Retreat master, Gunn rides rails west, part II

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – In the last episode we had travelled with Bishop Gunn out West for a series of retreats. He had just arrived in Seattle on Aug. 14, 1918 and found himself with a week before his next engagement.
Seizing a few days off, he left Seattle and made his way across the border to British Columbia in Canada. Bishop Gunn had visited this part of the world before and he comments on its progress, although he makes a very “Gunnian” comment about war rations and the inhabitants of this British province.

“I left Seattle and went up the Puget Sound and spent a few days in Victoria and British Columbia. This was during the hottest part of the war when the Americas were eating stale bread, doing without sugar, sparing of everything and it was strange to find in the British Dominion that restrictions were unheard of. We were starving ourselves for the British and they were growing fat on our service and sacrifice.”

Wow. Bishop Gunn’s candor and wit are priceless moments of discovery. The journey continues below:
“I had been in Victoria and British Columbia years before, but the change and the betterment of both places was a distinct surprise. The trip on the Sound was ideal and when I got back to Seattle I was sorry to leave it.

“Seattle had grown from 20,000 to 600,000 between my two visits although there was not more than ten or fifteen years between the two. I had stopped in a little wooden frame hotel called the Washington. I looked for the same place in 1918 to find a hotel almost as big as the Waldorf-Astoria of New York.

“I enjoyed the week’s rest and left Sunday the 18th for Portland where I was booked to preach the retreat for the Archdiocese from the 19th to the 23rd. Archbishop Christie received me like a prince. I was comfortably installed in the Holy Cross College known as Columbia University and I found the priests attentive and respectful.

“There were about 85 in attendance. I gathered that the men would rather talk then mediate and it was like squeezing blood out of a turnip to me to give six original talks each day. However, I did it and they enjoyed it.

“At the close of the retreat, we had a big dinner at the Archbishop’s house and I was surprised to meet there Mgr. Kelley of [Catholic] Extension and Chas. Denechaud of New Orleans. After dinner we took a drive on probably the finest highway in America – the famous Oregon Highway which runs along the Dalles for fifty or sixty miles and affords scenery which cannot be duplicated anywhere.
“I left Portland for Helena arriving there on August 26th to begin a retreat which ended on the seventh anniversary of my consecration, August 29th.

“There were about eighty priests present and there was more formality in Helena than in St. Paul’s, St. Cloud or in Portland. The bishop, Bishop Carroll, assisted from the throne vested in all his glad rags.
“I tried some heavy stuff on the first day, but I found that the priests were human like everybody else and I switched to things practical and pastoral, with the result that we had really a very interested, I was told, and enthusiastic retreat.

“On Thursday a surprise, and frankly a very welcome one, came to me. The bishop was all apologies and told me that he was up against it – that some state law had come into effect on which all the priests had to take immediate action in view of getting St. Charles’ College accredited as a war college during the period of the war.

“The bishop said it was vital to the diocese that the priests should all hurry home and get busy pulling political strings on Friday and Saturday and make college announcements on the following Sunday. I yielded with internal joy and external resignation.

“The bishop asked me to give a closing lecture on education and as a talk like that needed no preparation on my part, I satisfied the bishop and primed the priests for their work, especially on the following Sunday. The result of their action was that St. Charles got the appointment.

“On Thursday night I left with the priests and many of them came as far as Butte and among them was an ex-Marist who was pastor of one of the Butte churches. I had taught this man in Washington in 1892. He was a little scatter brained and his assignment to Salt Lake College gave him wanderlust and he managed to get identified with the Diocese of Helena. He was a good fellow and I really enjoyed him.

“I got away from Butte on the night of August 29th and spent the two remaining days of August on the train. On September 1st I arrived in Chicago where I ran into a well-organized strike. This strike was among the cabmen, taxi drivers and streetcar men and I found myself at the railroad station and no means to get myself to a hotel.

“The strike was thorough and not a wheel could be turned in Chicago for money. I was in such a pickle that I threw timidity to the winds and asked a gentleman who was driving a private auto to take me to my hotel.

“I was in a city of churches on Sunday, September 1st and I could not find a Catholic Church in Chicago, with the result that I neither said Mass nor heard Mass – a nice example of a man who had been preaching retreats to priests for about a month.”

This concludes our world wind 1918 summer journey across the continent with Bishop Gunn. I hope it gives us a better understanding of and appreciation for our early church leaders in this country. Quite the time…

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

Respect life from the beacon of eternal life

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

As Christians, we do have the inside track on the road to eternal life. The Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and his appearances to the disciples, although not a matter of historical evidence and scientific proof, are breath taking in the scriptures. The wounds, the baked fish and bread, the burning Word, the breaking of the bread, the personal encounters, the forgiveness, the peace, the joy, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.

It may not be the work of the laboratory, but it is the labor of love through faith in the risen One in a bond that can never be broken, and in an eternal promise that is sealed in the Blood of the Lamb. With St. Paul we press on to the finish line (Phil 3:14) because our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil 3:20) For our eyes are fixed not on what is seen but rather on that which cannot be seen. What is visible is transitory; what is invisible is eternal. (2 Cor 5:18)

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

However, our belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting does not place us on the sidelines of this life. Rather, the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead places us squarely in the thick of this world’s joys and sorrows, tragedies and triumphs, as we await the blessed coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, all creation groans and is in labor pains until now…(Romans 8:22), and the Christian groans and grieves with the rest of humanity, but with hope because Jesus is risen. As Jesus said to the woman at the well, the life of God within us is like a spring of water within welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

Eternal life has begun and this is the source of our hope in our commitment to respect life across all stages of the human lifespan. With all of the attention of the baseball world on Aaron Judge, a New York Yankee, as he surpasses 60 home runs, the memory surfaced for me of another superstar who packed Yankee stadium back in 1979.

St. John Paul II did not disappoint. Only two years into his apostolic ministry he launched moon shots during his presiding at Mass and preaching that carried far beyond the stadium’s confines into the hearts and minds of Catholics and people of good will around our nation and our world. From the perspective of history, we know that he was a warrior on behalf of life, unborn and throughout the lifespan, and one of his landmark encyclical letters that revealed the depth of his passion, was published around the time of his second apostolic visit to our nation in 1995. In it he warned about a culture of death that was plaguing America.

Back in 1979 with a full stadium as the launching pad, the Holy Father’s words arose from the proclamation of St. Luke’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus. St. John Paul framed his social teaching to follow in the power of evangelization.

“When we Christians make Jesus Christ the center of our feelings and thoughts, we do not turn away from people and their needs. On the contrary, we are caught up in the eternal movement of God’s love that comes to meet us; we are caught up in the movement of the Son, who came among us, who became one of us; we are caught up in the movement of the Holy Spirit, who visits the poor, calms fevered hearts, binds up wounded hearts, warms cold hearts and gives us the fullness of his gifts.”

From this fountain of God’s eternal movement, John Paul II continued: “Catholics of the United States are to walk hand in hand with your fellow citizens of every creed and confession. Unity among you in all such endeavors is essential, under the leadership of your Bishops, for deepening, proclaiming and effectively promoting the truth about human life, the dignity and inalienable rights, the truth such as the church receives it in Revelation and such as she ceaselessly develops it in her social teaching in the light of the Gospel…The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need — openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged.
“All of humanity must think of the parable of the rich man and the beggar. We cannot stand idly by. Nor can we remain indifferent when the rights of the human spirit are trampled upon, when violence is done to the human conscience in matters of truth, religion and cultural creativity.

“We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of “the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Pt 1:19)

I close with the following reflection which was a beacon for St. John Paul across his long and fruitful apostolic ministry. He was the missionary disciple without parallel.

“In the cultural wars of the recent past the church has defended the fundamental values of our civilization. We must be proud of those pastors and intellectuals who led those struggles. We must, however, ask ourselves. Is it possible to defend Christian and natural values in the public arena if their root — faith in the living presence of Jesus Christ — has dried up? If the root is rotten the tree will fall; we must first of all seek to strengthen the root. We must become missionary disciples: before preaching the law we must enter the hearts of the people. Only then will we be able to speak with authority, and only then will our people feel that the law is not an external imposition, but the answer to the most profound desire of their heart.” Rocco Buttiglione, Discovering Pope Francis The Splendor of Truth, The Gospel of Life, The Joy of the Gospel!

From one generation to the next you are our hope, O, Lord.

Called by Name

The church is universal, and nowhere has that been more apparent to me than at our Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. In my first three months as rector, I have been blessed and pastorally challenged by the diverse backgrounds and needs of our parishioners. After three Masses in English each weekend, our 1 p.m. Spanish Mass welcomes the largest single crowd of the bunch. The pews are truly full at that Mass, it’s pretty cool to see. We seek to serve this diverse community by offering catechesis in both English and Spanish, and I am consistently depending on our bilingual parishioners to help me with homily translations.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

In order to serve this community well, facility with the Spanish language is vital. I have some Spanish skills, but not enough, and it is so difficult to find time as a pastor, or as an associate pastor for that matter, to go for an immersion experience in Mexico or Central America. With this in mind, we are going to send several of our seminarians to Cuernavaca, Mexico this coming summer for a two-month immersive experience. This experience is organized by St. Meinrad Seminary, and it is hosted by the Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels outside Cuernavaca, which is about an hour and a half from Mexico City (if the traffic is good).

I visited the monastery to observe this program back in July and I was very impressed. Not only do the seminarians get one-on-one instruction from teachers four hours a day, but they also take part in the liturgical life of the monastery, and so the needs of their spiritual life are nurtured while this very practical program plays out. In the future all of our seminarians will be required to take part in this immersion as a part of their second summer in our program, but since the need is urgent and this program is helpful, we are going to send four of our guys (Ryan Stoer, Tristan Stovall, Will Foggo and Grayson Foley) down there this summer to get things kicked off, and I will be going to Mexico with them. I certainly could use the practice, and I hope that this will be a blessed time of camaraderie and fraternity as we take this adventure together.

My first thoughts about a required immersion experience began to take shape a few years ago when I visited the Diocese of Little Rock. Spanish immersion seemed to be a real point of cohesion for their seminarians, and it certainly is a great gift to the Hispanic Catholics in that diocese. Little Rock has consistently had over 20 seminarians, and their demographics are pretty close to ours, so I think they must be doing something right! I am pleased that we are getting this off the ground, and I pray that this will be a great opportunity for our seminarians to grow in love of the church, and the people they will serve, as future priests of the diocese.

On being jealous of God’s generosity

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

“The cock will crow at the breaking of your own ego – there are lots of ways to wake up!”
John Shea gave me those words and I understood them a little better recently as I stood in line at an airport: I had checked in for a flight, approached security, saw a huge lineup, and accepted the fact that it would take at least 40 minutes to get through it.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

I was all right with the long wait and moved patiently in the line – until, just as my turn came, another security crew arrived, opened a second scanning machine, and a whole lineup of people, behind me, who had not waited the forty minutes, got their turns almost immediately. I still got my turn as I would have before, but something inside of me felt slighted and angry: “This wasn’t fair! I’d been waiting for forty minutes, and they got their turns at the same time as I did!” I had been content waiting, until those who arrived later didn’t have to wait at all. I hadn’t been treated unfairly, but some others had been luckier than I’d been.

That experience taught me something, beyond the fact that my heart isn’t always huge and generous. It helped me understand something about Jesus’ parable concerning the workers who came at the 11th hour and received the same wages as those who’d worked all day and what is meant by the challenge that is given to those who grumbled about the unfairness of this: “Are you envious because I’m generous?”

Are we jealous because God is generous? Does it bother us when others are given unmerited gifts and forgiveness?

You bet! Ultimately, that sense of injustice, of envy that someone else caught a break is a huge stumbling block to our happiness. Why? Because something in us reacts negatively when it seems that life is not making others pay the same dues as we are paying.

In the Gospels we see an incident where Jesus goes to the synagogue on a Sabbath, stands up to read, and quotes a text from Isaiah – except he doesn’t quote it fully but omits a part. The text (Isaiah 61:1-2) would have been well known to his listeners and it describes Isaiah’s vision of what will be the sign that God has finally broken into the world and irrevocably changed things. And what will that be?

For Isaiah, the sign that God is now ruling the earth will be good news for the poor, consolation or the broken-hearted, freedom for the enslaved, grace abundant for everyone, and vengeance on the wicked. Notice though, when Jesus quotes this, he leaves out the part about vengeance. Unlike Isaiah, he doesn’t say that part of our joy will be seeing the wicked punished.

In heaven we will be given what we are owed and more (unmerited gift, forgiveness we don’t deserve, joy beyond imagining) but, it seems, we will not be given that catharsis we so much want here on earth, the joy of seeing the wicked punished.

The joys of heaven will not include seeing Hitler suffer. Indeed, the natural itch we have for strict justice (“An eye for an eye”) is exactly that, a natural itch, something the Gospels invite us beyond. The desire for strict justice blocks our capacity for forgiveness and thereby prevents us from entering heaven where God, like the Father of the Prodigal Son, embraces and forgives without demanding a pound of flesh for a pound of sin.

We know we need God’s mercy, but if grace is true for us, it must be true for everyone; if forgiveness is given us, it must be given everybody; and if God does not avenge our misdeeds, God must not avenge the misdeeds of others either. Such is the logic of grace, and such is the love of the God to whom we must attune ourselves.

Happiness is not about vengeance, but about forgiveness; not about vindication, but about unmerited embrace; and not about capital punishment, but about living beyond even murder.

It is not surprising that, in some of the great saints, we see a theology bordering on universalism, namely, the belief that in the end God will save everyone, even the Hitlers. They believed this not because they didn’t believe in hell or the possibility of forever excluding ourselves from God, but because they believed that God’s love is so universal, so powerful, and so inviting that, ultimately, even those in hell will see the error of their ways, swallow their pride, and give themselves over to love. The final triumph of God, they felt, will be when the devil himself converts and hell is empty.

Maybe that will never happen. God leaves us free. Nevertheless, when I, or anyone else, is upset at an airport, at a parole board hearing, or anywhere else where someone gets something we don’t think he or she deserves, we have to accept that we’re still a long way from understanding and accepting the kingdom of God.

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

Special season of autumn

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Autumn comes, even to Mississippi. Perhaps not in the same way as I remember the autumns of my childhood, but it comes, nonetheless. In my mind’s eye I can still see the hills and valleys covered in color swept deciduous trees. The colors, like a patchwork quilt, of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges. Cooling temperatures and open windows at night were the first signs that change was literally in the air. Like diligent ants we stored up the remaining fragments of summer. Apple butter was made in a large copper kettle slowly simmered over a wood fire outdoors. The last of the season’s hay was stacked and stored for winter’s consumption. Field corn was cut and stored in the corn crib. Sweaters and sweatshirts were emancipated from their storage bags and our summer attire was stored away for next year.

Autumn is a special season for many reasons. School is fully underway. Football dominates the airwaves. The temperatures are slightly cooler, and the vestiges of tailgates, hayrides and bonfires are palatable. In the life of the church, autumn represents the beginning of our preparation for the end. Soon will end another liturgical year and reflected in its last days our annual reminder of our own last days. We celebrate All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day to remember and honor those who have gone before us. We are called to a stillness in the wake of these autumn days to contemplate our own journey of life and faith.

Fran Lavelle

We have a choice to make as we settle into our autumn. We can hit the pause button and make some time for reflection, or we can burn through the next few months like a well-trained thoroughbred destined to win the Holiday Triple Crown. You know an award worthy yard bedecked with all things Halloween, a Pinterest perfect Thanksgiving and a Griswold meets Martha Stewart Christmas light display. Please don’t get me wrong, I love good décor and I absolutely love a good party. Did anyone say chardonnay? Keep doing the festive things that bring people together in a joyful way. I am in. In the midst of the Holiday Triple Crown, it is also a season that calls us to contemplation and prayer.

I have seen a multiplication of grey hairs in the past few years. Determined to – as the Beatles would say, let it be – I am choosing not to dye it. Rather, I am using it as a reminder as I pass through each season of the year that I am also privileged to pass through these seasons of life. I’m on the countdown for a big birthday next year that starts with 6 and ends with Ohhh! Taking advantage of the opportunities to be more reflective and live more intentionally become more urgent with each passing year.

Yes, the rituals surrounding the seasons can create powerful touch tones that remind us of the sweetness of this life. They can become place markers that keep us connected to our past and serve as reminders to keep making memories as we continue on the journey. But they can also be important touch tones that remind us of things eternal. I remember after my Dad died; I was thinking about his legacy. It made me think about my own. Not legacy like that of a major sports figure or noted philanthropist, but legacy in the ordinary ways that we are called to love and to serve. What was I doing to leave this world better for having me in it? That reflective moment nearly 30 years ago in October was the seed that germinated to become the vocation I live out today.

There are no do-overs in life when it comes to days. They are here and then they are a memory. I am reminded of a line from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” – “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

No one is promised tomorrow so for today let’s vow to get busy living. And by living we are not merely existing or stringing together weeks into months into years and calling it good. Living as intentional, reflective, prayerful companions on the journey. Choosing to will the good of the other above ourselves. Choosing to love unconditionally. Choosing to let God guide our steps and the Holy Spirit illuminate the path so that others may follow our example.

Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I challenge you to find time in these early days of autumn to take the time to reflect on the gift of the life you have been given. Look back on your memories of the autumns of your life. We can learn so much about God and ourselves in this season of change.

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

Making saints

THINGS OLD AND NEW
By Ruth Powers

Catholic saints have been in the news off and on over the last few weeks. A movie about St. Pio of Pietrelcina has just been released surrounded by discussion of the conversion of its star, Shia LeBeouf, to Catholicism. Pope John Paul I was beatified on Sept. 4 of this year, and a new documentary about Mississippi’s own Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman will debut on Oct. 2. This raises the question in many peoples’ minds: How does someone become recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church?

Ruth Powers

The church teaches that anyone in heaven is a saint, but there are certain people whose lives were examples of heroic virtue or who remained faithful to God through martyrdom who are solemnly recognized as models of virtue and intercessors before God and are worthy of special honor (veneration) by Catholics. This practice of recognizing certain people as worthy of special honor began in the ancient church with honoring martyrs who had given their lives for their faith in Christ and recognizing them as intercessors for those who were left behind. A little later, this recognition spread to “confessors,” who were people who stood up for their faith and suffered persecution for it but were not martyred.

In the first five centuries of the church, people were recognized as saints by the acclamation of the people. There was no formal process, and most saints were locally recognized holy men and women. By the sixth century, requests for recognition of a person as a saint had to be examined by the local bishop, and he then proclaimed whether the person was to be so honored. Beginning in the tenth century, the local bishop still made the initial examination of the person’s life and gathered as much eyewitness testimony as possible; but the results of this examination were then passed on to the Pope, who made the final determination. In 1588 Pope Sixtus set up a new office in the Vatican, the Congregation for Sacred Rites, to help with this process of determination of new saints (among other things). The process remained basically the same, with some minor changes, until 1983 when the current process was put in place.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are three stages in the canonization process, with specific things that happen in each stage. The first stage is the examination of the life of a candidate for sainthood. The first phase of this stage takes place at the diocesan level. A petitioner, (which can be an organization within the diocese, a religious order, or a lay association of the faithful) asks the bishop to open an investigation into the life of the candidate. Although a five-year waiting period after the person dies is required, the Pope can dispense from this waiting period. The bishop consults with other bishops, the people of his diocese and the Holy See regarding beginning the investigation. Once he receives permission from the Holy See in Rome, the bishop sets up a tribunal to study the life of the person proposed for canonization and how they lived a life of heroic virtue, or the circumstances surrounding their martyrdom. Witnesses are called and documents by and about the person proposed are examined. If the decision is made at the local level to continue the process, the person is now called a “Servant of God.”

In the second phase of the examination, all documentation is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in the Vatican, where it is examined by nine theologians who vote on whether the candidate exemplified heroic virtue or suffered martyrdom. If a majority of the theologians agree, the evidence is then passed on to cardinals and bishops who are part of the Congregation. If they also agree, the prefect of the Congregation presents the entire cases to the Pope, who gives his approval and names the person “Venerable” if they have lived a virtuous life. If they were martyred, they receive the title of “Blessed” immediately.

At this point the second stage of the process, beatification, begins. For the beatification of a Venerable, there must be a verified miracle attributed to the intercession of that person after death, proven through an intensive investigation with extensive documentation. If the Congregation for the Causes of Saints concludes that a miracle has occurred, and the Pope has approved, the Venerable is given the title of “Blessed” and local public veneration is approved within the diocese or religious order where the petition for sainthood originated. No miracle is required for a martyr to be given the title of Blessed.

Once the candidate is named as Blessed, the final stage of the process begins—canonization. In this stage another miracle attributed to the intercession of the Blessed after beatification must be verified. The same process of examination and verification is followed as before. Once the miracle is verified the Pope then issues a decree of canonization and the person receives the title of “Saint.” This means the person may now be publicly venerated by the Universal Church.

(Ruth Powers is the program coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez.)

Ser Celoso de la Generosidad de Dios

Por Ron Rolheiser
“El gallo cantará cuando se rompa tu propio ego, ¡hay muchas maneras de despertar!”

John Shea me dijo esas palabras y las entendí un poco mejor recientemente mientras hacía cola en un aeropuerto: me había registrado para un vuelo, me acerqué a seguridad, vi una gran fila y acepté el hecho de que tomaría al menos 40 minutos para superarlo.

Padre Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Estuve bien con la larga espera y me moví pacientemente en la fila, hasta que, justo cuando llegó mi turno, llegó otro equipo de seguridad, abrió una segunda máquina de escaneo y toda una fila de personas, detrás de mí, que no habían esperado los cuarenta minutos, obtuvieron sus turnos casi de inmediato. Todavía tuve mi turno como lo hubiera hecho antes, pero algo dentro de mí se sintió menospreciado y enojado: “¡Esto no fue justo! ¡Había estado esperando durante cuarenta minutos y les llegó su turno al mismo tiempo que a mí! Me había conformado con esperar, hasta que los que llegaron más tarde no tuvieron que esperar nada. No me habían tratado injustamente, pero algunos otros habían tenido más suerte que yo.
Esa experiencia me enseñó algo, más allá del hecho de que mi corazón no siempre es enorme y generoso. Me ayudó a entender algo sobre la parábola de Jesús sobre los trabajadores que llegaron a la hora undécima y recibieron el mismo salario que los que habían trabajado todo el día y lo que significa el desafío que se le da a los que se quejan de la injusticia de esto: “¿Tienes envidia porque soy generoso?”

¿Somos celosos porque Dios es generoso? ¿Nos molesta cuando a otros se les dan regalos y perdón inmerecidos? ¡Apuesta!

En última instancia, esa sensación de injusticia, de envidia de que alguien más haya tenido un descanso es un gran obstáculo para nuestra felicidad. ¿Por qué? Porque algo en nosotros reacciona negativamente cuando parece que la vida no está haciendo que los demás paguen lo mismo que nosotros.

En los Evangelios vemos un incidente en el que Jesús va a la sinagoga un sábado, se levanta para leer y cita un texto de Isaías, excepto que no lo cita completo sino que omite una parte. El texto (Isaías 61:1-2) habría sido bien conocido por sus oyentes y describe la visión de Isaías de lo que será la señal de que Dios finalmente ha irrumpido en el mundo y cambiado irrevocablemente las cosas. ¿Y qué será eso?
Para Isaías, la señal de que Dios ahora gobierna la tierra será la buena noticia para los pobres, el consuelo para los quebrantados de corazón, la libertad para los esclavizados, la gracia abundante para todos y la venganza para los malvados. Nótese, sin embargo, que cuando Jesús cita esto, deja fuera la parte de la venganza. A diferencia de Isaías, no dice que parte de nuestro gozo será ver castigados a los malvados. En el cielo se nos dará lo que se nos debe y más (don inmerecido, perdón que no merecemos, alegría inimaginable) pero, al parecer, no se nos dará esa catarsis que tanto deseamos aquí en la tierra, la alegría de ver a los malvados castigados.

Las alegrías del cielo no incluirán ver sufrir a Hitler. De hecho, la comezón natural que tenemos por la justicia estricta (“Ojo por ojo”) es exactamente eso, una comezón natural, algo que los Evangelios nos invitan a superar. El deseo de estricta justicia bloquea nuestra capacidad de perdón y por lo tanto nos impide entrar en el cielo donde Dios, como el Padre del Hijo Pródigo, abraza y perdona sin exigir una libra de carne por una libra de pecado.

Sabemos que necesitamos la misericordia de Dios, pero si la gracia es verdadera para nosotros, debe ser verdadera para todos; si nos es dado el perdón, debe ser dado a todos; y si Dios no venga nuestras fechorías, Dios tampoco debe vengar las fechorías de los demás. Tal es la lógica de la gracia, y tal es el amor del Dios con el que debemos sintonizarnos.

La felicidad no se trata de venganza, sino de perdón; no de reivindicación, sino de abrazo inmerecido; y no sobre la pena capital, sino sobre vivir más allá incluso del asesinato.

No es de extrañar que, en algunos de los grandes santos, veamos una teología que bordea el universalismo, es decir, la creencia de que al final Dios salvará a todos, incluso a los Hitler. Creían esto no porque no creyeran en el infierno o en la posibilidad de excluirnos para siempre de Dios, sino porque creían que el amor de Dios es tan universal, tan poderoso y tan atractivo que, en última instancia, incluso los que están en el infierno verán el error de sus caminos, tragarse su orgullo, y entregarse al amor. El triunfo final de Dios, sintieron, será cuando el mismo diablo se convierta y el infierno esté vacío.
Tal vez eso nunca suceda. Dios nos deja libres. Sin embargo, cuando yo, o cualquier otra persona, estamos molestos en un aeropuerto, en una audiencia de la junta de libertad condicional o en cualquier otro lugar donde alguien recibe algo que creemos que no merece, tenemos que aceptar que todavía nos falta mucho, de comprender y aceptar el reino de Dios.

(El padre oblato Ron Rolheiser es teólogo, maestro y autor galardonado. Se le puede contactar a través de su sitio web www.ronrolheiser.com. Ahora en Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

Love and support catechists

Journeying Together
By Hosffman Ospino (Catholic News Service)

Catechetical programs have resumed activities or will soon start in most Catholic parishes in the United States. Children, youth, young adults and adults prepare to return to sessions where they will learn and reflect about their faith.

Just as we speak of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, as essential to nurture our spiritual life, catechesis is essential to nurture our love for our faith and for God’s word.

Central to the work of catechesis are the many women and men of all ages who exercise their discipleship by serving their communities as catechists. They are missionary disciples who understand the importance of passing on the faith.

Dr. Hoffsman Ospino

Although the first and most essential catechists, especially for children and youth, are the parents and other adults who live in a household, catechists expand and enhance that first catechesis by sharing their faith in small groups.

In many cases, catechists play a remedial role, mindful that many parents fall short in sharing the basics of the faith at home with the younger ones.

If you look at the catechists in your parish, you will notice that there is not necessarily a specific profile that restricts this important ministry to a narrow group. We want catechists to be witnesses of what they believe, do their best modeling their faith through their actions and share the faith with joy.

However, these expectations apply practically to all the baptized. We all are called to be catechists.
Stay-at-home moms, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, farmworkers, administrators, retirees, young adults, grandparents, tour guides, hotel and factory workers, taxi drivers, academics, cooks, nuns, priests, deacons, married couples, single people, among many others, join the ranks of catechists in our parishes every year.

What do all these people have in common? We all love our faith and we all are passionate to share it with others! Nearly all of us do it as volunteers. This is what makes being part of a faith community exciting.
The Holy Spirit moves the hearts of the baptized, regardless of our background or social location, and inspires us to build the church as catechists.

While there are many Catholics who love to share our faith as catechists, the numbers are not always enough. We need many more catechists and thus we have a responsibility to encourage one another to serve our faith communities in this capacity.

At the same time, we should avoid taking our catechists for granted. Our faith communities need to cultivate a permanent culture of support for our catechists. Here are four practical ways in which we can support this important group.

Pray for our catechists. This is perhaps the easiest way of supporting them. Pray for their wisdom and wellbeing. Pray for their families. Pray for their holiness.

Second, approach a catechist in your faith community and say, “Thank you.” It does not take much effort or time. A word of gratitude is always the best way to encourage others to move forward in what they are doing.  

USCCB poster for Catechetical Sunday 2022.

Third, sponsor a catechist or your parish religious education program. Catechists are very generous with their time and expect nothing in return. Yet, we can be gratefully supportive.

Buy a book for them, bring a gift certificate, contribute to a fund to buy coffee or tea when they catechize. Make an annual or monthly donation to support their meetings and retreats.

Fourth, support the continuing education of your catechists. Catechists need constant training. Support a formation program for catechists in your parish or diocese. Some may be ready to study theology at a local seminary or university, and they need scholarships. You can help.

(Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.)

The rest of ordinary time

On Ordinary Times
By Lucia A. Silecchia

Whenever someone asks how I am, one of my most frequent replies is “Good, but busy.” That is rarely more true than it is in September’s back-to-school season.

For those whose lives ebb and flow with the school year, as does mine, autumn bursts into our lives with a rapid increase in the events, activities, gatherings and obligations that will again fill our days.

For those whose days are not directly driven by school life, there is still something about the fall that brings a rapid new rhythm to life as parish activities, clubs, sports teams and community events get underway after a hiatus. Indeed, after the past two years, this return to community life seems to have an extra urgency about it.

Lucia A. Silecchia

The rapidly filling pages of my calendar are welcome to me since I like the busy-ness of life. Yet, there is also much to be said for the wisdom of rest.

The commandment to “keep holy the Sabbath,” and the Biblical traditions of sabbaticals and jubilees are reminders that time is sacred. In a particular way, they are a reminder that there are certain times that deserve to be safeguarded from the demands of our daily lives.

The Catholic Church proclaims the dignity of the work, the value of labor and the importance of treating workers with respect and concern for their well-being and that of their families. A critical demand of church leaders through the decades has been ensuring that workers are free on the Sabbath to worship God and to be with their loved ones. As St. John Paul II wrote in Laborem Exercens, his encyclical on human work, workers have a “right to rest” that “involves a regular weekly rest comprising at least Sunday.” This Sunday rest from work would allow the worker to meet obligations to God on a day of worship.

He went on to say that “man’s work too not only requires a rest every seventh day, but also cannot consist in the mere exercise of human strength in external action; it must leave room for man to prepare himself, by becoming more and more what in the will of God he ought to be, for the rest that the Lord reserves for his servants and friends.“

These words are worth considering as life fills up again. As demands on our time increase, it is tempting – and can often even feel necessary – to treat Sunday just like any other day. This would let us catch up in a fast-paced world and not fall behind in what seems to be a constant seven-day whirlwind of shopping, working, answering emails and doing the work that just did not get done in the six workdays of the week.
School sports and similar activities – good as they may be in their own right – split families apart on Sundays as they race in different directions. Sunday can all too easily become merely the start of the new work week.

Yet maybe the start of the new season of busyness is a time to resolve to keep Sundays holy, to keep them sacred, and to appreciate the wisdom of a God who rested on the seventh day.

In a paradoxical way, this season of new busy-ness is launched with Labor Day, the civic (but not meteorological!) end to summer. Since 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill establishing our national Labor Day, it has been celebrated as a federal holiday honoring the contributions of workers to the social and economic life of the nation. One of the most significant achievements of the secular labor movement was the drive toward the 5-day work week. This should, in theory, free modern laborers for the worship and re-creation of a Sabbath rest. Yet, in a sad irony, we often surrender this freedom to the temptations to many things that creep into our Sundays.

Maybe this year, as I watch the pages of my calendar fill up, I will take a special look at those things with which I fill my Sundays to see if they honor God and serve my loved ones. I also hope to do so with appreciation for the ability to do so … something that I know so many do not have.

I hope you will have the chance, too, to celebrate Sundays as a slice of the extraordinary that comes to each week of our ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research 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.)

In memoriam: James Joseph Tomek

CLEVELAND – James Joseph Tomek, 76, passed away Aug. 30, 2022, at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The youngest of three children, he was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Joseph and Anne Tomek. Raised in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, his parents afforded him a private school Jesuit education, sending him to St. Cecilia High School and St. Peters College in Jersey City. His love of literature drew him to study at Duke University where he received a Ph.D in French literature and philosophy. His specialty was 20th Century and his dissertation on the films of Jean Cocteau was directed by Dr. Wallace Fowlie. During that time, he met and married Yvonne Bryan Tomek in Durham, North Carolina, and then embarked upon a career of teaching French and English at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi in 1972 and served until his retirement in 2015.

At Delta State, he was the recipient of the University Foundation Teaching Award and also Teacher of the Year Award in the Division of Languages and Literature and was awarded membership into ODK, a Leadership Honor Society. He received grants to study French literature at summer long NEH Colloquiums in Stony Brook, Dartmouth, Iowa City and Chicago. Writing and delivering numerous papers at national conferences was of interest to him, and he collaborated in writing the books, Windows After Matisse with Terry Everett and Mary Anne Rosse and Fast French with Anne-Marie Bryan and Yvonne Bryan Tomek, a grammar book that he used for several years in his teaching. A philosopher, sports enthusiast, and poet, he often contributed to the literary journal, Tapestry, enjoying the fellowship of annual Fall unveilings and readings in Dockery, Mississippi.

Having always been interested in theology, he decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Theology from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, while still teaching French and English. He would attend classes in Jackson, Mississippi every Saturday for six years, while arduously contending with a battle of cancer. He graduated in 2009, receiving highest honors in his Oral Exams, which were open to the public for attendance. He was a devout life-long Catholic, and often attended daily Mass and served as lector and assistant in the RCIA program for incoming Catholics at Our Lady of Victories Church in Cleveland. He often led Little Rock Bible studies for those who wished to study the Bible in depth. He was a life-time member of the Knights of Columbus.

In 2010, he was invited by the Bishop Latino to lead Sacred Heart Church in Rosedale, as the Lay Ecclesial Minister every Sunday morning, where he would deliver scriptural breakout reflections, administer Communion and handle business affairs of the church. He enjoyed this mission very much as well as the relationship he made with the parishioners. With fondness for movies, harking back to his dissertation days, he wrote a column for Mississippi Catholic newspaper, entitled “Theology at the Movies” that explored religion as it is evidenced in international movies.

His greatest joys were with his family and friends with whom he loved to play golf, tennis, baseball, go swimming, play cards and watch sports. He was particularly fond of watching New York Yankees baseball, reminding himself of the many afternoons he attended Yankee Stadium during his youth with his family. If he had not had a career in literature, he could have very well loved being a professional baseball announcer.

He lamented having outlived many of his best friends which included Bill Sullivan, Terry Everett, Martin Bond, Ted Solomon, John Tatum, Leroy Morganti, Diane Stewart, Bonnie Horton and his trusted lawyer, Robert Johnston.

His is preceded in death by his parents; his sister Barbara Tomek Maffei; his brother, Joseph Tomek; and nephew Thomas Tomek.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Yvonne Bryan Tomek; son Matthew Tomek (Renee) of Memphis; daughter Genevieve Tomek of Cleveland, Mississippi; and his grandsons, Jacob Jones and Renny McKnight of Cleveland, Mississippi.

He also leaves behind his sister-in-law, Jean Tomek, his brother-in-law Stephen Maffei, as well as his nephews and nieces, Richard Tomek (Sherri), Laura Tomek Campbell (Doug); Nancy Tomek Deasey (Bob); Stephen Maffei (Janet), Matthew Maffei (Lori), Joseph Maffei (Stephanie), and their beloved children.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in his name to Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Cleveland.