Catholic Extension has deep roots in diocese

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – These past few weeks in the diocesan chancery office we have been installing a new floor. This has involved packing files and books and anything not attached to the wall.

The diocesan archives consists of four rooms on the ground floor of the chancery full to the ceiling with items that needed securing. Three of the rooms were getting the new floor.

In the midst of shifting and maneuvering, I came across a book of congratulatory messages to Catholic Church Extension Society on its 25th anniversary in 1930. Bishops of mission dioceses around the country wrote messages citing how Catholic Extension, based in Chicago, had benefitted the local church.

Bishop Richard O. Gerow penned a lovely message about his pastoral visits to small parishes around the state for the sacrament of confirmation. Many rural areas received grants from Catholic Extension to build a church. Prior to that priests would celebrate Mass in private homes. In his message below, Bishop Gerow relays how blessed the diocese is to have the ongoing support from Extension and congratulates them on their 25th.

A copy of the October 1930 Catholic Extension Magazine, found in the archives at the Diocese of Jackson, is open to a letter from Bishop Richard O. Gerow thanking Catholic Extension for their support of the diocese and congratulating them on their 25th anniversary. (Photos courtesy of archives)

“Not long ago I was in one of our small Mississippi towns. The occasion was the administration of Confirmation. It was the first Confirmation in this town for many years for the congregation was small and the children were few. Every seat in the little church was filled.

“The entire community – non-Catholic as well as Catholic – had assembled to witness this ceremony and to hear what the bishop had to say. The flower-laden altars, the burning candles, the bishop’s robes and the special display of ceremony uncommon in this community, seemed to give a thrill of pride to our few Catholic people and was a source of interest to our non-Catholic friends who had, at the invitation of the pastor and of the good people of this mission, gathered on this day.

“A wonderful opportunity it presented to explain in a simple manner some of the doctrines or practices of the church so misunderstood by many. It was a great day for the members of the little flock, almost each of whom had some relative in the Confirmation class.

“All except the children of the congregation remembered the time not long past when such a blessed occasion would have been impossible in their midst. They remembered the many years they had lived here without even the modest church in which they were gathered today. They remembered when the visits of the priest to their town were few and far between, because the priests were few and the roads were bad; and when the priest did come in those days they [gathered] in the home of one of the good people of the place and there attend the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“But now they were happy. Not many years ago Extension Society had given them a donation, and with this donation and the few dollars they had saved and were able to collect amongst themselves they had built this little church, and they were proud of it.

“What a blessing to these people has been the Extension Society! This community is not alone in the Diocese of Natchez in its gratitude to Extension. Over the entire State there are scattered little mission churches just like this one which could never have been built had not Extension made it possible.

“The prayers of the good people who have benefited from Extension ascend to heaven constantly for their benefactors. May this Society not only continue the great work that it has done during the last twenty-five years for the good of souls in the country, but may it ever grow and extend its work to the greater honor and glory of God!

Pictured is Bishop R.O. Gerow with the 1941 Confirmation class of Sacred Heart Church in Sulphur Springs.

“In the name of our Catholic people of Mississippi and in my own name, I extend to Extension a hearty with ad multos annos.”

More than 100 years after its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension continues to support mission dioceses around the country such as our Diocese of Jackson. From its early days of providing Mass in railroad cars in which Bishop John Gunn was a celebrant along the Gulf Coast, up through Bishop William Houck’s tenure as its president, and continuing today, Catholic Extension has been closely connected to our diocese as a generous grantor to our parishes and ministries.

We are grateful indeed for this ongoing support which enables us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to many places in this corner of God’s Kingdom.

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

Synodal path reveals common ground

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
So, what’s new with the Synod on Synodality? Toward the end of 2021 Pope Francis had directed the church throughout the world to engage in the process we have come to know as the Synod.

Throughout 2022 each (arch)diocese, in one arrangement or another, responded to the pope’s vision and directive, and launched the process under the gaze of the Holy Spirit, producing a synthesis of the People of God’s joys and hopes and wounds along with a profound desire for all of what Jesus desired for his church.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

In turn, nearly 200 (arch)dioceses in the United States by region, like streams of water, combined to form a flowing river in the National Synthesis document that reflects the work of approximately 700,000 Catholics. This was the inspired work of 2022.

Currently, all countries have entered into the Continental Stage and the United States is partnered with Canada. The goal is that further prayer and dialogue will refine the voices of nearly one million Catholics in the North American neighbors. During January several representatives from the Diocese of Jackson took part in the Continental Stage. What is produced at this level will go on to Rome for additional dialogue and discernment in anticipation of Pope Francis’ written Apostolic Exhortation in 2024, the fruit of the worldwide Synod.

The Catholic Church in the United States and in Canada are at the center of “western culture” a reality that offers opportunities and challenges that vary significantly from other parts of the world. The links to each country’s National Synthesis are available for your edification to better appreciate the common themes with our neighbors to the north, and also the pronounced differences.

Canada’s overall population is significantly less than the United States and its Catholic population mirrors this reality. There is a large indigenous population in western Canada, and Pope Francis modeled the spirit of Synodality when he visited last year to be with those so unjustly treated in their boarding schools, in order to listen, to pray, to honor their culture and to express his and the church’s sorrow over the pain that still afflicts the people.

On the other hand, the Province of Quebec in the East is extremely secular and “there is a desire for urgent change in order to regain – or preserve – what remains of the church’s relevance and mission.”
To one degree or another the Catholic Church in each country is responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to gather in prayer, discernment and respectful dialogue in order to see, to value the things that truly matter and to serve with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.

The Synodal path has revealed the common ground between each of our countries. As Pope Francis modeled in Canada among the Indigenous, there was a high premium in both National Syntheses placed on the virtue of listening. At the core of being a welcoming church is a listening heart that takes a long and loving look at what is real.

“The value of simply listening is a clear message of the Synod process. People must be able to speak honestly on even the most controversial topics without fear of rejection. We must be open to new ideas and new ways of doing thing, even as we remain faithful to the church’s tradition. Faith formation can help us develop greater understanding and grow in trusting the Holy Spirit who is at work in every place and time.” (U.S. Synthesis)

Replete throughout the National Syntheses is the call for the church to fulfill the promise of Jesus for life in abundance. There ought to be far greater collaboration between the ordained and the laity in order to continue to build a culture of trust and transparency between the church’s leadership and the faithful. Reconciling the wounds of the past, reaching out to the alienated, accompanying those on the margins of society, and heeding the call to repentance and conversion demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is in our midst.

“As Pope Francis frequently reminds us, Synodality is not a one-time event, but an invitation to an ongoing style of church life. We have taken the first steps of this path, and we have learned much; we have more to learn and more to do as witnesses of Christ Jesus in our time.” (Intro, U.S. Synthesis)

Editor’s Note: For the Diocese Synod Synthesis, U.S. National Synod Synthesis and document on the Continental Stage of the Synod, visit

Thank you for supporting Catholic schools

Message from the Office of education
By Karla Luke

Every year, for the past 49 years, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) has designated the last Sunday in January as the beginning of National Catholic Schools Week. Activities conducted throughout this special week are intended to raise the profile of the benefits of Catholic education in our communities and our nation. We remember and celebrate the courage of the early bishops who sought to create a school system whereby schools could pass on our Catholic faith through education to all future generations. We express our pillars of faith, excellence and service through daily living out our Catholic faith and values in our schools, focusing on each student reaching their highest potential and serving our communities.

The experience of a Catholic education was the most precious gift my parents gave to my brothers and me. My mother was a public-school teacher in the sixties and seventies, while my father was a postal employee. As you may know, these jobs were considered respectable jobs, but in no way were we considered wealthy. My parents sacrificed to keep all three children in Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school. The people we are today are primarily because of the partnership that existed between our family and our schools. Our parents and schools taught us the value of our faith, honesty, integrity, service and hard work.

National Catholic Schools Week is the most appropriate time to express our thanks to all who support Catholic Education in the Diocese of Jackson. We thank Bishop Joseph Kopacz for his assistance to our Catholic schools through his prayers, for providing resources for operations and for his presence at our schools to interact with administrators, staff and students. His actions signal the value of this ministry to the Catholic community and, most of all, to our students. We stress and affirm that the students in our schools today are our present and future church. In the Office of Catholic Education, we would also like to thank the diocesan staff and departments who continue to assist our schools by sharing their areas of expertise, including financial, communications, development, faith formation, stewardship, liturgy and in many other areas.

We thank the pastors and canonical administrators who lead our schools and support school administrators, staff and students. Our pastors and canonical administrators are in our schools frequently, providing examples of what it is to be prayerful and compassionate Catholic men. Their representation of how they live their vocation is sure to inspire our students as they grow and begin to discern their own vocations in life.

We thank our administrators, who tirelessly give of themselves to the success of their schools. The job of an administrator is often “eight days a week.” The success and safety of the students, the well-being of the faculty and staff, and parents’ satisfaction are constant goals before them. I have personally witnessed the energy and care they invest in their schools. We cannot thank them enough.

We thank our teachers who interact with our students on a daily basis. Teachers and teacher assistants, and students spend nearly 40 hours a week together. Teachers and their assistants have the closest personal relationships with our students and are committed to their academic success and personal growth and development. Our teachers are devoted to preparing their students for successful futures and helping them achieve their highest potential.

We thank our support staff: administrative assistants, facility managers, maintenance and janitorial crews and cafeteria staff. Without their contributions, our schools could not function effectively. We appreciate that every school employee must be committed to student success, no matter their job title.

I thank the Diocesan Council of Catholic Education for your continued commitment to Catholic education in the Diocese of Jackson. Your support has been unwavering.

Finally, to our students and families … we would not exist without your faith in Catholic education! We thank you for your dedication and for entrusting your most precious resources to our care. Please believe that we are constantly exploring ways to make our great schools even more excellent by yielding students who love and serve Christ and are positive, productive and contributing members of their communities.

The theme for National Catholic Schools Week this year is Faith … Excellence … Service. The annual theme chosen for this year by schools in our diocese is taken from Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with Gladness.” One of the national pillars of Catholic schools is service. In the Diocese of Jackson, our students, teachers and administrators participated in many service projects this year. It is exciting to see how each school has served its communities. Please enjoy this issue and continue to keep all schools and the members they serve in your prayers. God bless you and thank you!

How serious is laughter?

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
In a homily, Karl Rahner once commented that in the Beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus makes a rather stunning statement. He says, ‘blessed are you who are now weeping, for you shall laugh.’ Rahner suggests that Jesus is teaching that our final state of happiness in heaven will not just lift us out of our sadness and dry away our tears, it will bring us to laughter, to “an intoxication of joy.” Laughter is integral to the final ecstasy.

Further still, if laughter constitutes the final happiness in heaven, then it should follow that whenever we are laughing, we are on good terms with reality. Laughter, Rahner submits, is part of the eternal praise of God at the end of time.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

However, this can be glib and misleading. Not all laughter gives God praise and not all laughter suggests that we are on good terms with reality. Laughter can also be cheap, glib and wrong. The final joy of heaven is not always found at that place in a room where folks are cracking up with laughter.

There are many kinds of laughter and not all of them are healthy or godly. There is the laughter of drunkenness, of deadening your senses and jettisoning your moral compass and normal sensitivity. That kind of laughter will not be heard in some noisy little corner of heaven. Then there is the laughter of sarcasm, laughter that belittles others, that delights in others’ problems, and sees itself as superior. That too won’t be heard in heaven. Then there is the laughter that’s predicated on being insensitive and blind to the pain of others, that can enjoy itself even while Lazarus is starving just outside the door. The Gospels are clear as to where that kind laughter lands us. As well, there is the laughter of pure superficiality, laughter that comes easy because it really doesn’t care about anything. Such laughter, though harmless, speaks of nothing.

However there are other kinds of laughter that speak of health and of God. There is the laughter of pure spontaneous energy, seen most clearly in the natural joyous bubbling over of the life- principle inside of a young person, like the delight you see in a toddler delighting in her first steps. This is the laughter of sheer delight, one that says, It’s great to be alive! When we laugh in this way, we are honoring God and thanking God for the gift of life and energy – since the best way to thank a gift-giver is to enjoy thoroughly the gift and delight in it.

This kind of laughter is most spontaneous is us when we are young and, sadly, generally becomes more difficult for us as the wounds, failures, pressures and anxieties of adulthood begin to depress our spontaneous energies. We still laugh, but when we stop feeling spontaneous delight in our lives, when healthy laughter dries up, we tend to turn to unhealthy kinds of laughter to try to lift ourselves out of our depression. Hence, the loud, boisterous, cranked-up laughter we hear at our parties is often really only our attempt to keep depression at bay. See how happy I am!

Peter Berger once wrote that laughter is one of the proofs for the existence of God in that our capacity to laugh in any situation shows that, deep down, we are aware that no situation ultimately binds us. Our capacity to laugh in any situation, no matter how grave or threatening, shows that on some level we are aware that we transcend that situation. That’s why a prisoner being led to his execution might still joke with his executioner and why a dying person can still enjoy a bit of irony. Healthy laughter isn’t just godly. It manifests transcendence inside us.

But, not all laughter is born equal. There is a laughter that simply bespeaks superficiality, forced lightness, insensitivity, drunkenness or a thinly disguised attempt to keep depression at bay. That is not the laughter of heaven. However, there is another kind of laughter, spoken of by Jesus in the Beatitudes, which is a laughter that simply delights in the joy of being alive and (in that delight) intuits its own transcendence. That kind of laughter is a key component in love and sanctity. It will be one of the “intoxications of joy” that we will feel in heaven.

If this is true, then the holiest person you know is not the humorless, dour, easily offended, over-pious person you deem as serious, deep and spiritual whom you do not necessarily want as your table companion. The holiest person you know is probably the person you want beside you at table.

When I was a novice in religious life, our assistant novice director, an over-serious, fearful man, frequently cautioned us against levity and humor, telling us that there isn’t a single recorded incident in the Gospels of Jesus laughing. Now deceased, I suspect the man is in heaven. I also suspect that from that vantage point, he would drop that caution.

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

Called by Name

“…if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

American novelist Flannery O’Connor responded with this curt statement after a fellow dinner guest suggested that the Eucharist was a nice symbol. The devout Catholic O’Connor had clearly based much of her journey in the faith assenting to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and so she responded with great courage at a suggestion that the Eucharist was not the very presence of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the appearance of bread and wine.

Father Nick Adam

She recounted the comment to her friend in a letter and went onto write regarding the comment ‘that was all the defense I was capable of, but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that [the Eucharist] is the center of existence for me; all the rest is expendable.’ (Excerpts from O’Connor’s letter cited in John Desmond’s 2002 article for Logos “Flannery O’Connor and the Symbol”)

Certainly, anyone can look to this anecdote for encouragement in making the Eucharist the center of his or her life, but I think about that statement when it comes to other truths of the faith that we hold as well, including the call to celibacy for most priests in the Roman Church.

As I’ve stated in this space before, the reason for celibacy is often assumed to be ‘so the priest has more time to minister and doesn’t have to care for his family.’ My response to that is O’Connor-esk: “if that’s the reason for celibacy, to hell with it.’

Priestly celibacy is a real Spiritual Fatherhood that a man must be called to. One of the reasons that seminary is so long is so a man can discern chaste celibacy alongside priesthood. Jesus says in Matthew 19 that some will be called to be unmarried “…for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive this.” (Matthew 19:12b; NRSV2CE)

If my celibacy is a way to give me more time, it’s not working. I have less time now than I ever had, but that is because I am seeking to exercise a real fatherhood and a real spousal relationship that is lived out in my soul and in my day-to-day work and life.

Jesus actually taught this in the Gospel. That’s why I always cite these words when people try to give me an ‘out.’ They say things like: “I wish y’all could get married, because you’d probably have more help.”
I realize that these comments are made in support of me and my brother priests, but sometimes I respond in a way similar to O’Connor’s defense of the Real Presence. If the priesthood and the call to celibacy that I discerned in seminary is really all about efficiency and was not a true call to be a spiritual father, to hell with it.

I believe that priesthood can most fruitfully be lived out with a deep recognition that you were called into relationship with the church and into a true fatherhood for her people. Thankfully this was explained to me many times in many ways by many different formators in the seminary, and that work continues with our men currently in formation.

Thank you for your support of priests, and please encourage them to take ownership of the identity that Christ has called them to – they are spouses of the church, and they are true fathers of the People of God. Pray that our men in seminary discern well the call to celibacy, and that they courageously accept that call if, and only if, the Lord offers it.

– Father Nick Adam

For more info on vocations email:

The time to act is now

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I was just at a regional conference where I spoke on the process moving forward from the Synod on Synodality. One of my friends asked me how it went. After a moment of reflection, I replied “not good.” She asked why I felt that it was not good. My response surprised even me. I truly feel like people are not ready to do the work that is required to achieve the things we say we want.

In our Synod listening we heard over and over the need for unity and healing. So much so that unity and healing is first among the issues we listed in our synthesis. However, when one addresses what unity and healing might look like in our post-pandemic church the enthusiasm for said unity wanes. The same holds true for taking politics out of the church. We heard repeatedly that politics should be removed from the pulpit. However, what many people really want to remove is the partisan politics of the party they oppose. Apparently, we are more than OK with hearing political rhetoric, as long as it aligns with our own perspective. Here’s the kicker, the teachings of the Catholic Church do not fully align with either conservative or liberal politics. That’s where Catholic Social Teaching comes into play.

“Catholic social teaching proposes a set of principles [Human Dignity, Solidarity, Subsidiarity] on which to form our conscience and then act in society. Because every life has value and is sacred, it should be protected by society. The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity mean people must participate in society.

To what end?

Fran Lavelle

To provide criteria for forming our cultural, economic and political positions – based on the principles of Catholic social teaching and for the Common Good. The lessons of Catholic social teaching are always relevant. They provide guidance on how individuals can be better citizens. These lessons also guide social institutions in creating environments in which all can prosper (i.e., promote the common good).” – Catholic Social Teaching in Action

Speaking of partisan politics – both sides often fail to implement Catholic social teaching through their lives. And both run the risk of forgetting a key message of Catholic social teaching: “It is clear that no economic, social or political project can replace the gift of self to another … He who does not give God gives too little.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Clearly, we cannot cherry pick when to act and advocate for human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity. Seeing the bigger picture calls us to greater accountability. For example, if one professes to be pro-life, that extends to ending the death penalty as much as ending abortion. Sometimes we do not see the inconsistencies in our thinking until we look at the big picture. Catholic Social Teaching allows us to see the bigger picture.

On the question of healing there were several areas identified that require reconciliation and healing. Chief among them were racism, annulments/marriage issues, LGBTQ and the sexual abuse crisis that still plagues the faithful. Out of the issues identified there is little if any leadership within the larger church to support meaningful healing.

If the Body of Christ that is the church is waiting for someone or something to come along that will advance healing in these important areas, we will be waiting for some time. If you see something, say something. If you say something, be willing to do something. How can you facilitate conversations and each out to those who feel rejected or invisible in the church? Supporting one another, no matter how difficult our journey, is the first step in promoting healing, reconciliation and unity.

The other major issues coming from our Synod listening involve catechesis and formation of children, youth and adults. All are worthy endeavors. All are important. All are attainable and achievable. Here’s the kicker, if we want better faith formation it will require that we as individual members of our faith community step up and do something. Perhaps everyone is not called to teach, but there are many ways we can support better catechesis and formation. As Catholics we often fail to invest in the young church. Every parish needs to have a budget for religious education and formation that extends from baptism through adult ed. Every parish should have a budget for youth ministry. An investment in the youth today will pay dividends today and far into the future.

Last but not least, was a call for formation opportunities for the laity. Jesus did not come to form the disciples to keep the work of the Gospel to themselves. Their commission was to go out and make disciples. Everyone has the responsibility to be a disciple. There are many formation opportunities available in the diocese to help you grow as a disciple. No matter what stage or what age, the offices of the Department of Faith Formation are here to help you produce great fruit from our synodal listening. We are only a phone call or email away.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson. She can be reached at

We must recover those ‘recovering’ Catholics

By Effie Caldarola
As “I’m a recovering Catholic,” our contractor announces jauntily, apropos of what I can’t remember. I think we were trying to decide on flooring for the front deck.

It’s a phrase with which we’ve become familiar, so common that this guy we know only because he’s overseeing some basic repairs to our old house can throw it out casually.

Another common phrase in today’s parlance: “I was raised Catholic.” I can’t count the number of interviews with famous people in which I’ve read that statement. Often, it’s said with fondness. The people being interviewed are ascribing their beliefs in social justice, charity and right order to the years they spent at Mass or in a Catholic school classroom or gathered around the table for grace.

But let’s be clear, their comment implies, “I took the good part and left.” In many circles, to declare one is still a “practicing” Catholic is to admit to being old-fashioned, to still believing in Santa Claus, especially if Santa has been credibly accused of abuse. They’ve left that behind with the avocado appliances and shag carpeting of their childhood.

Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

For those of us who still place their faith in this community of saints and sinners, it can feel lonely. Many people around me are not going to church at all, and some of the stalwart Catholics I knew from my youthful days as a Jesuit Volunteer and young wife and mother are dropping out or experimenting with Christian denominations.

I have a young friend who threw up his hands at the church because he saw our leadership failing to embrace Catholic social teaching. The abuse cover-up was the last straw.

“But what about the sacraments?” I asked. “Don’t you miss the Eucharist?”
His answer was vague. Those other things were very important to him. OK, those things are important to me, too.

But don’t you miss the Eucharist? Don’t you want to be part of the change, part of the synodal process?

At a book sale, I found a used copy of Henri Nouwen’s book, “Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.” This Dutch priest and theologian, who died in 1996, was a prolific writer. The book was published in 1997, before the abuse scandal hit the news.

Nevertheless, in his entry for Oct. 20, he writes, “Over the centuries the church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it.”

He recounts “violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions.”

Whew. And he hasn’t even touched on more recent headlines.

But then he asks if we can believe “that this is the same church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love?”

He speaks of the human brokenness of the church, which presents the broken body of Christ to the world. Human promises are broken; God’s promise “stands unshaken.”

I love the church because I love the communion of saints. I love the sacramentals, the sacraments, the mystics and monasteries, the heroes from Teresa of Avila to Thea Bowman, from Ignatius of Loyola to Dorothy Day, from Francis of Assisi to Edith Stein. Would this cloud of witnesses want me to leave?

I wish that young man would stay. We need him. We need him involved in the conversation, we need him prodding his pastor and his bishop. We need him finding the promise among the brokenness of an imperfect church. We need the community of each other.

Peter’s plaintive words in John 6:68 echo. “Lord, to whom would we go?”

(Effie Caldarola writes monthly for OSV News.)

Encounters with Pope Benedict XVI …

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – This issue of Mississippi Catholic is filled with materials about Pope Benedict’s life of service to the church. “From the Archives” would like to share some memories of the pontiff emeritus from Bishop Joseph N. Latino of happy memory.

Every so many years (it used to be strictly five) bishops from each bishops’ conference make a visit to the Vatican and meet with various dicasteries and the Holy Father. This is called an ad limina, which means “to the threshold.” In December of 2004, Bishop Latino made his first ad limina visit as a bishop to Rome and Vatican City. This visit was with the bishops of Region V of the U.S. Region V includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

St. John Paul II was the current pope, and we have many photos from that meeting. What we do not have photos of is the visit the Region V bishops made to the Congregation (now called Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose prefect at that time was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Bishop Latino relayed that prior to that meeting he had always thought of Cardinal Ratzinger as a stern, somber man, but after the meeting his experience of the man changed that thinking. While some of the other prefects of other dicasteries were somewhat dismissive of the bishops’ questions, Cardinal Ratzinger was extremely gracious, patient, and respectful in answering each question posed to him.

The Cardinal took multi-layered questions and with ease and clarity answered them point by point in a way that built fraternity and dialogue, Bishop remarked. And he did all this in a soft-spoken gentile manner that endeared him to those present. A few months after that visit, St. John Paul succumbed to his human frailty in April of 2005 and the soft-spoken Cardinal became Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2006, the Vatican announced it was the 500th anniversary of the Vatican Museum because in 1506 the famous Laocoön group sculpture was excavated in Rome and placed on display in the Vatican. I always marvel at the way Rome can create a need for a pilgrimage – as if a reason was ever needed to go to Rome.

Therefore, the Diocese of Jackson put together a pilgrimage for December 2006 and Bishop Latino was the leader. We included a Wednesday Papal General Audience as part of the tour. At these audiences, bishops are ushered down to the front, on to the stage, and into chairs to the right of where the Holy Father will sit and teach the faithful gathered.

I remember Bishop Latino was the first bishop to arrive that day and after a short wrestling match with the usher, was escorted down the main aisle to his chair on the stage. For a long time, he was the only bishop on the stage and our group would call out to him to keep him from feeling alone.

Finally, another bishop arrived but unfortunately did not speak English and Bishop Latino did not speak Japanese; but soon the chairs filled, Pope Benedict arrived, and awkward pleasantries and hand gestures departed.

At the end of the audience, each bishop was able to greet the Holy Father and, in the photos, both men have such looks of joy on their faces – two kind shepherds fraternally linked. Bishop Latino always enjoyed sharing the story of this encounter with Pope Benedict.

In 2013, when Pope Benedict announced his retirement, Bishop Latino issued the following statement. I think it reflects Bishop’s respect for the kind soul that was Benedict XVI.

“On behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Jackson I offer heartfelt prayers for Pope Benedict XVI who has made the decision to resign from the papacy on Feb. 28. Through much prayer and reflection, our Holy Father has made a decision that he feels is in the best interest of our church. The papacy is a very demanding role and position in our church. It takes great wisdom to reach a decision such as this and we admire him for acting prudently on behalf of our church and for his own sake.

“Pope Benedict has led our church since 2005. During this time, he has worked for greater understanding among faith traditions, and spoken out on behalf of truth and justice tempered with mercy. He continued to engage us in a dialogue on these truths and the dangers of moral relativism. He was committed to defending the dignity of the human person as was reflected in his writings and preaching.

“We offer him our fervent prayers for fruitful retirement years, and we thank him for his life of service to our church and indeed the world. We also offer our prayers for the College of Cardinals who guided by the Holy Spirit will soon convene to elect a successor to continue to guide and lead our church in its mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the world.”


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

Love for God’s Word

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

On the weekend of Jan. 21-22 the Catholic Church will mark for the fourth consecutive year, Sunday of the Word of God. Pope Francis dedicated the third Sunday in January on the feast of St. Jerome, Sept. 30, 2019, as such with his Apostolic Letter, Aperuit Illis taken from the Emmaus story when the two disciples recognized the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread and how with hearts burning, he “opened the Scriptures for them” as they walked along the road.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

We celebrated the culmination of the Christmas season last weekend with the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the nations. The Magi in St. Matthew’s Gospel remain the pioneers for us as we seek our path in life, led by the star of God’s grace, into the presence of Jesus Christ.

A favorite Christmas card is the image of the Magi following the star with the caption, “The Wise still seek Him.” Their love for and study of the heavens led them into the presence of Christ. May our love for and study of the Word of God, a lamp for our feet, be the star that brings us into the presence of Jesus Christ, to adore, to open ourselves up in generosity, and to live with his mind and heart in this world. This encounter of worship and wisdom is God’s gift to us at the Eucharist, the source and summit of our life in Jesus Christ. The Word of God can open the eyes of faith to know the risen One in his Body and Blood upon the altar and in one another.

During this 60th anniversary year of the opening of Vatican II, let the timeless teaching of the Council reinvigorate in us the treasures of God’s Word, and the sacrament of the Eucharist. Sacrosantum Concilium, the exemplary document on the Mass, states splendidly that “the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the church.” (S.C.2) Likewise, “the Sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. Thus, to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture.”(24)

Dei Verbum (Word of God), the document on divine revelation, sought to restore a profound love for the sacred scriptures throughout the church. “The church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body.” (DV 21)

The daily reading and praying with the Word of God that is much more common today finds its impetus in Dei Verbum. “The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3:8) St. Augustine sheds further light over the divine-human dialogue. “Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God.”

Finally, let us call forth the wisdom of Pope Benedict of happy memory who was present at the Second Vatican Council. “God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God.

While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word that builds community, that builds the church … For this reason, the privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word of God is present and at work in our midst.”

From personal experience over a long life seeking to know the living God, Benedict proposed that “the Word of God sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God.”

As St. Ambrose puts it, “When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the church, we walk once more with God in the Garden.” May we encourage one another in our love for God’s Word, in season and out of season, and with special focus at this time of Eucharistic renewal in the church.

A photo of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sits near the Tabernacle at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle after a Memorial Mass for the Repose of the Soul was celebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz on Thursday, Jan. 5. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Anthropological function of gossip

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In his novel, “Oscar and Lucinda,” Peter Carey offers this colorful image of gossip. The setting is a small town where there are rumors about the priest and a particular young woman. Here’s his metaphor: “The vicar of Woolahra then took her shopping and society, always feeling shopping to be the most intimate activity, was pleased to feel the steam pressure rising in itself as it got ready to be properly scandalized – its pipes groaned and stretched, you could hear the noises in its walls and cellars. They imagined he paid for her finery. When they heard this was not so, that the girl had sovereigns in her purse – enough, it was reported, to buy the priest a pair of onyx cufflinks – the pressure did not fall, but stayed constant, so that while it did not reach the stage where the outrage was hissing out through the open valves, it maintained a good rumble, a lower note which sounded like a growl in the throat of a smallish dog.”

What an apt image! Gossip does resemble steam hissing from a radiator or the growl of a small dog, and yet it’s important. For most of our lives, we form community around it. How so?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Imagine going out for dinner with a group of colleagues. While there isn’t overt hostility among you, there are clear differences and tensions. You wouldn’t naturally choose go out to dinner together, but you have been thrown together by circumstance and are making the best of it.

You have dinner together and things go along quite pleasantly. There’s harmony, banter and humor at the table. How do you manage to get on so well despite and beyond differences? By talking about somebody else. Much of the time is spent talking about others on whose faults, eccentricities, and shortcomings we all agree. Alternatively, we talk about shared indignations. We end up having a harmonious time together because we talk about someone or something else whose difference from us is greater than our differences from each other. Of course, you are afraid to leave the table because you already suspect whom they will be talking about then! Your fear is well founded.

Until we reach a certain level of maturity, we form community largely around scapegoating, that is, we overcome our differences and tensions by focusing on someone or something about whom or which we share a common distancing, indignation, ridicule, anger or jealousy. That’s the anthropological function of gossip – and it’s a very important one. We overcome our differences and tensions by scapegoating someone or something. That’s why it’s easier to form community against something rather than around something and why it’s easier to define ourselves more by what we are against than by what we are for.

Ancient cultures knew this and designed certain rituals to take tension out of the community by scapegoating. For example, at the time of Jesus within the Jewish community a ritual existed that essentially worked this way: At regular intervals, the community would take a goat and symbolically adorn it with the tensions and divisions of the community. Among other things, they would drape it with a purple cloth to symbolize that it symbolically represented them and push a crown of thorns into its head to make it feel the pain of their tensions. (Notice how Jesus is draped in these exact symbols when Pilate shows him to the crowd before the crucifixion: Ecce homo … Behold your scapegoat!) The goat was then chased off to die in the desert. It leaving the community was understood as taking the community’s sin and tension away, leaving the community free of tension by its banishment.

Jesus is our scapegoat. He takes away our sin and division, though not by banishment from the community. He takes away our sins by taking them in, carrying them, and transforming them so as not to give them back in kind. Jesus takes away sin in the same way as a water filter purifies, by holding the impurities within itself and giving back only what is pure.
When we say Jesus died for our sins, we need to understand it this way: He took in hatred and gave back love; he took in curses and gave back blessing; he took in bitterness and gave back graciousness; he took in jealousy and gave back affirmation; and he took in murder and gave back forgiveness. By absorbing our sin, differences, and jealousies, he did for us what we, in a less mature and less effective way, try to do when we crucify each other through gossip.

And that’s Jesus’ invitation to us: As adults, we are invited to step up and do what Jesus did, namely, take in the differences and jealousies around us, hold them, and transform them so as not to give them back in kind.

Then won’t we need scapegoats any more, and the steam-pipes of gossip will cease hissing and the low growl of that smallish dog inside us will finally be silent.

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