This summer let young and old climb aboard the same canoe

Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p

By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
My fondest memories of summer are the times spent with my favorite aunt at her cottage nestled in the Adirondack Mountains. As a middle school teacher, she had a gift for relating to kids in a way very different from parents, like a wise friend or a trusted confidante. My aunt patiently taught us how to knit and sew; she listened to our stories and nurtured our dreams as if each niece or nephew were the only one.
She took us on long walks in the woods, pointing out her favorite wildflowers and teaching us to recognize fresh bear tracks and other potential dangers. She also taught us how to paddle her antique canoe around the nearby lake. As we got older, my aunt would sit on the dock reading a book as we took the canoe out to explore the lily pads along the shoreline or ride the waves created by the speeding motorboats. But she always kept one eye on us in case we got into trouble.
Although she never had children of her own, my aunt took a lively interest in all her nieces and nephews until the very end of her life. She never gave us lectures, expressed disapproval or told us how things should be done, but she always kept an eye on us. She remained creative and curious long after retiring and unassumingly shared her time, her talents and herself with others.
As I read Pope Francis’ recent post-synodal letter, Christus Vivit, in which he encourages the young and the old to form strong bonds, I realized what a blessing my aunt was to our family, for she personified the ideal of elders as wisdom figures and memory keepers.
“What do I ask of the elders among whom I count myself?” our Holy Father wrote. “I call us to be memory keepers … I envision elders as a permanent choir of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life. It is a beautiful thing when “young men and maidens together, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord” (Ps 148:12- 13).
When her life was coming to an end my aunt felt she had very little to leave us, but as my siblings and cousins came from all over the country to bid her farewell, it was obvious that because she had given us so much of herself, she would live on and even blossom in us.
“What can we elderly persons give to the young?” Pope Francis asked in Christus Vivit. “We can remind today’s young people, who have their own blend of heroic ambitions and insecurities, that a life without love is an arid life…. We can tell fearful young people that anxiety about the future can be overcome…. We can teach those young people, sometimes so focused on themselves, that there is more joy in giving than in receiving, and that love is not only shown in words, but also in actions.”
This is what my aunt taught us!
The following words of our Holy Father brought her memory to life in a special way:
“During the Synod, one of the young auditors from the Samoan Islands spoke of the Church as a canoe, in which the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead.” He concluded, “Let us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit.”
So, this summer, be intentional about bringing the generations in your family or neighborhood together. Take time for long walks and slow canoe rides, and for sharing memories and dreams. You won’t be disappointed!
(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Honoring Jean Vanier’s radical call to love

Sister therese alies

By Sister therese alies
“I had no plan, I just met people and people with disabilities awoke my heart.” So spoke Jean Vanier one day when being asked how L’Arche communities began and how they had grown.
Sometimes our lives are blessed with meeting or being near special persons. One of the things that makes someone special is that they reveal to us something of the truth about ourselves, maybe our inner beauty, some gift or even our struggles to live an authentic life. I was blesed to have had this experience. Sometimes even fleeting moments or short-extended stays, or a retreat venue is just enough to turn one’s life ever more deeply into a more loving discipleship.
On Wednesday, May 7, Jean Vanier, died. He was 90 years old and for the last 50 or so years devoted himself to the handicapped, disabled and those with intellectual disabilities all around the world. Often people with various handicaps are not welcome in their own homes, the parents feeling it is their fault or not having the proper support to raise a special needs child.
Jean was a young naval officer who left the Canadian navy to ‘follow Jesus.’ He did academic work and was a college professor. One summer he went to a small village in France and studied with a Dominican priest and a few other fellows like himself. They spent the summer visiting the local ‘asylums’ and God spoke deeply to his heart. He went out and bought a small cottage and invited the first two men into his home. Neither could speak and both had severe disabilities. Jean had never been trained how to help the handicapped. He just felt called to live with them. This was the founding of L’Arche Communities in 1964.
Now there are more than 154 communities in 39 countries where folks with a variety of disabilities are welcomed for life, living with those whose handicaps (don’t we all have them?) are less visible or debilitating. Some assistants who come as sort of ‘midwives’ to help others grow to maturity will live with core members for a year or two. Some much longer. Folks living in L’Arche communities are welcomed into a rich life of relationships, the very thing Jean writes, in his more than 30 books, are at the heart of our deepest need. This includes a deep faith life for those who wish. Though Catholic, communities are made up of folks from every culture and religion. Closest to us in the South are the communities in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Mobile and St. Louis.
Jean made sure to quote Dorothy Day when told he was a ‘living saint.’ She quipped near the end of her life “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily!” Of course, she is indeed now a Servant of God. I suspect he will be too.
Jean and Dorothy were both people of the Way – those who took seriously the many messages of Jesus, especially those calling us to service of the most vulnerable. Pope Francis has reminded us of the ‘peripheries’ more than once. Perhaps as the Canadian writer and former L’Arche member Carolyn Whitney-Brown reminds us ”he is an icon, not an idol.”
Some 40 years ago I was pleased to be a small part of the Tahoma Hope L’Arche community in Tacoma, Washington. David Rothrock, one of the founders, reminds us, “There are not many people who become internationally acclaimed because they treasure weakness and vulnerability”
Probably Jean’s best international bestseller is Becoming Human. The book is actually five talks he gave for the Massey Lectures commissioned by Massey College of the University of Toronto and broadcast on the Canadian Broadcast show, Ideas.
The first of Jean’s seven aspects of love is reveal. “To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention … this revelation heals … the belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is at the heart of L’Arche … as so as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are — with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses — we are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.” Thank you, Jean, for sharing the gift God entrusted to you for the good of us all. Rest in peace.

(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

Where is home?


Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
During the years that I served as a Religious Superior for a province of Oblate Priests and Brothers in Western Canada, I tried to keep my foot inside the academic world by doing some adjunct teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. It was always a once-a-week, night course, advertised as a primer on Christian theology and drew a variety of students.
One of the assigned readings for that course was Christopher de Vinck’s book, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them: Precious Memories for a Faithless Time. The book is a series of autobiographical essays, most of which focus on his home life and his relationship to his wife and children. The essays describing his relationship to his wife don’t overplay the romantic, but are wonderfully heart-warming and set sex into a context of marriage, safety and fidelity.
At the end of the semester a young woman, 30 years old, said this to me as she handed in her term paper, a reflection on de Vinck’s book: “This is the best book I’ve ever read. I didn’t have a lot of moral guidance growing up and so I wasn’t always careful with my heart and was pretty free and existential about sex. I’ve basically slept my way through two Canadian provinces; but now I know that what I really want is what this man (de Vinck) has. I’m looking for the marriage bed!” Her eyes teared as she shared this.
I’m looking for the marriage bed! That’s a great image for what the heart calls home.
At the end of the day, what is home? Is it an ethnic identity, a gender, a citizenship, a house somewhere, the place where we were born or is it a place in the heart?
It’s a place in the heart and the image of the marriage bed situates it well. Home is where you are comfortable, physically, psychologically and morally. Home is where you feel safe. Home is where your heart doesn’t feel out of place, compromised, violated, denigrated, trivialized or pushed aside (even if it is sometimes taken for granted). Home is a place which you don’t have go away from to be yourself. Home is where you can be fully yourself without the need to posture that you are anything other than who you are. Home is where you are at ease.
There are various lessons couched inside that concept of home, not least, as this young woman came to realize, some valuable insights apposite how we think about love and sex. Some of what’s at stake here is captured in the popular notion of longing for a soulmate. The trouble though is that generally we tend to think of a soulmate in very charged romantic terms. But, as de Vinck’s books illustrates, finding a soulmate has more to do with finding the moral comfort and psychological safety of a monogamous marriage bed than it has to do with the stuff of romantic novels. In terms of our sexuality, what lies deepest inside our erotic longings is the desire to find someone to take us home. Any sex from which you have to go home is still something which is not delivering what you most long for and is, at best, a temporary tonic which leaves you searching still for something further and more real.
The phrase, I’m looking for the marriage bed, also contains some insights vis-a-vis discerning among the various kinds of love, infatuation and attractions we fall into. Most people are by nature temperamentally promiscuous, meaning that we experience strong feelings of attraction, infatuation and love for all kinds of others, irrespective of the fact that often what we are attracted to in another is not something we could ever be at home with. We can fall in love with a lot of different kinds of people, but what kind of love makes for a marriage and a home? Marriage and home are predicated on the kind of love that takes you home, on the kind of love that gives you the sense that with this person you can be at home and can build a home.
And, obviously, this concept doesn’t just apply to a husband and wife in marriage. It’s an image for what constitutes home – for everyone, married and celibate alike. The marriage bed is a metaphor for what puts one’s psychological and moral center at ease.
T.S. Eliot once wrote: Home is where we start from. It’s also where we want to end up. At birth our parents bring us home. That’s where we start from and where we are at ease until puberty drives us out in search of another home. Lots of pitfalls potentially await us in that search, but if we listen to that deep counsel inside us, that irrepressible longing to get home again, then like the wise magi who followed a special star to the manger, we too will find the marriage bed – or, at least, we won’t be looking for it at all the wrong places.

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

La temporada de Pascua trae nueva vida a la Iglesia

Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
Apropiadamente, desde el domingo de Pascua hasta Pentecostés, yo experimento la vida abundante que Jesús prometió en su muerte, dadora de vida y en su resurrección. Sacramentalmente, el aceite del Crisma fluye abundantemente en la celebración del sacramento de la Confirmación en toda la diócesis.
De una manera distinta, el Crisma sagrado unge las manos de los sacerdotes recién ordenados, ahora dispuestos para Jesucristo a través de las Ordenes Sagradas. Alegremente, damos la bienvenida a los padres Mark Shoffner y Adolfo Suárez Pasillas como sacerdotes en la Diócesis de Jackson. ¡Ad multos annos!, para trabajar en la Viña del Señor Jesús, en la Iglesia por la salvación de todos, el gran desafío para todas las generaciones desde el momento de la resurrección.
Esta lucha se ha intensificado en el mundo que conocemos. El papa emérito Benedicto señaló esto, no por primera vez, hace diez años. “En nuestros días, cuando en vastas áreas del mundo la fe está en peligro de extinguirse como una llama que ya no tiene combustible, la prioridad primordial es hacer a Dios presente en este mundo y mostrarle a hombres y mujeres el camino a Dios, no de cualquier Dios, sino del Dios que habló en el Monte Sinaí, a ese Dios cuyo rostro reconocemos en un amor que influye hasta el final, en Jesucristo, crucificado y resucitado. Para contrarrestar el retroceso y desaparición de Dios del horizonte humano, llevar a los hombres y mujeres a Dios, el Dios que habla en la Biblia, es la prioridad suprema y fundamental de la Iglesia “. (Carta a los Obispos de la Iglesia Católica 2009)
Todos los bautizados están llamados a promover la misión de la Iglesia. Aquellos, a quienes el Señor llama a las Ordenes Sagradas, son separados de una manera única para abrazar la mente y el corazón de Jesucristo para avanzar en el Reino de Dios. La obra esencial de los ordenados es llevar hombres y mujeres a Dios. Las exigencias de esta forma de vida son muy claras en las promesas de los sacerdotes ordenados.
La siguiente es una descripción general de los votos de las Ordenes Sagradas, capturadas en la oración de ordenación.
“’Haga su parte en la obra de Cristo sacerdote con gozo y amor genuinos y atienda las preocupaciones de Cristo antes que las suyas’.

  1. Promete desempeñar el cargo de sacerdocio en el rango presbiteral como compañeros de trabajo dignos de la Orden de los Obispos.
  2. Promete ejercer el ministerio de la Palabra de manera digna y sabia, predicando el Evangelio y enseñando la fe católica.
  3. Promete celebrar con fidelidad y reverencia los misterios de Cristo transmitidos por la Iglesia, especialmente el sacrificio de la Eucaristía y el sacramento de la Reconciliación, para la gloria de Dios y la santificación del pueblo cristiano.
  4. Promete implorar la misericordia de Dios sobre las personas confiadas a su cuidado al observar el mandato de orar sin cesar.
  5. Promete unirse cada día más estrechamente con Cristo, el Sumo Sacerdote, quien se ofreció por nosotros al Padre como un sacrificio puro y el que se consagra a Dios para la salvación de todos.”
    Este fin de semana, la Diócesis de Jackson celebra la ordenación de transición al diaconado de Cesar Sánchez y Andrew Nguyen.
    Todos los que son ordenados como sacerdotes profundizan los votos de celibato y obediencia prometidos como diáconos. “Por su propia elección, usted busca ingresar el orden de los diáconos. Debes ejercer el ministerio en el estado de celibato, ya que el celibato es a la vez un signo y un motivo de caridad pastoral, y una fuente especial de fecundidad espiritual en el mundo.
    Al vivir en este estado con total dedicación, movido por el amor sincero por Cristo el Señor, usted está consagrado a él de una manera nueva y especial.” En la oración de consagración sobre el diácono se revela el alma y el propósito de la vocación. “Que sobresalga en todas las virtudes, en el amor que es sincero, en la preocupación por los enfermos y los pobres, en la autoridad sin pretensiones, en la autodisciplina y en la santidad de la vida … Que en esta vida imite a su Hijo, que vino, no a ser servido sino para servir, para así un día reine con Él en el cielo.”
    El Papa Francisco en su Misa Crismal de este año compartió su sabiduría con todos los sacerdotes, recién ordenados y con aquellos que soportaron el calor del día durante muchos años.
    “El Señor nunca perdió ese contacto directo con la gente. En medio de esas multitudes, él siempre mantuvo la gracia de la cercanía con toda la gente en general y a la vez con cada individuo. Vemos esto a lo largo de su vida pública, y así fue desde el principio: el resplandor del Niño Jesús atrajo gentilmente a pastores, reyes y ancianos, soñadores como Simeón y Ana. Así fue en la cruz: su corazón atrae a todas las personas: Verónicas, Cirineos, ladrones, centuriones … Las multitudes se reunieron para escucharlo y luego necesitaban ser alimentadas.
    En ese punto, la visión del Señor contrastaba con la escasa mentalidad de los discípulos, cuya actitud hacia las personas limitaba con la crueldad, cuando sugieren al Señor que los mande afuera, para que puedan comer algo. Aquí, creo, fue el comienzo del clericalismo: en este deseo de estar seguro de una comida y de un consuelo personal sin preocuparnos por la gente.
    El Señor acortó esa tentación: “¡Denles algo de comer”! Fue la respuesta de Jesús. “Cuiden a la gente”. O, simplemente, como la oración sacerdotal de consagración para los proclamados recién ordenados: “Haga su parte en la obra de Cristo Sacerdote con gozo y amor genuinos, y atienda las preocupaciones de Cristo antes de la suya propia.”
    Gracias a todos los fieles por su oración por nuestros sacerdotes y por las futuras vocaciones. Gracias a todos los que han respondido a la llamada, a todos los ordenados, ya lleven días o décadas.
    “Estoy seguro que Dios, que comenzó a hacer su buena obra en ustedes, la irá llevando a buen fin hasta el día en que Jesucristo regrese.”

Easter season brings new life to Church

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Fittingly, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, I experience the abundant life that Jesus promised in his life-giving death and resurrection. Sacramentally, the oil of Chrism flows in abundance in the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation throughout the diocese. In a distinct way the sacred Chrism anoints the hands of the newly ordained priests, now configured to Jesus Christ through Holy Orders. We joyfully welcome Father Mark Shoffner and Father Adolfo Suarez-Pasillas as priests in the Diocese of Jackson. Ad multos annos!
To work in the Vineyard of the Lord Jesus in the Church for the salvation of all has been a challenge for every generation since the moment of the resurrection. The struggle has intensified in the world that we know. Emeritus Pope Benedict noted this, not for the first time, ten years ago. “In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God, not just any god, but the God who spoke on Mount Sinai, to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses to the end, in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. To counter God’s receding and disappearance from the human horizon, leading men and women to God, who speaks in the Bible, is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church.” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church 2009)
All of the baptized are called to further the Church’s mission, and those whom the Lord calls into Holy Orders are set apart in a unique way to embrace the mind and heart of Jesus Christ to advance the Kingdom of God.
Leading men and women to God is the essential work of the ordained. The demands of this way of life are crystal clear in the promises of those ordained as priests. The following is an overview of the vows of Holy Orders, captured in the prayer of ordination. “Do your part in the work of Christ the priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.”

  1. Promise to discharge the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops.
  2. Promise to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.
  3. Promise to celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ handed down by the Church, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.
  4. Promise to implore God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to their care by observing the command to pray without ceasing. 5. Promise to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice and to consecrate themselves to God for the salvation of all.
    This weekend the Diocese of Jackson celebrates the ordination of Cesar Sanchez and Andrew Nguyen into the transitional diaconate. All who are ordained as priests deepen the vows of celibacy and obedience promised as deacons. “By your own free choice you seek to enter the order of deacons. You shall exercise the ministry in the celibate state for celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. By living in this state with total dedication, moved by sincere love for Christ the Lord, you are consecrated to him in a new and special way.”
    In the prayer of consecration over the deacon is revealed the soul and purpose of the vocation. “May he excel in every virtue, in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline, and in holiness of life…May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not be served but to serve, and one day reign with him in heaven.”
    Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass Homily this year shares his wisdom with all priests, newly ordained and for those who have borne the heat of the day for many years. “The Lord never lost that direct contact with people. Amid those crowds, he always kept the grace of closeness with the people as a whole, and with each individual. We see this throughout his public life, and so it was from the beginning: the radiance of the Child Jesus gently attracted shepherds, kings and elderly dreamers like Simeon and Anna.
    So it was on the Cross: His heart draws all people to himself: Veronicas, Cyreneans, thieves, centurions… The Crowds gathered to hear him, and then needed to be fed. At that point the Lord’s vision contrasted with the small mindedness of the disciples, whose attitude toward the people bordered on cruelty when they suggest to the Lord that they send them away, so that they could get something to eat. Here, I believe was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people. The Lord cut short that temptation: “You give them something to eat”! was Jesus response. “Take care of the people.”
    Or, put simply, as the priestly prayer of consecration for the newly ordained proclaims: “Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.” Thank you to all the faithful for your prayer for our priests and for future vocations. Thank you to all who have answered the call, those ordained for days or for decades. “May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.”

Language, symbols, self-understanding

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
A reporter once asked two men at the construction site where a church was being built what each did for a living. The first man replied: “I’m a bricklayer.” The second said: “I’m building a cathedral!” How we name an experience largely determines its meaning.
There are various languages within a language and some speak more deeply than others.
Thirty years ago, the American educator, Allan Bloom, wrote a book entitled, The Closing of the American Mind. This was his thesis: Our language today is becoming ever more empirical, one-dimensional and devoid of depth. This, he submits, is closing our minds by trivializing our experiences.
Twenty years earlier, in rather provocative essay, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Philip Rieff had already suggested the same thing. For Rieff, we live our lives under a certain “symbolic hedge,” that is, within a language and set of concepts by which we interpret our experience. And that hedge can be high or low. We can understand our experience within a language and set of concepts that has us believe that things are very meaningful or that they are quite shallow and not very meaningful at all. Experience is rich or shallow, depending upon the language within which we interpret it.
For example: Imagine a man with a backache who sees his doctor. The doctor tells him that he’s suffering from arthritis. This brings some calm. He now knows what ails him. But he isn’t satisfied and sees a psychologist. The psychologist tells him that his symptoms are not just physical but that he’s also suffering from mid-life crisis. This affords him a richer understanding of his pain. But he’s still dissatisfied and sees a spiritual director. The spiritual director, while not denying him arthritis and mid-life crisis, tells him that this pain is really his Gethsemane, his cross to bear. Notice all three diagnoses speak of the same pain but that each places it under a different symbolic hedge.
The work of persons such as Carl Jung, James Hillman and Thomas Moore have helped us understand more explicitly how there is a language which more deeply touches the soul.
For instance: We see the language of soul, among other places, in some of our great myths and fairy tales, many of them centuries old. Their seeming simplicity masks a disarming depth. To offer just one example, take the story of Cinderella: The first thing to notice is that the name, Cinderella, is not an actual name but a composite of two words: Cinder, meaning ashes; and Puella, meaning young girl. This is not a simple fairy tale about a lonely, beaten-down, young girl. It’s a myth that highlights a universal, paradoxical, paschal dynamic which we experience in our lives, where, before you are ready to wear the glass slipper, be the belle of the ball, marry the prince and live happily ever after, you must first spend some prerequisite time sitting in the ashes, suffering humiliation and being purified by that time in the dust.
Notice how this story speaks in its own way of what in Christian spirituality we call “lent,” a season of penance, wherein we mark ourselves with ashes in order to enter an ascetical space in order to prepare ourselves for the kind of joy which (for reasons we only know intuitively) can only be had after a time of renunciation and sublimation. Cinderella is a story that shines a certain light into the depth of our souls. Many of our famous myths do that.
However no myth shines a light into the soul more deeply than does scripture. Its language and symbols name our experience in a way that helps us grasp the genuine depth inside our own experiences.
Thus, there are two ways of understanding ourselves: We can be confused or we can be inside the belly of the whale. We can be helpless before an addiction or we can be possessed by a demon. We can vacillate between joy and depression or we can alternate between being with Jesus ‘in Galilee’ or with him ‘in Jerusalem’. We can be paralyzed as we stand before globalization or we can be standing with Jesus on the borders of Samaria in a new conversation with a pagan woman. We can be struggling with fidelity in keeping our commitments or we can be standing with Joshua before God, receiving instructions to kill off the Canaanites so as to sustain ourselves in the Promised Land. We can be suffering from arthritis or we can be sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane. The language we use to understand an experience defines what the experience means to us.
In the end, we can have a job or we can have a vocation; we can be lost or we can be spending our 40 days in the desert; we can be bitterly frustrated or we can be pondering with Mary; or we can be slaving away for a paycheck or we can be building a cathedral. Meaning depends a lot on language.

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

It doesn’t have to be awkward

Reba J. McMellon, M.S, LPC

By Reba J. McMellon, M.S, LPC
(Editor’s Note: An Ounce of Prevention is part of an ongoing series about child abuse prevention and response. The lessons mentioned in this article are included in the Child Protection curriculum schools and parishes throughout the Diocese of Jackson offer to both children and parents. To find out more about the Child Protection program and see sample lessons, visit the Office of Child Protection on the website:
This article will address questions about how to keep your children safe from sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is not a pleasant subject. It doesn’t rank up there with pink and blue and baby reveal parties. But, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The following are tips about how to approach the topic of safety. It doesn’t have to be awkward.

  1. Start the conversation about boundaries when your child is too young to dress themselves. Make it an important teaching moment. Remind your child, their body is your own and they can say who touches it. For example, when dressing a child in a bathing suit, remind the child that the part a bathing suit covers are their private parts. Reinforce this in a light hearted manner by asking, “What are your private parts?” and listen to your child’s answer. As they get older, you can refer to the private parts of their body as sacred parts. The parts reserved for the giving of life.
  2. When reading to your children, include books that are about speaking up and saying no. Several children’s books about privacy and boundaries are available. Don’t read them exclusively, just have them as part of the repertoire of books you read aloud together.
  3. Teach children the polite way of saying no to adults. For example; “No, thank you. No, I need to call my parents. No means no.” Teach them they will not be in trouble for saying no to a bad or uncomfortable request from an adult, even if it’s an authority figure or member of the family.
  4. Teach your child the difference between good secrets and bad secrets. No one should ever ask them to keep a secret that makes them feel bad, sad or hurt. Period. Ever. For any reason. Slipping up and telling a good secret causes little damage. Not telling a bad secret can do a lot of harm. Explain to them, when in doubt, tell.
  5. Teach children what it means to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel safe to them, encourage them to talk about it. Honor their feeling so they can learn to honor them too.
    As your child gets older, keep the conversation open and light. Keep the door of communication open so that your child won’t hesitate to come to you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable. In doing this, you are also modeling the language of telling.
    If your child can attend a class or seminar through your church, school or other familiar organization, take advantage of it. Your child will be among peers, a larger group in which to support and be supportive of healthy peer boundaries. The importance of healthy peer boundaries is as important, if not more, than teaching stranger danger.
    If you, as a parent, are tempted to opt out when these classes are offered, make sure you know exactly what it is you’re opting out of. Age-appropriate conversations are an ongoing responsibility of parenting to ensure their safety. It cannot be emphasized enough, parents are responsible for the emotional, physical and psychosocial growth of their children.
    As we’ve seen in the recent #metoo movement, it is never too soon or too late to learn when and how to say no to inappropriate advances and when and how to tell someone. Sooner is always better than later.

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

Shepherds and sheep

Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
May has often been the month for ordinations, especially priests, but deacons as well. Our diocese just ordained two priests and is set to ordain two transitional deacons. As such, May is a big month for jubilees. My Norbertine classmate and I are celebrating 50 years. He spent a lot of years as both a priest and physician in Peru. He still has a hospital in the jungle serving several villages along the Rio Napo, a tributary of the Amazon River. He had a church there. Another Norbertine spent years there and is buried in the native cemetery in Santa Clotilde. He has a cross in our abbey cemetery in De Pere Wisconsin.
Fifty years in the priesthood is anything but humdrum. In a religious community you are supporting one another whether in a common ministry like school teaching or supporting individuals in ministries they are called to do. The call can be from bishops or superiors or responding to needs. That brought us to Mississippi almost 30 years ago. This is bittersweet now that we are closing our priory near Raymond. We had great hopes. Now we return to the abbey that missioned us. Fortunately I and another confrere will be here for another year at least.
I would like to give some advice to seminarians and newly ordained priests or deacons. First, you may think what you are going to do is all planned out. It isn’t. The “people of God” will impact you, and lead to new possibilities even ministries. I know religious appear to have more options to respond to different ministries, and diocesan priest see parishes and pastoring as “the plan.”
As the shortage of priests grows, diocesan priests are now sent out as missionaries all over. Collaboration among bishops is a new norm. One of my confreres just came back from an annual “international priest conference.”
Never rule out the Holy Spirit and new talents and skills you will develop. Dioceses are always alert to people displaying exceptional talents or creatively responding to new situations.
Ordained ministry is not a job. In my day we tried to make in like other professions with some success, but it’s more than that. It changes your life. I see mayself it as servant to the servants of God. Inspire people, be the voice for those who have no voice. I think of Blessed Stanley Rother, a diocesan priest from Oklahoma, sent as a missionary to Guatamala. He was kicked out of the country by corrupt forces. Then God and his adopted people called him back. He was killed, and now is heralded as a martyr in the church. He was ordinary, just like us. But his priesthood changed him.
Let it change you. Know that the Holy Spirit is in charge. I was ordained was on the feast of St. Herman Joseph, a Norbertine. It was also the Vigil of Pentecost. My first Mass was Pentecost Sunday, and the Holy Spirit never left me. Those of you who will be in Mississippi the rest of your life, you are blessed. Mississippi can teach you a lot. It has taught me a lot. Listen to your people. Let them minister to you. All the priests I admire have experienced that.
Another bit advice I would give is one you have been hearing all through the seminary. Stay close to your fellow priests. Most of you will be one-man pastors which is why events that bring us together are so important. I enjoy the annual post Easter clergy retreat at Chatawa. The fellowship with priests is as good as the retreat master. We have a special spirit among us in this diocese that is accepting of new people and makes us glad to be together.
This is the vocation issue. Make your people see how you enjoy this special life. Following “Good Shepherd Sunday” we remind ourselves, we are both shepherds and sheep. We follow the Good Shepherd on the way to God. St. John boils it down to three words “Love one another.”

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

Sing to the Lord: music within liturgy

Father Aaron Williams

By Father Aaron Williams
In my last column, I discussed the vision of the Second Vatican Council in regard to the active participation of the laity in the Sacred Liturgy. I mentioned that the first time this term was used in a papal document was in 1903 when Pope Saint Pius X proposed the idea in the context of speaking about the role of music in the liturgy. I would like to expand that thought now by considering what the Second Vatican Council proposed as the stand of liturgical music.
Speaking on this topic, the Council Fathers said, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.” This statement needs to be carefully considered. The Council proposes that music is “integral” to the liturgy itself. In other words, it is no mere ornament or decorative element to liturgical act. We Catholics are not called to sing “at” Mass — as if the Mass was some gathering within whose context we burst into song. Rather, we are called to sing “the” Mass.
What does that mean? The post-conciliar document, Musicam Sacram, which remains today the most authoritative Church document on sacred music, gives a pretty firm recommendation in how music is to be incorporated in the liturgy. In fact, it gives three degrees of sacred music in the Mass — numbering them according to importance as to what should one sung. First among this list is the dialogues between the priest and the people. That may seem odd to us. We might imagine the Church desires some sort of hymn be sung before anything else. In fact, in our common experience, we usually associate the priest chanting the dialogues or the prayers as something reserved to really solemn occasions.
The Church, however, sees things a little differently. The dialogues between the priest and the people, the prayers, the preface — these elements constitute the most important parts of the Mass. They are the parts of the Mass where we take our true role as the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. It is fitting, therefore, if these are the moments when we are most participating in the liturgy, that these are the first to be considered when finding the place of music in the liturgy.
In my own practice, I have developed a custom of always chanting the principal dialogues and prayers at the main Sunday Mass when I am the celebrant. I know other priests that do this at all Sunday Masses, and some even on weekdays. By elevating these texts into song, we further unify our voices as one expression of Christ’s body — not only joining in word, but also in tone, and meter, and expression.
The second elements are those parts of the Mass which are unchanging, or what the Church calls the “ordinary” (the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei). Most of these parts of the Mass are normally sung in most parishes, so I don’t think much needs to be said other than that since they are unchanging it is much easier for parishes to memorize settings of the Mass ordinary for singing, thus furthering their ability to truly participate in these acts.
Finally, there is the proper. Most people have no experience of the sung proper. At daily Masses in some parishes, people will experience the antiphons spoken from a missallete. These antiphons are intended to actually be sung, especially in more solemn Masses, and are what the Church calls the “proper” of the Mass. In our ordinary experience, the vast majority of parishes substitute the proper antiphons for hymns (which are rooted in a vastly Lutheran/Anglican/Methodist tradition). While this is certainly permitted by the liturgy, the ideal proposed by the Council Fathers was that the proper of the Mass be truly sung.
I will use the second Sunday of Easter as an example. The Gospel that day was about St. Thomas coming to believe in the Resurrection when Christ says to him, “Bring your hand and feel the place of the nails.” The Church, desiring us to make a connection between the risen flesh of Christ in the Gospel and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, encourages us to take these same words upon our lips as we approach the altar. The Communion antiphon that day is, “Bring your hand and feel the place of the nails, and do not be unbelieving but believing, alleluia.”
In most places, this text was probably not even considered and was replaced by a eucharistic hymn, but by doing so we are replacing parts of the Mass which, like the readings themselves, the Church offers for our own spiritual nourishment. Though there isn’t space to go into all the various options for how these propers may be sung, suffice it to say there are a plethora of resources available readily online for free which can enable any parish to begin approaching this goal.

(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at Greenville St. Joseph Parish and serves as the liaison to seminarians for the Office of Vocations.)

All manner of being shall be well

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
We are all, I suspect, familiar with the famous expression from Julian of Norwich, now an axiom in our language. She once famously wrote: In the end all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of being shall be well. To which Oscar Wilde is reported to have added: “And if it isn’t well, then it’s still not the end”.
Few words better express what we celebrate in the resurrection of Jesus. Belief in the resurrection, belief that God raised Jesus from the dead, constitutes the very ground of our Christian faith. Everything else we believe in as Christians is grounded on that truth and, as St. Paul says, if that isn’t true, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, we are the most deluded of all people. But if God did raise Jesus, and we believe that he did, then not only can the rest of Jesus’ message be trusted, we can then live with the ultimate consolation that the end of our story has already been written and it is a happy, ecstatic ending. We will in the end, live happily ever after. Life is indeed a fairy tale.
How does the resurrection of Jesus guarantee that? Here’s how Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that wonderful scientist and mystic from the previous generation, answered. Once, having just made a presentation within which he presented a vision of how the cosmos and all of life will come together in one final harmony inside the Cosmic Christ at the end of time, he was challenged by a skeptic to this effect: “That’s a lot of wishful thinking and optimism. But suppose we blow up the world with a nuclear bomb, what happens to your wishful thinking then?”
Teilhard’s answer wonderfully distinguishes genuine Christian hope both from wishful thinking and natural optimism, even as it affirms what the resurrection of Jesus guarantees. He responded in words to this effect: “If we blow up the world with a nuclear bomb, well that would be a two-million-year setback. But what I’m proposing will happen, not because I wish it so or have empirical evidence to warrant it. It will happen because Christ promised it, and in the resurrection, God showed that God has the power to deliver on that promise.”
What we believe in as Christians is not based on wishful thinking or natural optimism, it’s based on the word and promises of Jesus and the trustworthiness of that word and those promises is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. When we believe this, we can live our lives without undue anxiety about anything, confident that the end of our story is already written and that it’s a happy ending.
If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, if we believe in the resurrection, then, in essence, we believe that the world is already saved. We don’t have to save the world; we only have to live in face of the fact that we believe it has already been saved. And if we live in face of that belief we can risk everything, risk our very lives, knowing that our ending of our story has already been written and that it’s a happy one, no matter how dire things might look at present.
We see a wonderful example of this kind of belief in Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the key figures in opposing and eventually bringing down apartheid in South Africa. At the heart of the struggle to bring down apartheid, facing every kind of threat, he remained steadfast and even joyful in face of threats and overwhelming odds. What anchored him in his steadiness and joy? Belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
Occasionally on a Sunday morning when he would be preaching, armed soldiers would come into the church and line-up along the isles with their weapons in hand, hoping to intimidate him. Tutu, for his part, would smile at them and say: “I am glad you’ve come to join the winning side! We’ve already won!”
In saying this, he wasn’t talking about the battle over apartheid which, at that point, was still far from won. He was talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the definitive triumph of goodness over evil, which assures that, in the end, goodness will eventually triumph over evil, love over division, justice over injustice, and life over death.
Knowing that, we can live life in confidence and hope. It will end well, not because we wish it so or because things are looking that way for us. It will end well because Jesus promised it would and in the resurrection, God backs up that promise.
Hence there’s nothing to fear, nothing – not defeat, not threat, not loss, not sickness, not even death. The resurrection of Jesus assures us that in the end all shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of being shall be well; and if it isn’t well … well, then it’s still not the end!
But our problem is, as Rainer Marie Rilke once pointed out to an aspiring young poet who believed that his own humble surroundings didn’t provide him with the inspiration he needed for poetry, that if we can’t see the richness in the life we’re actually living then we aren’t poets.

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