Stop, Look and Listen: Three ways to prevent domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is an awful and often deadly cycle. Rarely does it start with actual violence.
It starts with a more subtle form of control.
It kills the spirit and smothers the soul way before it leaves bruises and broken bones.

GUEST COLUMN
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC
Stop – Stop and think. Sounds simple but our culture promotes an approach to love commitment that involves more falling than planning. Pump the brakes. Slow down. Hold the phone.
Hormones and commitment should be two separate things. Oftentimes people find themselves in too deep by the time they realize their relationship has warning signs of domestic abuse.
Stop and ask yourself: How is this person when he or she is angry? How do they handle not being in control? What is their relationship history?
The only way we can accurately predict behavior in the future is by patterns in the past.
Are you committing to a flawed ship? Not getting on the boat in the first place is the best way to prevent drowning.
Stop and pay attention to body language and other expressions of anger, control or selfishness.

Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

Look – Look for signs of problems with anger management.
Does a person get defensive, shift blame or offer excuses? The number one problem with people who engage in domestic abuse is their lack of ability to take responsibility for their own actions and reactions.
There are important differences between those who make excuses and those who take responsibility.
Responsibility implies that fault is sincerely recognized and accepted; and that you take accountability for your actions.
An excuse exists to justify, blame or defend a fault … with the intent to absolve oneself of accountability. An excuse will never be followed by positive, goal-directed or solution-oriented behavior.
Lack of responsibility in the large and small areas of life is a huge warning sign.
Look for red flags. Keep your eyes open and your brain engaged.
Listen – Listen when other people tell you they see red flags. It never hurts to listen.
One of the ways domestic abuse perpetuates itself is through isolation. Listen for patterns that may set you up for domination and isolation. Particularly from family and friends.
If you have to plan conversations with family or friends when the partner is away, that’s a warning sign. If there are demands for all or nothing, listen carefully for what it is the partner is asking you to give up and how often you are expected to blindly give in.
Domestic abuse is an awful and often deadly cycle. Rarely does it start with actual violence. It starts with a more subtle form of control. It kills the spirit and smothers the soul way before it leaves bruises and broken bones.
If you come from a family where an abusive imbalance of power and control existed, you are 75% more likely to fall into the same pattern in your own committed relationships.
To be triumphant in a successful God centered relationship, study what the catechism says about theology of marriage and respect. Then study it some more.
Study narcissism so you will be able to recognize a web of deception before stepping into one.
If you are aware of someone who is trapped in a cycle of domestic violence, quietly tell them you are there when they are ready. Then love them steady.
There is nothing domestic or loving about abuse.

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

Pope Francis’ new encyclical

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
On Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis released a new encyclical entitled, Fratelli Tutti – On Fraternity and Social Friendship. It can appear a rather depressing read because of its searing realism, except it plays the long game of Christian hope.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Fratelli Tutti lays out reasons why there’s so much injustice, inequality and community breakdown in our world and how in faith and love these might be addressed. The intent here is not to give a synopsis of the encyclical, other than to say it’s courageous and speaks truth to power. Rather the intent is to highlight a number of special challenges within the encyclical.
First, it challenges us to see the poor and to see what our present political, economic and social systems are doing to them. Looking at our world, the encyclical submits that in many ways it is a broken world and it names some reasons for this: the globalization of self-interest, the globalization of superficiality and the abuse of social media, among other things. This has made for the survival of the fittest. And while the situation is broken for everyone, the poor are ending up suffering the most. The rich are getting richer, the powerful are getting more powerful, and the poor are growing poorer and losing what little power they had. There’s an ever-increasing inequality of wealth and power between the rich and the poor and our world is become ever more calloused vis-à-vis the situation of the poor. Inequality is now accepted as normal and as moral and indeed is often justified in the name of God and religion. The poor are becoming disposable: “Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others. Wealth has increased, but together with inequality.” In speaking of inequality, the encyclical twice highlights that this inequality is true of women worldwide: “It is unacceptable that some have fewer rights by virtue of being women.”
The encyclical employs the parable of the Good Samaritan as its ground metaphor. It compares us today, individually and collectively, to the priest and the scribe in that parable who for religious, social and political reasons walk past the one who is poor, beaten, bleeding and in need of help. Our indifference and our religious failure, like that of the priest and the scribe in the parable, is rooted both in a personal moral blindness as well as in the social and religious ethos of our society that helps spawn that blindness.
The encyclical goes on to warn that in the face of globalization we must resist becoming nationalistic and tribal, taking care of our own and demonizing what’s foreign. It goes on to say that in a time of bitterness, hatred and animosity, we must be tender and gracious, always speaking out of love and not out of hatred: “Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue.”
The encyclical acknowledges how difficult and counter-cultural it is today to sacrifice our own agenda, comfort and freedom for community, but invites us to make that sacrifice: “I would like especially to mention solidarity which is a moral virtue and social attitude born of personal conversion.”
At one point, the encyclical gives a very explicit (and far-reaching) challenge. It states unequivocally (with full ecclesial weight) that Christians must oppose and reject capital punishment and take a stand against war: “Saint John Paul II stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice. There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide. All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions.”
As for war: “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’”
The encyclical has drawn strong criticism from some women’s groups who label it “sexist,” though this criticism is based almost exclusively on the encyclical’s title and on the fact that it never makes reference to any women authors. There’s some fairness, I submit, in the criticism regarding the choice of title. The title, while beautiful in an old classical language, is in the end masculine. That should be forgivable; except I lived long enough in Rome to know that its frequent insensitivity to inclusive language is not an inculpable oversight. But the lapse here is a mosquito bite, a small thing, which shouldn’t detract from a big thing, namely, a very prophetic encyclical which has justice and the poor at its heart.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

The moral necessity of voting with a well-formed Catholic conscience – especially this election!

So, our difficult job, if we are to be faithful
Catholic voters, is to carefully examine which candidates’ positions are closest overall to the Gospel and Catholic social teaching – and vote for them.

Making a Difference
By Tony Magliano
Put your political party, your conservative/liberal leanings, your wallet and your self-interest on the back burner. And instead, vote with a well-formed Catholic conscience – which requires moving to the front burner of your mind and heart the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Catholic social teaching!
In the Gospel our Lord is crystal clear that while he deeply desires what is best for each one of us, he especially teaches in his words and actions that the poor and vulnerable require his attention in a most special way – because their need is the greatest. And so likewise, our words and actions must imitate the Lord’s. We need to stand in solidarity with all those who suffer. In fact our very salvation hinges on this.
Near the end of Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Jesus proclaims with both hope and warning that he will judge each one of us according to how well we reached out, or failed to reach out, to those who were hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, imprisoned – essentially anyone and everyone who was in need (see: Matthew 25: 31-46).
Building on the rock-solid Gospel foundation of love for all people – even including enemies and especially the poor and vulnerable – a love for all of creation, and the call to be peacemakers, the Catholic church in the last 125 years has developed a rich comprehensive body of in-depth teachings called Catholic social teaching which emphasizes care for creation, as well as the protection of all human life and the promotion of human dignity from womb to tomb. Here’s a link to an excellent and enjoyable introduction to Catholic social teaching https://www.crs.org/resource-center/CST-101.
So, what does all of this have to with the elections? A lot!

Tony Magliano

Most unfortunately, very few politicians are committed to consistently enacting legislation and public policy which is Gospel and Catholic social teaching based. So, our difficult job, if we are to be faithful Catholic voters, is to carefully prayerfully examine which candidates’ positions are closest overall to the Gospel and Catholic social teaching – and vote for them.
It would be morally and politically ideal if we had politicians who were committed to protecting the lives and dignity of all – from conception to natural death – as well as the planet we all share. But we don’t. So, we need to choose politicians who will overall do the most good and the least harm. This is messy business. However, at present this is the best moral approach we have.
The U.S. bishops in their voters’ guide document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” write, “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” (see: https://bit.ly/30oDQxz)
Whether it’s abortion, war and peace, nuclear weapons, poverty, hunger, climate change, homelessness, immigration, unemployment, healthcare or COVID-19 the easy temptation is to pick candidates who line up with our one pet moral issue. But single-issue voting is both simplistically harmful and unfaithful to Catholic teaching. (see: https://bit.ly/3jjsrGL)
We absolutely need to do our best in caring for all. For as St. Pope John Paul II said so beautifully: “Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation.”

(Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net. )

Called by Name

I would like to offer my greatest thanks to all the generous sponsors and attendees of our first ever Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser. The Lord continues to call forth workers for the harvest, and we are seeking to respond from all sides here in the Diocese of Jackson. The incredible support of so many, both spiritually and financially, is a great encouragement to me and to all of our seminarians. This year’s gala was held virtually on Oct. 9 and you can watch a replay of it on our Vocations Facebook page (facebook.com/jacksonpriests). I look forward to sharing with you the results of our gala in the next issue of the Mississippi Catholic.

Earlier this month, I took three young men on a tour of the grounds of the seminaries that we currently use for formation, Notre Dame in New Orleans and St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington.

Father Nick Adam

These trips are invaluable to a young man who is beginning to consider that he may have a call to the priesthood. I remember the first time I visited the seminary: Father Frank Cosgrove drove me down on Super Bowl weekend 2012 to Covington and we arrived just as the bells were tolling for monastic evening prayer. Of course, I had no idea what monastic Evening Prayer was, all I saw was a line of monks clad in all black processing two by two into the Church while we tried to figure out where the heck to go! This was just what I thought seminary would be like: intense and intimidating.

I quickly realized, however, that this was not the measure of seminary life. As I sheepishly entered the seminarian refectory (cafeteria), I was shocked to see that there was a Super Bowl party going on. There was a huge pot of gumbo on and the guys were settling in to watch the game together. They were having fun! They were normal people! And even the monks, who run the seminary, quickly revealed the great joy that they have in their vocation as I met with the rector of the seminary and some the other priests on staff.
This experience has driven me ever since to try to get guys who are open to priesthood to “come and see” what seminary life is all about. I was especially grateful on this trip for our six men who are in formation, all of whom stepped up and gave great witness to our guests. It is these trips, these conversations, these interactions, and these moments for prayer that allow many men to take the final plunge and start the application process. The money that we raise for tuition gives us flexibility in offering experiences for men who are not yet in seminary formation. I am trying to run this department with a view of the whole, and the money raised to offset our largest budget item is a great gift to all of the men who are benefitting from a top notch seminary formation, as well as the men and women who are taking part in other programs that are being offered to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Moving beyond mistakes and weaknesses

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
The excusable doesn’t need to be excused and the inexcusable cannot be excused.
Michael Buckley wrote those words and they contain an important challenge. We’re forever trying to make excuses for things we need not make excuses for and are forever trying to excuse the inexcusable. Neither is necessary. Or helpful.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

We can learn a lesson from how Jesus dealt with those who betrayed him. A prime example is the apostle Peter, specially chosen and named the very rock of the apostolic community. Peter was an honest man with a childlike sincerity, a deep faith, and he, more than most others, grasped the deeper meaning of who Jesus was and what his teaching meant. Indeed, it was he who in response to Jesus’ question (Who do you say I am?) replied, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” Yet minutes after that confession Jesus had to correct Peter’s false conception of what that meant and then rebuke him for trying to deflect him from his very mission. More seriously, it was Peter who, within hours of an arrogant boast that though all others would betray Jesus, he alone would remain faithful, betrayed Jesus three times, and this in Jesus’ most needy hour.
Later we are privy to the conversation Jesus has with Peter vis-à-vis those betrayals. What’s significant is that he doesn’t ask Peter to explain himself, doesn’t excuse Peter, and doesn’t say things like: “You weren’t really yourself! I can understand how anyone might be very frightened in that situation! I can empathize, I know what fear can do to you!” None of that. The excusable doesn’t need to be excused and the inexcusable cannot be excused. In Peter’s betrayal, as in our own betrayals, there’s invariably some of both, the excusable and the inexcusable.
So what does Jesus do with Peter? He doesn’t ask for an explanation, doesn’t ask for an apology, doesn’t tell Peter that it is okay, doesn’t offer excuses for Peter, and doesn’t even tell Peter that he loves him. Instead he asks Peter: “Do you love me?” Peter answers yes – and everything moves forward from there.
Everything moves forward from there. Everything can move forward following a confession of love, not least an honest confession of love in the wake of a betrayal. Apologies are necessary (because that’s taking ownership of the fault and the weakness so as to lift it completely off the soul of the one who was betrayed) but excuses are not helpful. If the action was not a betrayal, no excuse is necessary; if it was, no excuse absolves it. An excuse or an attempt at one serves two purposes, neither of them good. First, it serves to rationalize and justify, none of which is helpful to the betrayed or the betrayer. Second, it weakens the apology and makes it less than clean and full, thus not lifting the betrayal completely off the soul of the one who has been betrayed; and, because of that, is not as helpful an expression of love as is a clear, honest acknowledgement of our betrayal and an apology which attempts no excuse for its weakness and betrayal.
What love asks of us when we are weak is an honest, non-rationalized, admission of our weakness along with a statement from the heart: “I love you!” Things can move forward from there. The past and our betrayal are not expunged, nor excused; but, in love, we can live beyond them. To expunge, excuse, or rationalize is to not live in the truth; it is unfair to the one betrayed since he or she bears the consequences and scars.
Only love can move us beyond weakness and betrayal and this is an important principle not just for those instances in life when we betray and hurt a loved one, but for our understanding of life in general. We’re human, not divine, and as such are beset, congenitally, body and mind, with weaknesses and inadequacies of every sort. None of us, as St. Paul graphically says in his Epistle to the Romans, ever quite measure up. The good we want to do, we end up not doing, and the evil we want to avoid, we habitually end up doing. Some of this, of course, is understandable, excusable, just as some of it is inexcusable, save for the fact that we’re humans and partially a mystery to ourselves. Either way, at the end of the day, no justification or excuses are asked for (or helpful).
We don’t move forward in relationship by telling either God or someone we have hurt: “You have to understand! In that situation, what else was I to do too? I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just too weak to resist!” That’s neither helpful, nor called for. Things move forward when we, without excuses, admit weakness, and apologize for betrayal. Like Peter when asked three times by Jesus: “Do you love me?” from our hearts we need to say: “You know everything, you know that I love you.”

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

Following Jesus requires action

“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully
in your heart.”

St. Francis of Assisi

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
We are amid a very divisive and heated political election cycle. The flames of division are stoked daily by news outlets, social media, family dinner tables, and yes, even the church. We seek validation of our political agendas by quoting people we respect, often political and religious leaders. I have threatened for years that I am going to write a book entitled, “If we are all right, who’s left?” That is to say that we cannot all be right, all the time. I believe that having deeply held beliefs is a good thing. What we cannot afford to do is judge and dismiss those who think differently than we do. Or worse yet alienate people because we do not see the issues through the same lens, especially those who are members of our family.
We just celebrated the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi a few days ago. Imagery of St. Francis evokes a sense of serenity and peace. He is often featured with deer and forest creatures in painted works and in carvings and statutes there is often a bird on his shoulder or in his hand. He is the patron of animals, merchants and the environment. But he is also well known for a prayer he wrote simply known as the St. Francis prayer. In 1967 the prayer was adapted by Third Order Franciscan and South African songwriter Sebastian Temple. The song is literally part of the soundtrack of my Catholic upbringing. I am certain some of you are humming the familiar tune now. Perhaps the familiarity of the prayer and song has overtime cheapened the message. It begins, “Make me an instrument of your peace … where there is hatred let me sow love.” Notice, St. Francis used the word “instrument.” Miriam Webster defines instrument as a means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered. When we pray this prayer, we are asking God to use us to fight the agency of hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness. Further we are asking God to replace them with acts of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy. If I offer myself as an instrument of His peace, I need to mean it.
In thinking about St. Francis and his feast day, I asked myself how I am doing with the challenge of this prayer. I joke that I am Jesuit trained but hold a deep Franciscan spirituality much like another Francis (wink). There is a great gift in the blending of these two powerful spiritualities.
St. Francis offers a reminder that we are to be instruments, that is we are to be used to make peace. St. Ignatius offers a tool to help us assess how we are doing. In Ignatian spirituality one is asked to perform a daily examen, a review of one’s day if you will. The examen utilizes time set aside for reflection on where God is in your everyday life. There are five steps: offer thanks to God, ask the Holy Spirit for light to see what God is revealing to us, review the day, face your shortcomings, and look toward the day to come. For sure, I fall short. Sometimes my ego gets in the way. Sometimes it is my pride. But as in all growth, awareness is the first step to change.
The spirituality of St. Francis and St. Ignatius both offer great resources to help us navigate an increasingly divisive culture. Following Jesus is not merely an intellectual pursuit. Following Jesus requires action.
While none of us are perfect in this pursuit we are called to live out our faith in word and deed. That brings me back to the contentious political environment we are living in. How do we communicate that we are a Christians? Do our conversations and posts on social media reflect Jesus and his teachings? Our words matter. Are we instruments of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy? If not, are we adding to the hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness that the world already possesses too much of? I am reminded of a story and quote that I first heard in a homily. It is a fitting reminder that our words matter.
In 1977, Frank Outlaw the president of the Bi-Lo stores is attributed in a Texas newspaper to having said, “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Let your words and your light shine that you may illuminate a path for others to follow that they too may reflect Christ. Be kind to one another, after all we belong to the same Father.

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

The Gospel of Life in Ordinary Times

GUEST COLUMN
By Lucia A. Silecchia
Respect Life Month is an annual October opportunity to recommit to respecting the unique dignity of each human being, made in the likeness of God and created with an irreplaceable part in the human family that no other will ever fill. This year’s theme, “Living the Gospel of Life,” invites a thank you note to all those who live this “Gospel of Life” in their ordinary times by welcoming the most vulnerable. So …

Lucia A. Silecchia

Thank you to the elderly couple with full hearts and an overflowing basement bursting with the cribs, strollers, clothes, diapers, formula and toys they collect for expectant mothers in need. They know what may seem small never is.
Thank you to the man who sits in a quiet bar while his friend confides that his wife is pregnant with their fifth child and he just lost his job. Hearing this despair and knowing the desperate thoughts that fill the fearful father’s mind, this loyal friend pledges his support. He means it. This friendship means the world and can save a life – or two.
Thank you to the high school teacher with the picture-perfect family life who consoles a student facing an unexpected pregnancy and fearing her bright future is lost. After the standard words of encouragement fail, this teacher takes a deep breath and confides in her student what she has always kept private: “I was once there too.”
Thank you to the woman who carries her child for months, knowing she will place her greatest treasure into the heart and home of another family. She also knows this great act of love will exhaust her body and break her heart in ways few will understand.
Thank you to the parents with full hearts and empty arms who adopt children and raise them with a love that, in turn, inspires others to see the beautiful gift of adoption and continue this circle of selfless, aching love.
Thank you to friends who console a mother who miscarries her child. They understand this grief is deep and raw because a life has ended. So, they do not blithely say “it’s better this way” or “you’ll have another” because they know far more than a dream or a hope died within.
Thank you to those who speak kindly and with respect for women who give birth to and raise children in less than perfect circumstances. The children in their lives will overhear them – and remember their words more than anyone will ever know.
Thank you to all who dedicate their lives to caring for, teaching, employing and advocating for those who live with disabilities. In the opportunities you provide, families facing an unexpected pre-natal diagnosis might just see a glimpse of a promising future for their child. They may desperately need your witness to resist the pressures they are so likely to face as they wait to welcome their child.
Thank you to the parents of boys who teach their sons to respect the dignity of women, the sacredness of sex, and the obligation to support the children they father in every way they can. Thank you to those same parents who care for the mother of their son’s children – regardless of whether she is a beloved daughter-in-law whose pregnancy answers years of family prayer or a frightened teenage girlfriend whose name they do not even know.
Thank you to the religious sisters who, in so many ways, live the radical hospitality that welcomes women in need and their children by offering the love and material support that our busy world pays lip service to say but too often neglects to do. Thank you to the priests who hear the pain-filled confessions of those who carry heavy burdens and lifetimes of regrets. Through the ministry of the church they grant the pardon and peace that frees so many who are so broken to become some of the best protectors of life I have ever met.
Thank you to the friends of a frightened young woman, abandoned by her boyfriend, who accompany her home when she fears telling her family she is pregnant. Thank you to the friends of an overwhelmed father-to-be when they have the courage to tell him that fathers support both their children and the women carrying those children – and then help him to do this. Extra thanks if those friends also have the courage to tell him that, popular opinion notwithstanding, saying “I will support you in whatever you decide” is not support at all.
Thank you to the friendly Mass-goer who gives a wink and a smile to a crying infant rather than a cold stare and a judgmental glare. The harried parents trying to keep their children corralled in their pew will appreciate this and be grateful that those who celebrate the sanctity of life are not curmudgeons when they see the beauty of that life in the house of God.
Thank you to the knitters and quilters in retirement homes who make baby blankets for infants they will never know and donate them to pregnancy centers. They hold the loving hope that an exhausted mother may derive the strength to carry on just knowing a handmade gift was specially prepared for her unborn child.
Thank you, most of all, to parents who welcome children into the world in so many situations that are unexpected, unsupported, and unappreciated. What you do is sacred – not only on day one, but each and every day.
To all of you, and so many others, my “thank you” seems so small. May God bless you all for all the ways you live the Gospel of Life in all the days of your ordinary times.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at silecchia@cua.edu.)

Called by Name

Seminary is a challenging time on many levels. The seminarian is tasked with growing in his relationship with the Lord and listening to His voice. He is challenged in the classroom, and in the pastoral application of what he has learned. He is challenged when he was to figure out how to effectively preach and teach the faith. One of the biggest adjustments for a seminarian, however, might be becoming a “public person.”

Father Nick Adam

When I started working at WTOK-TV in Meridian and anchoring the sportscast each night, I couldn’t help but notice when people would stare at me. I would go to Wal-Mart and someone would glance over to me and it was for just a split second longer than a normal glance. After a while I realized that people were trying to figure out where they knew me from! Some people would recognize me and come over and speak with me like we were old friends, after all, they saw me everyday. It took time for me to get comfortable with that reality, and so it was funny to me when I left television, went to seminary, and then started wearing a roman collar and noticing a similar phenomenon. When you wear clerics, you make a statement about who you are and what you are about, and people react. Many react with curiosity, others with joy (mostly Catholics ha!), and some (very few in my experience) with suspicion or even anger or hatred.

We give seminarians a chance to get used to this experience before they reach ordination. At about the halfway point of their formation, a seminarian typically receives “candidacy.” They make a public declaration that in good conscience they believe they are being called to the priesthood, and they start to wear a roman collar in public and become a public representative of the church. The seminarian begins to see the effect that the identity that they will take on with ordination will have on their life. When someone sees a roman collar, they should expect to be cared about, listened to and respected. In some ways priests need to be “all things to all people,” especially when someone is in need. This is why the men get the chance, when they are ready, to experience this before ordination. Grace builds on nature, and so if our men do not get in the habit of being there for people in a real way before ordination, they will not magically start being there for parishioners once they get ordained. Wearing clerics before ordination can give them valuable insight into the responsibility they are taking on to care for the People of God.

I wanted to explain this process because I often get that question, and our seminarians who have received candidacy do as well: why do some guys who are not yet priests wear the collar? The roman collar does not equal priesthood, but it should make someone confident that the person wearing one knows the Lord and wants to bring them into deeper relationship with Him.

Vocations Events

Friday, October 9, 2020 – First annual Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser (virtual)

For more information and sponsorship opportunities visit: https://one.bidpal.net/homegrownharvest2020/welcome

Mystical experience and everyday people

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
What kinds of things help induce mysticism in our lives? I was asked that question recently and this was my immediate, non-reflected, answer: whatever brings tears to your eyes in either genuine sorrow or genuine joy; but that response was predicated on a lot of things.
What is mysticism? What makes for mystical experience?
In the popular mind mysticism is misunderstood badly. We tend to identify mysticism with what’s extraordinary and paranormal, and see it as something for the spiritual elite. For most people, mysticism means spiritual visions and ecstatic experiences which take you outside of normal consciousness.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Mysticism can be that sometimes, though normally it has nothing to do with visions, altered states of consciousness, or states of ecstasy. Rather it has to do with a searing clarity of mind and heart. Mystical experiences are experiences that cut through all the things that normally block us from touching our deepest selves, and they are rare because normally our consciousness is cut off from our deep, true, virginal self by the influence of ego, wound, history, social pressure, ideology, false fear and all the various affectations we don and shed like clothing. Rarely are we ever in touch with our deepest center, without filters, purely; but when we are, that’s what makes for a mystical experience.
Mysticism, as Ruth Burrows defines it, is being touched by God in a way that’s beyond words, imagination and feeling. God, as we know, is Oneness, Truth, Goodness and Beauty. So any time we are genuinely touched by oneness, truth, goodness or beauty, without anything distorting that, we’re having a mystical experience. What might that look like?
Ruth Burrows describes a mystical experience which radically changed her life when she was eighteen years old, a senior at a private high school for young women operated by an order of nuns, on a retreat preparing for graduation, and not very mature. She and one of her friends were not taking this retreat very seriously, passing notes to each other and pulling pranks during the conferences. At a point, their antics were disturbing enough that the nuns pulled them out of the group and had them sit in silence in a chapel, chaperoned by a teacher, whenever the rest of the class was at a conference. At first, Burrows confesses, they continued their joking around, but the hours were long and the silence eventually wore her down. Sitting alone, bored and irritated, a mystical experience graced her, uninvited and unexpected. And it came upon her not as a vision or an ecstasy, but as a moment of searing clarity. At a certain moment, sitting alone, she saw herself with absolute clarity for who she really was, in all her immaturity and in all her goodness. It changed her life. From then on she knew who she was – beyond ego, wound, immaturity, peer pressure, ideology and all affectation. In that moment she knew her deepest self purely (and the only thing that was extraordinary was its extraordinary clarity).
So, what kinds of things might induce mystical experiences in our lives? The short answer: anything that takes you beyond your ego, your wounds, your affectations, and the powerful social pressures within which you breathe, that is, anything that helps put you in touch with who you really are and makes you want to be a better person. And this can be many things. It might be a book you read; it might be the beauty of nature; it might be the sight of a newborn baby, a crying child, a wounded animal, or the face of someone suffering; or it might be what you feel deep down when you receive an expression of love, bless someone, express genuine contrition, or share helplessness. It can be many things.
Several years ago while teaching a course, I assigned the students a number of books to read, among them Christopher de Vinck’s, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them – Precious Memories for Faithless Time. This is a series of autobiographical essays within which de Vinck simply shares very warmly about his marriage, his children, and his home life. At the end of the semester a young woman, with de Vinck’s book in her hand, said to me: “Father, this is the best book I’ve ever read. I’ve always fancied myself a very free, liberated person and I’ve slept my way through several cities, but now I realize that what I want is what this man has. I want sex to take me home. I want a home. I want the marriage bed. I know now what I need!”
Reading Christopher de Vinck’s book had triggered a mystical experience inside her, not unlike the one described by Ruth Burrows. Reading the Story of a Soul by Therese of Lisieux generally does that for me.
So, here’s my counsel: seek out what does that for you. It doesn’t have to bring tears to your eyes, it just has to point you with searing clarity towards home!

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

Persistent begger

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
Perhaps you’ve read a couple of the wonderful books by L. Van derPost of South Africa? Besides drawing you into a tender story and then challenging you with a hard truth, he writes and shares with us an exploration of his life. Often writers (both fiction and non-fiction) take us on a trip of some sort that either ‘tells the truth’ or ‘implies a truth within a fictionalized setting.’ In either case one might discover much of the richness of the writer’s testing of his/her own life as well as the readers. The writer may offer several different threads that might, or might not, come together at some point showing some continuity and often great patience, especially when things ‘go wrong.’

Sister alies therese

I wonder if we’re in a time of rummaging around in our own lives, the church’s (especially) and our cultures to find those threads that may, or may not, come together? At what level is there no anguish? Huge fires/climate change, pandemic, hurricanes, interpersonal strife, loneliness, international disregard, where indeed is the thread that draws us together? These are a part of deficit culture … what brings us to see a culture of beneficence?
Back in 1984 Michael Ignatieff, in The Needs of Strangers, reflected this: “If we deceive ourselves about what we need, we are likely to be deceived about what strangers need. There are few presumptions in human relations more dangerous than the idea that one knows what another human being needs better than they do themselves … if we need love, it is for reasons that go beyond the happiness it brings; it is for the connection, the rootedness, it gives us with others.”
Notice our strange mixtures. Consider a blood family of three children and parents, for example, and wonder sometimes if they are connected! Maybe it will be facial, or the sound of voice, or a certain talent, or hair color. Some things will indicate that they are ‘related.’ What are the things in God’s family that show, though in very different ways, ‘we’re all related?’ What are those ‘six-degrees’ of separation that bond us? How do we put together those many strands and threads and celebrate?
Within the human community, and indeed within the community of believers, there are as many differences as similarities. Bottom line stretches to ‘human’ (all bleeding red blood), ‘we all have certain needs’ and we are on a path that calls us forward from ‘birth to death.’ Beyond that almost everything else, social status, color, attitudes, beliefs, fears, competences and the lot are as individual as we can imagine. We are strangers as often to ourselves as to others.
One stereotypical image of a beggar is perhaps a homeless person blinded by disconnection from self, family, housing, medical care and food. We have a persistent beggar within, the unwillingness to be born/change things by refusing to allow the Spirit to prompt growth. We can spend inordinate amounts of time telling others what they need, what they should do/not do, what they ought to understand. Rather we might remain silent and allow them to discover their own threads. Or we might ask questions that will help reveal the beggars within us.
We might agree that racism, not telling the truth, or the –ism you pick are evil, sinful, horrid. We might agree but what to do about it needs input from the sufferers outlining some change. Opinions and political implications and others have dictated what to do for many years and have been relatively unsuccessful. Where is my heart stuck? What does my heart have to contribute?
Ignatieff reminds us: “the theory of human needs is a particular kind of language of the human good. To define human nature in terms of needs is to define what we are in terms of what we lack, to insist on the distinctive emptiness and incompleteness of humans as a species.” To know our ‘beggars’ is to discover not only what we need, but what we have to share. To define others (the poor, the wayward, the unborn, the prisoner, the weary, the old) by what they lack is a deficit culture and we never see beyond as Jesus sees.
Van derPost in his 1973 The Seed & Sower, points this out: “… I did not understand the sabotage in the invisible dimension of my being… There is a strange, persistent beggar at a narrow door asking to be born; asking again and again, for admission at the gateway of our lives.”
If we want to be born, or allow those threads to come together within, we might encourage ourselves to act, to build the Beloved Community. Perhaps that’s the kind of love that makes a difference, that ‘good trouble’, the kind that ‘relates’ us? Might even be the beginning of real change?
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.)