The triumph of good over evil

A colleague once challenged Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with this question. You believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil; well, what if we blow up the world with an atomic bomb, what happens to goodness then? Teilhard answered this way. If we blow up the world with an atomic bomb, that would be a two-million-year setback; but goodness will triumph over evil, not because I wish it, but because God promised it and, in the resurrection, God showed that God has the power to deliver on that promise. He is right. Except for the resurrection, we have no guarantees about anything. Lies, injustice, and violence may well triumph in the end. That is certainly how it looked the day Jesus died.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Jesus was a great moral teacher and his teachings, if followed, would transform the world. Simply put, if we all lived the Sermon on the Mount, our world would be loving, peaceful, and just; but self-interest is often resistant to moral teaching. From the Gospels, we see that it was not Jesus’ teaching that swayed the powers of evil and ultimately revealed the power of God. Not that. The triumph of goodness and the final power of God were revealed instead through his death, by a grain of wheat falling in the ground and dying and so bearing lots of fruit. Jesus won victory over the powers of the world in a way that seems antithetical to all power. He did not overpower anyone with some intellectually superior muscle or by some worldly persuasion. No, he revealed God’s superior power simply by holding fast to truth and love even as lies, hatred, and self-serving power were crucifying him. The powers of the world put him to death, but he trusted that somehow God would vindicate him, that God would have the last word. God did. God raised him from the dead as a testimony that he was right and the powers of the world were wrong, and that truth and love will always have the last word.

That is the lesson. We too must trust that God will give truth and love the last word, irrespective of what things look like in the world. God’s judgment on the powers of this world does not play out like a Hollywood film where the bad guys get shot in the end by a morally superior muscle and we get to enjoy a catharsis. It works this way: everyone gets judged by the Sermon on the Mount, albeit self-interest generally rejects that judgment and seems to get away with it. However, there is a second judgment that everyone will submit to, the resurrection. At the end of the day, which is not exactly like the end of the day in a Hollywood movie, God raises truth and love from their grave and gives them the final word. Ultimately, the powers of the world will all submit to that definitive judgment.

Without the resurrection, there are no guarantees for anything. That is why St. Paul says that if Jesus was not resurrected then we are the most deluded of all people. He is right. The belief that the forces of untruth, self-interest, injustice, and violence will eventually convert and give up their worldly dominance can sometimes look like a possibility on a given night when the world news looks better. However, as happened with Jesus, there is no guarantee that these powers will not eventually turn and crucify most everything that is honest, loving, just, and peaceful in our world. The history of Jesus and the history of the world testify to the fact that we cannot put our trust in worldly powers even when for a time they can look trustworthy. The powers of self-interest and violence crucified Jesus. They were doing it long before and have continued doing it long after. These powers will not be vanquished by some superior moral violence, but by living the Sermon on the Mount and trusting that God will roll back the stone from any tomb in which they bury us.

Many people, perhaps most people, believe there is a moral arc to reality, that reality is bent towards goodness over evil, love over hate, truth over lies, and justice over injustice, and they point to history to show that, while evil may triumph for a while, eventually reality rectifies itself and goodness wins out in the end, always. Some call this the law of karma. There is a lot of truth in that belief, not just because history seems to bear it out, but because when God made the universe, God made a love-oriented universe and so God wrote the Sermon on the Mount both into the human heart and into the very DNA of the universe itself. Physical creation knows how to heal itself, so too does moral creation. Thus, good should always triumph over evil – but, but, given human freedom, there are no guarantees – except for the promise given us in the resurrection.

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

Called by Name

Even though I was “frozen in” for a nearly a full work week the work of promoting vocations is going strong. Prediscernment Prayer Nights are off and running across the diocese. Bishop Kopacz and I teamed up for our opening night at St. Richard and I have since presided at adoration and benediction in Vicksburg and Gluckstadt. I have enjoyed getting to see young people and supporters of vocations from across the diocese and this is just the beginning. In the next few weeks, I’ll be in McComb, Natchez, Greenville, Greenwood, Cleveland, Southaven and beyond. These prayer nights are doing the job of helping me identify young men and women who need the diocese’s support in going a little deeper in their discernment. As I get to know men and women dedicated to following God’s call, I can help plug them into experiences that will help them come closer to making a decision which can often be intimidating.

I have also launched a new podcast project called “The Discerning Catholic Podcast.” It is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. The podcast is not a “vocations project” per se, but I do hope that it attracts the ears of men and women who are actively discerning. Podcasts are very popular with millennials, at least they are popular with this millennial, and I believe that I can provide content that is helpful for any Catholic looking to apply the faith to their life. The show is geared toward analyzing our culture through the lens of the church. I do not seek to give my opinion, but rather I try to give the public the church’s view on various issues. “The Discerning Catholic” is released on Sunday and Wednesday nights. The Sunday podcast includes my homily from the weekend with a commentary attached in which I go deeper into the topic that I preached about. The Wednesday podcast deals with an “uncomfortable” issue and I seek to apply church teaching to said issue. In between these segments are more fun things where I do give my take on pop culture, sports and other topics. The broadcasting bug has never left me I suppose, and again I hope that this is a life-giving source of information. Tell your friends!

So, lots of great things in the works, please keep our seminarians in your prayers! I was able to check in with all of them while I was snowed-under and I continue to be grateful for the quality men that are studying for our diocese!

Prediscernment Prayer Night Schedule

Tuesday, March 2, 6-7 PM – St. Joseph Greenville

Thursday, March 4, 6-7 PM – Immaculate Heart of Mary Greenwood

Tuesday, March 16, 6-7 PM – Our Lady of Victories Cleveland

Wednesday, March 17, 6-7 PM – Christ the King Southaven

Indexing your life – a spiritual excercise

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I watched a webinar sponsored by Ave Maria Press given by Jonathan Montaldo on “The Spiritual Exercises of Thomas Merton” a few weeks ago. Montaldo was the director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. He also served a term as President of the International Thomas Merton Society. I was struck by the unpretentious manner in which Montaldo spoke of Merton. It was evident that Montaldo appreciated the very human, very ordinary Merton. He went so far as to caution against elevating Merton to some kind of guru status. He also reminded the viewer that Merton did not advocate a particular spiritual practice; rather, Merton was calling others to find their own authentic path to a greater intimacy with God. In the spirit of Dom John Chapman, OSB, Merton would have us pray as we can, not as we can’t.
Pointing to the simplicity of Merton’s message, Montaldo shared an entry from one of Merton’s notebooks from the time period he was novice master. In it Merton instructed the novices:
Enter deeply into the school of life itself. Your life is a school of wisdom. Ruminate on the text of your life as a spiritual exercise to excavate God’s loving-kindness to you through your life’s thicket of relationships. Receive every event and learning as a secret instruction from God. Reflect on the action and Grace and detect the innumerable movements of divine Love in your life.
The term “school of life” deeply resonated with me. As Catholic Christians we are called to lifelong conversion. We are called to continue to journey deeper into the mystery of God’s love. Reflecting on our own school of life should not become overly scrupulous or self-centered. We should heed the directive to “receive every event as a secret instruction from God.” Filtering one’s life experience through the lens of what lessons we learn is powerful. Given the correct context, what would ruminating on the text of your life reveal? In journeying back through time ask yourself, who taught you to pray? Who in your church community taught you how to live a life of faith? Who loved you into the “now” of your life?
Merton’s editor compiled an index for his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. The index detailed the myriad of people who contributed to Merton’s faith journey. It served as an alphabetical listing of who’s who over the decades of his life. Reportedly the index was Merton’s most prized part of the book.
What would the index of your life look like? What people, places and situations over the course of your life have made you who you are today? Who are the people you owe your life to because of their love for you? Who are the people who have caused you to suffer? Who are the people who have given you wounds that have turned into blessings? What are the places and events that shaped and formed you?
Making an index is a spiritual exercise that can lead to greater gratitude. A thankful heart inevitably leads us into greater intimacy with God.
During our recent ice and snowstorm, I was talking to a friend about the powerful events that seem to continue to drive us indoors. In addition to the ice and snow we are still in the middle of the pandemic that has drastically curbed our exterior lives. As I sat in prayer on Ash Wednesday morning, I reflected on the previous few days of being sheltered in place. I began seeing this situation as a gift rather than a limitation. With our mobility restricted and literally restrained indoors, I wondered what the next few days would look like if I allowed myself to shelter in place in my interior life as well. What would it look like if I invited God in to the icy, slushy, and messy places in my heart?
I thought about the Merton webinar and replayed it. I am working on an index of my life. It is something I plan on working on throughout Lent adding a few names, places, and events every day. So far, each remembrance has reinforced my gratitude for the gift of my journey. Merton believed that each person in his index was an essential part of his salvation story because he was able to see it all as a gift from God.
I am reminded that some of my best teachers taught me by their example of who I did not want to be. In the same way I recognize the giants whose shoulders I am privileged to stand on. And, not just people, but places and events. I am reminded that my maternal heart was first stirred by a calf I received for my seventh birthday. I wrote Hubert letters and signed them “Love, Your Mother.” Hubert is named in my index.
Many people have asked what does one give up for Lent in the middle of a devastating pandemic when we have already given so much up. It is a legitimate question. Maybe this year instead of giving up we can add up. Yes, add up all the lessons from our school of life and offer them back to God in the form of thanksgiving. And to the extent we are able to, give others a reason to be included in their index by loving and living authentically as Jesus calls us to.

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

Fasting – not just a health trend

THINGS OLD AND NEW
By Ruth Powers
It seems that the secular world has recently discovered a practice that his been part of religious disciplines for millennia. Magazine articles, health and wellness blogs and social media feeds are full of material touting the latest diet and health trend — periodic or intermittent fasting. While modern proponents focus on the benefits of fasting for everything from weight loss to energy levels, followers of several religious traditions have known of its spiritual benefits for much, much longer.
The roots of fasting in our tradition go far back into the Hebrew Scriptures, where fasting was an important part of Jewish religious observance. It was practiced for a wide variety of reasons.

Ruth Powers

One purpose of a fast was to purify oneself in preparation for an important spiritual event. Moses fasted for 40 days while preparing the tablets of the Law (Exodus 34:28) to present to the Hebrew people. Elijah fasted for 40 days as he travelled through the desert to Mount Horeb to meet God after he fled from Jezebel’s threats on his life (1 Kings 9:8).
Fasting was also seen as a way to avert calamity or punishment by eliciting God’s compassion. Individuals like David fasted in hopes of saving his child from death (1 Samuel 12: 22-23), and Ahab’s punishment was mitigated because he fasted and humbled himself (1 Kings 21:27-29). Sometimes the whole community fasted in times of war (Jeremiah 36:3), natural disaster (Joel 1:14), or foreign oppression (Nehemiah 9:1). These cases imply that fasting is basically an act of penance: a ritual expression of remorse, submission, or supplication.
Although community fasts may have been proclaimed as needed before the Babylonian Exile, there is evidence from post-exilic writings like Zechariah that regular fast days did not enter the calendar until after the return to Israel. Fasting as a pious act of self-discipline seems to have developed later, possibly in the Maccabean period.
Fasting as preparation, penance, and pious practice also appears in the New Testament. Anna the Prophetess fasts in supplication for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:37). Jesus fasts for forty days in the desert in preparation for the beginning of his public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11), and he warns his disciples not to fast for pious show “as the hypocrites do” (Matthew 6:16-18).
The practice of regular fasting continued into the early Christian church. The Didache, written sometime between 70 and 140 A.D. speaks of fasting twice a week (on Wednesday and Friday as being an important part of Christian discipline, and many of the early Church Fathers also spoke of the importance of regular fasting.
Perhaps the most well-known fast in Christianity is the Lenten fast. In the ancient church originally it was the catechumens, those preparing for Baptism at Easter, who participated in a fast. It is thought that this fast was originally for the six days before Easter (which became Holy Week) but was lengthened to a period of 40 days to commemorate the forty days Jesus spend in the desert praying and fasting. It became a common practice for other members of the community to participate in the fast as well, but this was apparently not a universal practice.
The Council of Nicea in 325 spoke of a church-wide 40-day fast in preparation for Easter, but how this was observed still varied from place to place until Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) regularized it. Fasting would begin 46 days before Easter with a ceremony of Ash. Sundays were not to be counted in the 40-day observance since they remained a day of celebration of the Resurrection. The fast was strict, with only one meal a day after 3 p.m. with no meat, fish or dairy.
We continue the practice of fasting today for many reasons. The forty day fast is meant to direct our thoughts toward the coming celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter and so prepare for it. It is an expression of sorrow and repentance for our sins as we remember that it was for our sins that Christ died.
Finally, it is a form of self-discipline where we give up something good (food) in order to turn our minds to a greater good – union with God. The obligation to fast today applies only to those under 60 years of age on only 2 days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, the common practice of “giving up” something pleasurable is also a form of fasting, and becomes more meaningful when it is consciously connected to the purposes of preparation, penance and spiritual discipline.

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

Called by Name

The start of this month marked the start of our “Prediscernment Prayer Night” series. As I’ve explained in previous issues, these evenings give young men and women an opportunity to pray to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament about their own call, whether that be to marriage, holy orders or consecrated life. These events will also help me network with people who need accompaniment on the journey and invite them to post-pandemic events like retreats and dinners for discernment.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

“Prediscernment” is not a word that rolls off the tongue, in fact it may not be officially a word at all! But let me remind you why I like to use that term when it comes to working out God’s will for our life. The seminary or the religious house of formation is where formal discernment happens. Often, we think that the decision to go to seminary means that we are completely sure that priesthood or religious life is our vocation, and this is not the church’s expectation. I want men and women who are serious about their faith and open to God’s call to seriously consider entering the seminary or other formation, and to let them know that they do not have to have it all figured out by the time they decide to apply. The two biggest signposts I look for when considering one’s fitness for formation are 1) a consistent desire for what the seminary or religious house offers (more resources and to be formed with men or women who share this desire), and just as importantly 2) they need to have demonstrated the maturity necessary to enter into the program.

I tell men and women that I work with who are considering entering formal discernment that they don’t need to wait until they are sure they are going to make it to the end, but to enter once they are willing to commit two years to that discernment process. During that two years they will be given the resources that they need to discern well whether or not God is calling them. If they go into the program with that intention and after two years they discern that they are not called, they will leave a better Catholic and they’ll be ready to bring the gifts that they developed back into their parishes and their life in the diocese. They will also have the peace of mind that they discerned well.

This is why I am dedicated to this idea of “prediscernment,” which by the way, is a term I have happily borrowed from Father James Wehner, the Rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. About half of the men who enter seminary do not get ordained. Far from proving that the system is broken, I believe this proves that the system works. I do not take the gifts of the People of God for granted. I know that our seminaries and houses of formation have their doors open because of the generosity of people like you, and I want you to know that it is good that not everyone gets ordained or takes vows, because that means that the church and the men and women discerning are taking it seriously! Using this word prediscernment is really just a way I can start a conversation, I can tell a young man or woman what the church wants to provide for those who take their call from the Lord seriously, and I can invite them to discern well if they have a desire and the maturity to take the time to discern.

Prediscernment Prayer Nights: Each event is from 6 – 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Tuesday, Feb. 23 at St. Alphonsus McComb; Wednesday, Feb. 24 at St. Mary Basilica Natchez; Tuesday, March 2nd at St. Joseph Greenville; TBA – Immaculate Heart of Mary Greenwood.

Questions? Email nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org

God cannot tell a lie

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Lying is the most pernicious of evils, the most dangerous of sins, the worst of blasphemes, and the one sin that can be unforgiveable. Perhaps we need to be reminded of that today, given our present culture where we are in danger of losing the very idea of reality and truth. Nothing is more dangerous.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

There’s a line buried deep in scripture that is too seldom quoted. The Letter to the Hebrews states simply: It is impossible for God to lie. (Hebrews 6:18) It could not be otherwise. God is Truth, so how could God lie? For God to lie would be a denial of God’s very nature. Consequently, for us to lie is to go directly against God. Lying is the definition of irreverence and blasphemy. It is an affront to the nature of God.
If we are aware of that, we haven’t taken it seriously lately. Everywhere, from countless social media tweets, texts, and blogs to the highest offices of government, business, and even the church, we are seeing an ever-deteriorating relationship with reality and truth. Lying and creating one’s own truth have become socially acceptable (to a frightening degree). What’s changed? Haven’t we always lied? Who among us can say that he or she has never told a lie or falsified information in one way or another? What’s different today?
What’s different today is that, until our generation, you could be caught in a lie, shamed for telling it, forced to accept your own dishonesty. No longer. Today our relationship with truth is fracturing to a degree that we no longer distinguish, morally or practically, between a lie and the truth. A lie, now, is simply another modality of truth.
What’s the net effect of this? We are living it. Its effects are everywhere. First, it has broken down a shared sense of reality where, as a community, we no longer have a common epistemology and a shared sense of right and wrong. People no longer relate to reality in the same way. One person’s truth is the other person’s lie. It is becoming impossible to define what constitutes a lie.
This doesn’t just destroy trust among us; worse, it plays with our sanity and with some of the deeper moral and religious chromosomes inside us. As I wrote in this column several months ago, we believe that there are four transcendental properties to God. We teach that God is One, True, Good, and Beautiful. Because God is One, whole and consistent, there can never be any internal contradictions within God. This might sound abstract and academic, but this is what anchors our sanity. We are sane and remain sane only because we can always trust that two plus two equals four, ever and always. God’s Oneness is what anchors that. If that should ever change, then the peg that moors our sanity would be removed. Once two plus two can equal something other than four, then nothing can be securely known or trusted ever again. That’s the ultimate danger in what’s happening today. We are unmooring our psyche.
The next danger in lying is what it does to those of us who lie. Fyodor Dostoevsky sums it up succinctly: “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love.” Jordan Peterson would add this: If we lie long enough “after that comes the arrogance and sense of superiority that inevitably accompanies the production of successful lies (hypothetically successful lies – and that is one of the greatest dangers: apparently everyone is fooled, so everyone is stupid, except me. Everyone is stupid, and fooled, by me – so I can get away with whatever I want). Finally, there is the proposition: ‘Being itself is susceptible to my manipulation. Thus, it deserves no respect.’”
Jesus’ warning in John’s Gospel is the strongest of all. He tells us that if we lie long enough we will eventually believe our own lies and confuse falsehood for the truth and truth for falsehood, and that becomes an unforgiveable sin (a “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit) because the person who’s lying no longer wants to be forgiven.
Finally, lying breaks down trust among us. Trust is predicated on the belief that we all accept that two plus two equals four, that we all accept there is such a thing as reality, that we all accept that reality can be falsified by a lie, and that we all accept that a lie is falsehood and not just another modality of truth. Lying destroys that trust.
Living in a world that plays fast and easy with reality and truth also plays on our loneliness. George Eliot once asked: “What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” So true. The loneliest loneliness of all is the loneliness of distrust. Welcome to our not-so-brave new world.

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

The Easter Vigil (part I)

SPIRIT AND TRUTH
By Father Aaron Williams
Of all the liturgies of Holy Week, the Easter Vigil has undergone the most extensive changes over time. It should be noted that the earliest sources we have for this liturgy (c 2nd century) point toward the Mass of Holy Saturday as originally encapsulating all the mysteries of the Triduum, which is one of the reasons historically a Mass was not celebrated on Good Friday. Eventually, however, these mysteries were split into separate celebrations, and the focus of the Vigil Mass took on its own character, especially as the practice became more common to celebrate a separate Mass on the morning of Easter Day as well.

Father Aaron Williams

The vigil is intended to commemorate the mystery of our redemption (as considered apart from the celebration of the mystery of the Resurrection proper). All of the readings used are intended to remind us of the reason humanity needed to be redeemed, and how God in His Providence had prepared a way for that redemption since the dawn of time.
The hearing of several readings is essential to the character of the vigil. The pre-1955 form had seven readings total. The reforms of Pius X brought this down to five readings, and then the 1970 reform restored the readings which were lost but gives the option to reduce the number to no lower than five (including the epistle and the Gospel). The tendency should be avoided to reduce the readings simply to make theMass shorter. The vigil, as the most significant Mass of the liturgical year, necessitates that the faithful hear at least a large portion of these readings.
In all forms of the Vigil liturgy, the Mass begins with the preparation of the Paschal Candle. However, this rite underwent extensive changes in 1955. In its original form, the priest (dressed in a violet cope) blessed a small fire outside of the church which is used to light a small taper and carried inside. Once inside, the deacon brings forth a candle that is split into three ends in a sort of forked shape. The first end is lit and the deacon chants “The Light of Christ.” A little further into the church this is done again, and then again at the foot of the altar. When this is completed, the deacon chants a much longer form of the Exultet. This chanting of the Exultet consisted the actual blessing of the paschal candle, making this the only time prior to 1955 that a Deacon performed a blessing instead of the priest. In fact, if no deacon was available, the priest would change into a deacon’s dalmatic before performing this blessing.
During the Exultet, the deacon would stop at certain moments and work with the candle — inserting the incense grains, carving the date, and lighting it. When this is complete, the deacon would change into violet vestments and the vigil of readings began. The 1955 reform eliminated the three-ended candle and has the priest bless the paschal candle itself outside of the church, which is carried in by the deacon. The blessing of the candle during the Exultet was eliminated. This form is maintained in the modern rite as well, except white vestments are worn.
In the older form of the Easter Vigil, the litany of the saints is chanted following the last of the Old Testament readings. As at ordinations, the priest and deacon would prostrate themselves before the altar during this litany. Afterwards, the baptismal water is blessed. The litany constituted the Kyrie of the Mass, so after it is sung, the priest changes into white vestments and intones the Gloria. In the modern form, the Litany is saved until after the first half of the vigil is complete, and the Gloria is intoned after the last of the Old Testament readings. The priest never changes his vestment color, and the prostration is eliminated.
One significant point that priests and sacristans of which should be aware is the typographical error in the USA lectionary for the Easter Vigil. In the typical edition of the lectionary, as well as in the English editions of other countries, the Exodus reading is not followed by the standard “The Word of the Lord” conclusion. Rather, the reading ends with the phrase “…the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:” – with everything else following being omitted, and immediately the Canticle which follows is sung by the choir. This is a very ancient practice which is retained in the modern form of the rite and adds a small element of drama to the Exodus reading by allowing the choir to ‘finish’ the reading off with the following canticle. The form of the reading which is given in the USA edition is only used if the following Canticle is omitted and a period of silence is given instead.

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

Be a silver lining to those in darkness

Guest column
By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
One of my favorite expressions has taken on new meaning during the COVID pandemic: “There’s a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if only we could see it.”
Without forgetting the terrible suffering of so many people, I’ve been amazed by those who have found a silver lining in these dark times by using their social isolation to learn a new skill, delve into a long-held interest, produce new works of literature, music and art or create meaningful connections with others.
Pope Francis is one of these inspiring people. Despite his advanced age, he has penned both an encyclical and a book before the close of 2020. Both works, Fratelli Tutti and Let Us Dream, focus on combatting the throw-away culture with a culture of encounter, tenderness and care for those on the peripheries.

Sister Constance Veit, LSP

“What is tenderness?” the pope asks. “It is love that draws near and becomes real. A movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands … The smallest, the weakest, the poorest should touch our hearts: indeed, they have a ‘right’ to appeal to our heart and soul. They are our brothers and sisters, and as such we must love and care for them” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 194).
Francis’ convictions are rooted in Catholic social teaching – human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity. “Every human being has the right to live with dignity … Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 107).
In Let Us Dream, he writes, “Solidarity acknowledges our interconnectedness; we are creatures in relationship, with duties toward each other, and all are called to participate in society. That means welcoming the stranger, forgiving debts, giving a home to the disabled and allowing other people’s dreams and hopes for a better life to become our own.”
On the other hand, subsidiarity, he writes, “involves recognizing and respecting the autonomy of others as subjects of their own destiny. The poor are not the objects of our good intentions but the subjects of change. We do not just act for the poor but with them …”
The World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11 gives us a perfect opportunity to practice these values.
In his message for this year’s celebration, the Holy Father reflects on the healing power of relationships. We must strive to create “a covenant between those in need of care and those who provide that care,” he writes, “a covenant based on mutual trust and respect, openness and availability.”
Pope Francis reminds us that it is Jesus himself who asks us to stop and listen to those who are sick or disabled. He asks us to establish personal relationships with them, “to feel empathy and compassion, and to let their suffering become our own as we seek to serve them.”
The pandemic has made us more aware of those who have chosen to share in the suffering of the sick, seeing them as neighbors and members of our one human family.
The pope lauds “healthcare personnel, volunteers, support staff, priests, men and women religious, all of whom have helped, treated, comforted and served so many of the sick and their families with professionalism, self-giving, responsibility and love of neighbor.”
The pope describes this closeness to suffering as a precious balm of consolation. I think of it as a silver lining in the dark clouds that still hover over us nearly a year after the onset of the pandemic.
To honor the World Day of the Sick, this year let’s ask ourselves how we can become a silver lining to someone passing through this COVID storm. We might take the time to express our appreciation to healthcare workers, or to reach out to a sick relative or neighbor, offering whatever assistance they may need.
Through our compassion, may the sick who are passing through darkness find a silver lining by realizing how much they are loved and cherished by others.

(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Called by Name

            As you may know, my professional background is in sports media, but you may not know that I love science fiction/fantasy books and movies. These include but are not limited to books and films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and all the movies in the cash cow that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You may not know the MCU by this acronym, but you surely have seen or at least heard of movies like Ironman, Thor, Avengers, etc., all based on Marvel comic books. The genius of these movies lies in the way they have been rolled out over the years. They are all a part of a larger story arc (or series of arcs) that build on one another. If you watched Avengers: Infinity War, you not only were encouraged to see what happened next in Avengers: Endgame, but you also could get valuable storyline information from less epic films like Ant-Man and the Wasp and other movies set in the same Cinematic Universe. It really is an amazing storytelling vehicle that has raked in billions of dollars for Marvel’s parent company Disney.

            Recently the producers of the Marvel movies told the world that “Phase Three” of the MCU was wrapping up, and that “Phase Four” would soon begin. These labels may be of little significance to those outside the fandom of these movies, but they are helpful to those who are diligently following along. The end of “Phase Three” meant that many of the character arcs and major plot lines of the past several films had been resolved, and so “Phase Four” will be trying to keep the larger story going while introducing new characters and plots to the fanbase. And because all of you have so graciously followed along with the story of the Department of Vocations over the past year, may I present to you: Phase Two of my term as Vocation Director in the Diocese of Jackson.

            Phase One included me getting my feet on the ground and traveling to different parishes meeting with priests and making plans. I also wanted to lay out my vision of discernment in our diocese: the importance of visiting the seminary, an understanding that discernment most properly happens while someone is in formal priestly or religious formation, etc. I see Phase Two as a bridge between the pandemic and a more normal future where we can gather together in groups once again. The key component of Phase Two will be “Prediscernment Prayer Nights,” which will consist of holy hours for vocations in each deanery during the winter and early spring. I will host these hours of adoration and benediction at two parishes in each deanery. Each parish was chosen to maximize the space available for worship and to minimize travel for those who want to attend. I will be asking pastors and parish leaders in each deanery to personally invite men and women who they believe might be called to priesthood or religious life to attend these events, and I ask that you do the same. This is a way for me to meet more folks interested in discernment at a time when things like retreats and other gatherings simply are not possible. Thus far I have Deanery I and Deanery II dates and times on the calendar. Check out my column in future editions as I schedule more of these events. Please pray for the success of my own “Phase Two!”

Father Nick travels a lot, but he puts his homilies on the internet for those who would like to hear them! Go to www.jacksonpriests.com/podcasts each Sunday evening to listen. You can also find out all you want to know about our Vocation office at www.jacksonpriests.com

Vocations Events

Prediscernment Prayer Nights: Deanery I – Feb. 9 at St. Richard Jackson, 6-7 p.m.; Feb. 10 at St. Paul Vicksburg, 6-7 p.m. and Deanery II – Feb. 23 at St. Alphonsus McComb, 6-7 p.m.; Feb. 24 at St. Mary Basilica Natchez, 6-7 p.m. Questions? Email nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org

What is love asking of us now?

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” – Anne Lamott
Those are words worth contemplating, on all sides of the political and religious divide today. We live in a time of bitter division. From our government offices down to our kitchen tables there are tensions and divisions about politics, religion, and versions of truth that seem irreparable. Sadly, these divisions have brought out the worst in us, in all of us. Common civility has broken down and brought with it something that effectively illustrates the biblical definition of the “diabolic” – widespread lack of common courtesy, disrespect, demonization and hatred of each other. All of us now smugly assume that God hates all the same people we do. The polarization around the recent U.S. elections, the storming of the U.S. Capitol buildings by a riotous mob, the bitter ethical and religious debates about abortion, and the loss of a common notion of truth have made clear that incivility, hatred, disrespect and different notions of truth rule the day.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Where do we go with that? I am a theologian and not a politician or social analyst so what I say here has more to do with living out Christian discipleship and basic human maturity than with any political response. Where do we go religiously with this?
Perhaps a helpful way to probe for a Christian response is to pose the question this way: what does it mean to love in a time like this? What does it mean to love in a time when people can no longer agree on what is true? How do we remain civil and respectful when it feels impossible to respect those who disagree with us?
In struggling for clarity with an issue so complex, sometimes it can be good to proceed via the Via Negativa, that is, by first asking what should we avoid doing. What should we not do today?
First, we should not bracket civility and legitimize disrespect and demonization; but we should also not be unhealthily passive, fearful that speaking our truth will upset others. We may not disregard truth and let lies and injustices lie comfortable and unexposed. It is too simple to say that there are good people on both sides in order to avoid having to make real adjudications vis-à-vis the truth. There are sincere people on both sides, but sincerity can also be very misguided. Lies and injustice need to be named. Finally, we must resist the subtle (almost impossible to resist) temptation to allow our righteousness morph into self-righteousness, one of pride’s most divisive modalities.
What do we need to do in the name of love? Fyodor Dostoevsky famously wrote that love is a harsh and fearful thing, and our first response should be to accept that. Love is a harsh thing and that harshness is not just the discomfort we feel when we confront others or find ourselves confronted by them. Love’s harshness is felt most acutely in the (almost indigestible) self-righteousness we have to swallow in order to rise to a higher level of maturity where we can accept that God loves those we hate just as much as God loves us – and those we hate are just as precious and important in God’s eyes as we are.
Once we accept this, then we can speak for truth and justice. Then truth can speak to power, to “alternative truth,” and to the denial of truth. That is the task. Lies must be exposed, and this needs to occur inside our political debates, inside our churches, and at our dinner tables. That struggle will sometimes call us beyond niceness (which can be its own mammoth struggle for sensitive persons). However, while we cannot always be nice, we can always be civil and respectful.
One of our contemporary prophetic figures, Daniel Berrigan, despite numerous arrests for civil disobedience, steadfastly affirmed that a prophet makes a vow of love, not of alienation. Hence, in our every attempt to defend truth, to speak for justice, and to speak truth to power, our dominant tone must be one of love, not anger or hatred. Moreover, whether we are acting in love or alienation will always be manifest – in our civility or lack of it. No matter our anger, love still has some non-negotiables, civility and respect. Whenever we find ourselves descending to adolescent name-calling, we can be sure we have fallen out of discipleship, out of prophecy, and out of what is best inside us.
Finally, how we will respond to the times remains a deeply personal thing. Not all of us are called to do the same thing. God has given each of us unique gifts and a unique calling; some are called to loud protest, others to quiet prophecy. However, we are all called to ask ourselves the same question: given what is happening, what is love asking of me now?

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