doesn’t point to where we are weak and defeated; rather he points to where we are strong, arrogant, indifferent and judgmental. Search the Gospels and ask this question: On whom is Jesus hardest? The answer is clear: Jesus is hardest on those who are strong, judgmental and have no feeling for those who are enduring the storm. Notice what he says about the rich man who ignores the poor man at his doorstep, what he says about the priest and scribe who ignore the man beaten in a ditch and how critical he is of the scribes and Pharisees who are quick to define who falls under God’s judgment and who doesn’t.
Only a faulty understanding of God can underwrite the unfortunate notion that being crushed in life constitutes despair.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Pentecost and the Poor People’s Campaign

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
We have celebrated the core of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We now come to the end, the great Feast of Pentecost. We hear the Prophet Joel cry out, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh!” Remember Jesus reading that passage in the synagogue in Nazareth?
Bishop John Botean’s commentary in the previous edition of Mississippi Catholic inspired me to reflect further on the work of the Holy Spirit in the church even today. Bishop Botean comes from the Romanian Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Byzantine Churches in communion with the Pope. He commented on the theology of Baptism as developed by Rev. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in New York. His column compared the Eastern Church’s treatment of the Holy Spirit to Quakers.
He described Quaker meetings where they sit in a church and focus on the Spirit’s presence and what it would prompt them to do. He ends by saying “The emphasis given to the Holy Spirit in Byzantine theology is explicit, but different than the Charismatic movement. He quotes Father Schmemann’s response to the oft asked question “Is Jesus Christ my personal savior?” His response is, “Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. The Holy Spirit is my personal savior, because “No one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Co. 12:3).
The Eastern Church has a rich theology around the Holy Spirit. They emphasize the Holy Spirit is at work in the sacraments (they call them mysteries) allowing for the movement of the heart and feelings in response to God. Barriers are lifted and people of faith follow where the Spirit leads.
This leads us right into Pentecost and the great conclusion to the season of Easter. Down through the ages the Holy Spirit leads and guides the Church, calling people to lead others to specific ways to live the Gospel, even to our own time. We have seen prophetic figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, rise up and lead us to greater possibilities of freedom and hope. They gave their lives in the cause of justice and freedom, but the cause remains active. We celebrate his year the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign Mule Train that went from Marks, Mississippi to Washington, D.C. to protest the evils of war, racism and income inequality.
The Spirit continues to move us forward even when the resistance to change intensifies. I think of Rev. William Barber of North Carolina. When he preaches he reminds me a lot of Dr. King. His use of scripture to illustrate social justice connects modern issues is to a higher, moral level. Rev. Barber has resurrected the Poor People’s Campaign. Reflecting the style of Dr. King, He says “There is something wrong in America!”
Society must be made aware, as the campaign points out, that “People should not live or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion and deep inequality.” This reflects the 72nd Psalm, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Another principle, “We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.”
These are but two of twelve fundamental principles to form a moral movement, a moral revival. From now until June 23, people will carry out sustained nonviolent actions in some 30 states, hoping to break through toxic attitudes and shift the moral narrative.
I end with a passage from Isaiah 10 which captures the spirit: “Woe unto those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights, and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey, and robbing the homeless child.”

(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

School shooting should impact election

Will Jemison

Keeping our faith
By Will Jemison
As of the writing, we have lost at least another 10 innocent souls to senseless gun violence at an American school. I’m certain the calls to prayer and self-reflection from many of our legislators will commence and in about a week, we will have moved on to other issues in the country. What can’t be achieved in that week’s time is the healing that will be needed for the parents and friends of the indirect victims of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) stronghold on some of our elected officials from many statehouses all the way up to the top seats in our federal government.
As Catholics, our social doctrine teaches us that all lives are imbued with dignity and should be protected. Obviously, we send our prayers and thoughts to those who have died, and with current laws, will continue to lose their lives to senseless gun violence due to lax gun laws, but prayers aren’t enough. In addition to our belief in the dignity of life, we also are charged with ensuring that policies and laws that are in effect don’t allow for mentally ill, violent and irresponsible individuals to have free access to weapons.
For the last few years, I’ve attended the annual pro-life events across the state where organizations recognize the works they have done in the arena of abortion legislation and pro-life advocacy. Indeed, many have performed some positive works in exposing the alternatives to abortion that some expectant mothers and fathers had not considered or weren’t aware of, but what has struck me most is the apparent lack by these same groups to effectively advocate either at the local level or statewide to reverse the scourge of the pro-gun movement in this state. Is equipping individuals with unnecessary weapons a legal right or a tool to ensure that some voters are appeased at the cost of endangering others?
In the past few years, we have witnessed innocent children and adults slaughtered in places of worship, schools and offices across the country; yet, we haven’t witnessed any substantive change to the laws that govern how we obtain access to weapons of any sort. As Catholics, we should be concerned. From 1994 to 2004, our elected officials attempted to band-aid the wound of gun violence by banning the sale of assault weapons similar to those used in most of our mass shootings. The problem with the ban was that it only outlawed the sale of new weapons, not the many thousands of assault weapons that were already in circulation and were sold via direct, cash transactions between individuals.
With an upcoming statewide election looming, it’s imperative that we as Catholics exercise our right to advocate and participate in the electoral process to affect positive change. There simply is no justification for individuals to have the right to openly carry weapons in public places throughout this state or casually purchase assault weapons. The intent of open carry laws are to intimidate some and appease others and no child or parishioner should have to be concerned whether it’s safe to attend school or church for fear of someone possibly hurting them or worse, due to our ineffective leadership.
Mississippi’s upcoming elections will be a great test of our fortitude as socially conscious voters and Catholics. At our moral and religious core is the desire to do what’s right and just, will this next round of elections reflect this or will we allow a few self-serving political issues deflect us yet again? It’s time we challenge our elected leadership to act in the best interests of the many and to place a higher value of life for all people and in all stages of life, from conception to natural death.

(Will Jemison is the coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Water and Spirit

GUEST COLUMN
By Bishop John M. Botean
I was an undergrad in philosophy at The Catholic University of America when I had the opportunity to attend an off-campus lecture by Rev. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in New York and one of the most eminent English-speaking theologians in the Orthodox world.
His lecture was based on what was then his newly released book, “Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism.” The book became a major text, found on the required reading list in at least one course in CUA’s School of Theology by the next year. Together with the lecture I was about to hear, “Of Water and the Spirit” was foundational for me, dramatically affecting my later approach, as a priest, to all the sacraments.
After an introduction given by Cardinal William Baum, then the archbishop of Washington, Father Schmemann opened by relating a story about an ecumenical event he once attended. He had found himself seated alongside the Episcopal delegation. Asking how this came about, he was told that it was because the Episcopalians, like the Orthodox, had a strong tradition of liturgy. His reply: “Put me next to the Quakers. They love the Holy Spirit.”
I don’t recall the reaction of the crowd, but a light certainly went on in me. Father Alexander lectured on, his deep bass voice outlining what I took to be an entirely revolutionary approach to baptism, as well as a powerful, creative approach to its celebration that involved the entire eucharistic assembly, rather than (as he put it) a small family group in the dark corner of an empty church. I was struck by the vivid images he presented, speaking of the apparent innocence of an infant belying the cosmic struggle between good and evil already taking place in that innocent’s life, on account of which the church would step in powerfully in Christ’s name through the sacraments of Christian initiation.
In the Byzantine world, Catholic as well as Orthodox, the sacraments (or “mysteries,” to use Byzantine terminology) of baptism, chrismation (confirmation), and Eucharist are all celebrated together. Neither the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit (chrismation) nor participation in the Body of Christ (Eucharist) is separated liturgically from immersion into the life, death, resurrection, and immortal life of Christ through the waters of baptism.
So, what does this have to do with Quakers?
Traditional worship in the Society of Friends, or Quakers, involves sitting in silence, awaiting the work of the Holy Spirit. When someone is moved, or “inspired,” to speak, he or she speaks the word he or she has received. Without this inspiration, nothing happens.
There is a somewhat similar emphasis in the Byzantine theology of the Trinity: it is the Spirit who completes, perfects and personalizes everything that God does in Christ. The Holy Spirit is never left out of the conversation when talking about the sacraments, the life of the individual Christian, or, indeed, the entire Christian dispensation. Among the very purposes of Christ’s redemptive suffering is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the world. As Jesus himself says, “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7-8)
Through Christ, the world has entered the Age of the Church, what Byzantines refer to liturgically as “time after Pentecost,” since Christians, by their baptism, are bearers of the Spirit in the world.
All of the mysteries (sacraments) include an epiclesis, an explicit invocation of the Holy Spirit to carry out, perfect and personalize the work of sanctification in the sacrament. In baptism itself, the Holy Spirit is called upon to sanctify the water and give it the power to bring about the rebirth of the person about to be baptized in it: baptismal water is not blessed in advance but consecrated for each celebration. Immediately after the triple immersion of baptism, the newly baptized is anointed with holy chrism, sealing the new Christian personally with the gift of the Holy Spirit as the pledge of eternal life.
The emphasis given to the Holy Spirit in Byzantine theology is thus explicit, and yet different from that found in the charismatic movement. When, then, I am asked if Jesus Christ is my personal savior, I think of Father Schmemann’s tongue-in-cheek humor and answer with a bit of my own: “No. Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. The Holy Spirit is my personal savior, because ‘no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the holy Spirit.’” (1 Cor. 12:3)
As Quakers – and Byzantines – would say, without the Holy Spirit nothing happens.

(Romanian Catholic Bishop John M. Botean of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, Ohio, is a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications.)

Dear high school graduates of the class of 2018

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
Looks like you made it! Congratulations on a job well done. Many of you will be off to college or community college in the fall. The next few months will be filled with a whirlwind of preparation between orientation to dorm shopping (yes, guys do this too). For our college-bound graduates, you are joining the most studied demographic in the U.S. Social scientists and student affairs personnel make careers out of studying who you are, what makes you successful, and how colleges and universities can best serve you. Over the past decade the trends in higher education have been greatly influenced by these studies. Everything from Service Learning Communities to farmto-table options at the cafeteria have emerged based on what students expect to experience in college.
The excitement builds as move-in day gets closer and closer. Will you go through rush and join a fraternity or sorority? Do you already know your roommate? Are you going to join any clubs or campus organizations? There’s so much to think of: class schedules, getting to know your way around campus, understanding the shuttle routes, finding the cool coffee shops and places to shop to name a few. It’s easy to see in a world that quickly becomes filled with things that are so unfamiliar it is easy to forget the things that are very familiar. One important familiar part of your life that you need to stay connected with is your faith. Study after study affirms two things 1) an estimated 60-percent of college students are not affiliated with their faith tradition or any faith tradition while in school; and 2) students who do stay affiliated with their faith tradition or a faith tradition in college do better academically and have higher graduation rates. Now, I am not trying to tell you that just by going to Mass will guarantee that you will be academically successful in college. What I am saying is that staying involved with the Church and nurturing your spiritual life helps, a lot! I spent quite a few years in campus ministry. I saw a very diverse group of young people pass through the Church doors in my tenure. It is from that wisdom that I offer my top five helpful tips for staying Catholic in college.
1) If you do not already have a practicing Catholic friend at your school, make friends with a Catholic in your dorm to go to Mass with. This sounds obvious, but many young people are intimidated to attend Mass alone. You don’t have to make an evening of it, but simply having someone to go to Mass with makes going a lot easier.
2) You do not have to be 24/7 over the top Catholic (insert jazz hands) to be involved with campus ministry. Think of your college experience in the same way you see your parents witness faith. As adults, your parents go to Mass on Sunday. Your Mom may be a member of a book club or serve on pastoral council. Your Dad might be a member of the Knights of Columbus or work at the food pantry. By no means do your parents attend every meeting or participate in every activity. They choose the activities that are life-giving and spiritually fulfilling. Do the same. Make an effort to be part of the life of campus ministry but recognize you do not have to “do it all.”
3) Kick peer pressure to the curb. Look, I get it, we all want to be liked and accepted. But please do not lose your sense of self or self-worth in your quest for peer acceptance. I remember it feeling like a tribal battle cry, “Come on Franny, it will be fun!” And with those six little words I ended up in situations that I dare say were not my finest moments. You will find as you age that the opinion of those who encouraged you to make unhealthy choices no longer really matter. In fairness, my girlfriends from high school and college who chanted the “fun” refrain did not lead me to abandon my moral convictions. But, my GPA did suffer from not enough study time and too much social time.
4) Pray daily. Learn to be still. Learn to listen. God is not Santa Claus nor is he a vending machine. Grow in your prayer life that you are in tune with God’s will for you, not the other way around.
5) You are a Confirmed adult in your faith, but it does not mean you know everything. Ask questions. Read. Take ownership of your faith journey.
I have one word for the parents of these bright and beautiful young people: relax. Your job as a parent really never ends, but trust that you have given your son/daughter the two things necessary for a successful life: roots, that they may always know where they came from; and wings to fly. Let them fly.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Catholic media must not fall behind in digital age, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In an age when technology is ever-evolving, Catholic news organizations must be willing to adapt to effectively proclaim the Gospel to all, Pope Francis said.
Speaking to directors and employees of Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, the pope said that the use of new digital platforms not only requires significant technological updates but also a willingness to accept that “the attachment to the past may prove to be a dangerous temptation.”
“Authentic servants of tradition are those who, while keeping memory alive, know how to discern the signs of the times and open new paths,” he said May 1.
Marking the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and International Workers’ Day, which is a public holiday in Italy and many other countries, Pope Francis noted that Jesus’ foster father was a “man of silence,” which at first “may seem the opposite of a communicator.”
But, he said, Catholic journalists and news organizations must realize that “only by shutting down the noise of the world and our own gossip will it be possible to listen, which remains the first condition of every communication.”
Particularly in today’s world where “the speed of information surpasses our capacity of reflection,” he said, church members are exposed “to the impact and influence of a culture of haste and superficiality” and risk reducing the church’s mission to a “pastoral ministry of applause, to a dumbing down of thought and to a widespread disorientation of opinions that are not in agreement.”
The example set forth by St. Joseph, he added, is a reminder for all Christians working in the field of communications to “recover a sense of healthy slowness, tranquility and patience.”
“With his silence, he reminds us that everything begins from listening, from transcending oneself in order to be open to another person’s word and history,” the pope said.
Recalling the words of Blessed Paul VI, Pope Francis said that Catholic newspapers shouldn’t just report news to “make an impression or gain clients” but rather to educate their readers “to think, to judge” for themselves.
“Catholic communicators avoid rigidities that stifle or imprison,” he said. “They do not cage the Holy Spirit, but seek to let it fly, to let it breathe within the soul. They never allow reality to give way to appearances, beauty to vulgarity, social friendship to conflict. They cultivate and strengthen every sprout of life and goodness.”
Pope Francis encouraged Avvenire’s directors, journalists and employees to be heralds of the Gospel and, like St. Joseph, be true guardians who protect society’s well-being and dignity.

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Poverty, chastity and obedience in secular age

Father Ron Rolheiser

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Cardinal Francis George was once asked what he thought of the radical pacifism of people like Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, SJ, prophetic figures who believed in absolute nonviolence. How can this be practical, he was asked, it’s utterly naïve to believe that we can live without police and without soldiers. This was his reply: The world needs pacifists in the same way as it needs vowed celibates: They’re not practical. They’re out of place in this world. But they point to the eschatological world, the world of heaven, a world within which there will be no guns, where relational exclusivities will not exist as they exist now, where family will not be based on biology, blood or marriage, where there will be no poor people, and where everything will belong to everyone.
I thought of that recently as I was conducting a workshop on religious life for a group of young people who were discerning whether or not to enter vowed religious life. My task was not to try to persuade them to join a religious community but to help them understand what that life, should they join it, would entail. That meant, of course, long discussions on the three vows that people take to be in religious life: poverty, chastity, and obedience (classically termed “the Evangelical Counsels”).
What’s to be said about poverty, chastity, and obedience in a world that, for the most part, places its hope in material riches, generally identifies chastity with frigidity, and values individual freedom above all else?
Well, no doubt, poverty, chastity, and obedience are seen as radically counter-cultural; but that’s mostly because they are generally not very well understood (sometimes even by those who are living them out). For the most part they are seen as a drastic renunciation, the sacrificing of a full life, the unnatural denial of one’s sexuality, and the adolescent signing over of one’s freedom and creativity. But that’s a misunderstanding.
Poverty, chastity, and obedience are not a missing out on riches, sexuality, and freedom. They are rather a genuine, rich, modality of riches, sexuality, and freedom.
The vow of poverty isn’t primarily about living with cheaper things, not having a dishwasher and doing your own housework. It’s also not about renouncing the kinds of riches that can make for the full flourishing of life. A life of voluntary poverty is a lived way of saying that all material possessions are gift, that the world belongs to everyone, that nobody owns a country, and that nobody’s needs are first. It’s a vow against consumerism and tribalism, and it brings its own wonderful riches in terms of meaning and in the happiness and joy of a shared life.
Likewise for the vow of chastity: Properly understood, it is not a missing out on the joys of sexuality. It’s a rich modality of sexuality itself, given that being sexual means more than having sex. Sexuality is a beautiful, God-given drive within us for lots of things: community, friendship, togetherness, wholeness, family, play, altruism, enjoyment, delight, creativity, genital consummation, and for everything that takes us beyond our aloneness and makes us generative. And so the very real joys that are found in community, friendship, and service of others are not a second-rate substitute for sex. They bring their own sexual flourishing in terms of leading us out of our aloneness.
The same holds true for obedience. Properly understood, it’s not a missing out on real freedom. Rather it’s a rich modality of freedom itself, one practiced by Jesus (who repeatedly says: “I do nothing on my own. I do only the Father’s will.”) Obedience, as a religious vow, is not an immature sacrificing of one’s freedom and adulthood.
It’s rather a radical submitting of one’s human ego (with all its wounds, desires, lusts, private ambitions, and envies) to something and Someone higher than oneself, as seen in the human and religious commitments in persons from Jesus, to Teilhard de Chardin, to Dag Hammarskjold, to Simone Weil, to Mother Teresa, to Jean Vanier, to Daniel Berrigan. In each of these we see a person who walked this earth in a freedom we can only envy but clearly too in a freedom that’s predicated on a genuflecting of one’s individual will to something higher than itself.
Our thoughts and our feelings are strongly influenced by the cultural software within which we find ourselves. Thus, given how our culture understands riches, sex, and freedom today, this may well be the most difficult time in many centuries to make the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live them out. Small wonder religious communities are not over-flooded with applications. But because it is more difficult than ever, it is also more important than ever that a number of women and men choose, voluntarily, to prophetically live out these vows.
And their seeming sacrifice will be amply rewarded because, paradoxically, poverty brings its own riches, chastity brings its own flourishing, and obedience provides us with the deepest of all human freedoms.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)