Called by name

The following is an excerpt from Father Nick’s homily on Good Shepherd Sunday. This day is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in the church. You can listen to the whole homily by subscribing to The Discerning Catholic Podcast on iTunes or Spotify. If you are interested in learning more about discernment, log onto www.jacksonpriests.com for more information.

            Shepherds, in the words of Jesus, are not hired men, but they are called forth by the Chief Shepherd to lead the flock. Jesus calls forth shepherds, not hired men, to be His priests. He is the Good Shepherd because he lays down his life for his sheep, and he lays down his life for his sheep because his only concern is doing the will of God and not the will of men. The opinion of men slowly turns against Jesus throughout his public ministry, but his fidelity to the Truth remains steadfast. He refuses to allow fear of retribution or rejection stop him from being the leader that the Father asks him to be. And yes, this costs him his life. The Good Shepherd then, is good insofar as he does what he is called to do by God. As priests our Chief Shepherd is Jesus Christ. We follow his lead. 

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

Being a priest is not being hired to do a job. It is having your soul conformed to the heart of the Good Shepherd. The way that I think about life has completely changed. And while I fail over and over again to live up to the standard set by the Chief Shepherd, he mercifully calls me back into the fight each time I ask back in. When we were first understanding the gravity of the pandemic, one of my first priestly thoughts was, “how are we going to get into the hospitals?” Some of my other thoughts were, “I’m terrified of going into the hospitals,” “I’m terrified of the way this is going to change the way we celebrate mass and attend mass,” and “how long is this going to go on?” As a priest I had to figure out how to shepherd the sheep God had entrusted to me. And there were many heroic examples throughout the world and in my own circles. A few of my friends in a nearby diocese were assigned by their bishop to be the Covid team. They figured out a safe way to anoint Catholics in the hospital, and so they were assigned to cover all the parishioners in the COVID ICUs throughout the diocese. They helped me to develop a strategy to anoint when I needed to go provide the sacrament during that time of fear and confusion. 

Celebrating mass alone in front of a streaming iPhone was completely bizarre at first. And yet because I knew that this was the best way to shepherd those entrusted to me, I did it. I think it is amazing how quickly the Church figured out technology because we had to. Many of our local priests have become extremely familiar with the technological landscape because this is what was being called forth out of them through their identification as the Good Shepherd. 

Good Shepherds do not fit in with the times but joyfully, bravely, and clearly guide their sheep. Church teachings are not always popular, in fact they are most often unpopular. But are better off now as a culture who has largely rejected God? Are we closer to truth? Are we closer to peace amongst ourselves? God calls forth shepherds after his own heart. Jesus was after the heart of the Father, his will and the Father’s will were in sync. This is how priests must operate. They must be rooted in prayer and relationship with their heavenly Father so that they can be Christ’s voice in the world. Sadly, this is not always the case, for myself included, but this is a wonderful call that can transform you in ways that you never thought possible.

The church has a Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ. But Christ calls forth shepherds after his own heart to serve his flock and to bring more into the fold. Pray for your priests, that they remain faithful to this call and have the strength to minister through their identity as priests of Jesus Christ, and that they reject the lie that they are simply hired men who have a finite skill set. Pray that your priests seek only after the will of the Father, and not after worldly success, acclaim, or acceptance. And pray for more young men to come forward, because they have heard the urgent call for more shepherds and they want to save souls, and they too want to be Good Shepherds, who lay down their life for God’s people.

Taking tension out of the community

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Whatever energy we don’t transform, we will transmit. That’s a phrase I first heard from Richard Rohr and it names a central challenge for all mature adults. Here’s its Christian expression.
Central to our understanding of how we are saved by Jesus is a truth expressed by the phrase: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. How are we saved through Jesus’ suffering? Obviously, that’s a metaphor. Jesus is not a sheep, so we need to tease out the reality beneath the metaphor. What prompted the first generation of Christians to use the image of a suffering sheep to explain what Jesus did for us, and how does Jesus’ suffering take away our sins? Was there a debt for sin which only God’s own suffering could cancel? Was the forgiveness of our sins some kind of private, divine transaction between God and Jesus?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

These questions have no easy answer, but this much must be said: while some of this is mystery, none of it is magic. Admittedly, there’s mystery here, something that lies beyond what we can adequately explain by rational thought, but there’s no magic here. The deep truths that lie somewhat beyond our rational capacities do not negate our rationality; they only supersede it, analogous to the way that Einstein’s theory of relativity dwarfs grade school mathematics.
Thus, allowing for some mystery, what can we tease out of the metaphor that presents Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Moreover, what’s the challenge for us?
Here’s the historical background to this image. At the time of Jesus, within Judaism, there were a number of atonement (reconciliation) ritual practices around lambs. Some lambs were slaughtered in the temple as offering to God for our sins, and some others were employed as “scapegoat” lambs.
The scapegoat lamb ritual worked this way. A community would gather with the intention of participating in a ritual to ease the tensions that existed among them because of their weaknesses and sin. They would symbolically invest their tensions, their sins, on to the lamb (which was to become their scapegoat) with two symbols: a crown of thorns pushed into the lamb’s head (making it feel their pain) and a purple drape over the lamb’s back (symbolizing its corporate responsibility to carry this for them all). They would then chase the lamb out of the temple and out of town, banishing it to die in the wilderness. The idea was that by investing the lamb with their pain and sin and banishing it forever from their community, their pain and sin were also taken away, banished to die with this lamb.
It is easy to see how they could easily transfer this image to Jesus after his death. Looking at the love that Jesus showed in his suffering and death, the first generation of Christians made this identification. Jesus is our scapegoat, our lamb. We laid our pain and sin on him and drove him out of our community to die. Our sin left with him.
Except, except, they did not understand this as some magical act where God forgave us because Jesus died. No. Their sins were not taken away because Jesus somehow appeased his Father. They were taken away because Jesus absorbed and transformed them, akin to the way a water purifier takes the dirt, toxins, and poisons out of the water by absorbing them.
A water purifier works this way. It takes in water contaminated with dirt, impurities, and poisons, but it holds those toxins inside itself and gives out only the purified water. So too with Jesus. He took in hatred, held it inside, transformed it, and gave back only love. He took in bitterness and gave back graciousness; curses and gave back blessing; jealousy and gave back affirmation; murder and gave back forgiveness. Indeed, he took in all the things that are the source of tension within a community (our sins), held them within and gave back only peace. Thus, he took away our sins, not through divine magic, but by absorbing them, by eating them, by being our scapegoat.
Moreover, what Jesus did, as Kierkegaard so wonderfully says, is not something we should admire; it’s something we need to imitate. N.T. Wright, in his recent book Broken Signposts, sums up the challenge this way: “Whether we understand it or not – whether we like it or not, which most of us don’t and won’t – what love has to do is not only to face misunderstanding, hostility, suspicion, plotting, and finally violence and murder, but somehow, through that whole horrid business, to draw the fire of ultimate evil onto itself and to exhaust its power. … Because it is love that takes the worst that evil can do and, absorbing it, defeats it.”
Whatever we don’t transform, we will transmit. There’s a profound truth here regarding how we need to help take tension out of our families, communities, churches, and societies.

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

Prevent child abuse through mental health awareness

GUEST COLUMN
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC
People who abuse children are not aware or concerned with their own mental health or the mental health of others. That is why abuse of a child is considered a crime and not a mental health issue that can be treated with psychological services alone. Most people who abuse children grossly lack the insight it takes to gain anything from counseling.

Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

Child abuse includes body, mind and spirit. Verbal, sexual, spiritual, mental and physical abuse are sometimes in combination and sometimes separate. All abuse is harmful but sometimes the most harmful are the ones that leave no external mark one can point to in order to “prove” to oneself and others that significant harm has been done.
This column will associate mental health awareness with the prevention of child abuse. What speaks to one person will not speak to another. Being willing to read this article is a sign of psychological healthiness on your part.
• If a child or adult brings up the subject of abuse, don’t interrupt or change the subject.
• Listening and believing goes a long way toward healing.
• Keep the dialogue regarding abuse open among family and friends.
• Teach your children strong boundaries and healthy self-confidence.
• Be a role model for strong boundaries and healthy self-confidence because you can’t teach what you don’t know.
• Provide an atmosphere in your home where an abusive experience can be reported without overreaction or no reaction. Both are harmful.
• Do not hesitate to report abuse to the right authorities.
• Be brave enough to ask for details.
• Use discernment regarding the adults your child or adolescent spends time with.
• Use discernment regarding who you, as an adult, spend time with.
• Watch out for blind trust-whether it’s the chief cook, bottle washer, preacher, teacher, coach, parent, priest, friend, male, female, etc. There is no one stereotype for abusers except they’re good at fooling people.
• When discussing child abuse and mental health issues, don’t let the subject take a political bend. Politics will cloud the issue in a harmful way.
• Abuse issues can and often do come up later in life. It is possible to suppress memories for years. Suppressed memories is a way the body and mind let you know when it’s safe enough to remember.
• False memory syndrome is a term that began with defense attorneys in the 1990’s. While it happens, it is rare.
• Be vigilant about how you talk about abuse issues casually and in public. There is more than likely a survivor in ear shot. Thoughtless comments could push them back into the shadows of shame.
• God is love. Abuse is not.
Don’t walk it alone. Everyone needs a 5 a.m. friend or even at 5 p.m. Someone who listens, believes, encourages, doesn’t change the subject and can help guide you to seek healthy mental health counseling where uncovering leads to recovery allowing you to walk in the wholeness of Christ.
We’re all in this together.
“Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

(Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC is a mental health professional and freelance writer with 35 years of experience. She is available for consultation and public speaking. Reba can be reached at rebej@bellsouth.net)

Gift of four friends wrapped in one

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
Several years ago, when I was still the campus minister at Mississippi State, I also had the privilege to serve as the diocesan director for the Office of Campus Ministry. In that role I was part of the Department of Formational Ministries. A change in leadership in the department came about when Sister Deborah Hughes retired, and Cathy Cook was named the Superintendent of Catholic Schools and the head of the department. When Jeanne Howard retired in 2014, I was approached by a few people and asked to consider the position. I remember meeting with Cathy at Lake Tiak O’Khata that July for an interview. It turned out to be more like a conversation between old friends although we had not known one another very long. It was then that I knew the Holy Spirit was calling me to work in the chancery. Her confidence in me was ultimately the reason I accepted the job. Her confidence in me is ultimately the reason I became the director of the Department of Faith Formation.

Cathy announced earlier this Spring that she would be retiring at the end of April. She has served the church for 30 years in many roles within education and youth ministry. It is always bittersweet when colleagues of Cathy’s caliber announce their retirement. On the one hand I am so pleased that she will be able to pursue interests other than work. On the other hand, I will miss the day-to-day interactions. We both place a high premium on serving the young church.
Sharing a background in youth ministry was the source of many robust conversations. I remember after I moved my personal effects into my office at the chancery, Cathy saw a candle that I had from a diocesan youth convention many years earlier when I served as youth minister for St. Joseph in Starkville. She asked me with some urgency to follow her to her office. There she showed me the candle she had from the same convention when she was the youth minister at St. Mary’s Basilica in Natchez. It was as if our fate was sealed at that Youth Convention those many years earlier though we do not remember meeting one another there.
I was recently with one of Cathy’s former employees from the Office of Catholic Education. We talked about the many people that she empowered over the years in church lay leadership. There are no doubt countless former employees, students, educators, administrators, and other church leaders who have benefitted from her years of dedicated service. In her leadership role, she advocated for training and education for lay leaders.
Over the past six plus years Cathy has helped me keep focused on the mission of Christ and not get bogged down in the mess. She taught me the value of discerning what “hills to die on” and when it is prudent to stay the course. She knows the value of a good laugh, appreciates a good meal, and enjoys sports at all levels. Her love of sports knows no bounds as she recently cheered for my alma mater in the NCAA Basketball tournament. I am Cathy’s only connection to Ohio University, but she wouldn’t let that minor detail get in the way of watching them play and cheering when they knocked off Virginia, the defending tournament champions.
Thinking about Cathy’s retirement reminded me of something I heard in a webinar sponsored by Ave Maria Press that I watched last Summer titled, “Strengthening Your Inner Life in Challenging Times: The Simple Care of a Hopeful Heart” presented by Dr. Robert J. Wicks. Dr. Wicks is Catholic and works as a clinical psychologist. He writes and speaks about the intersection of spirituality and psychology. In his presentation he mentions the four kinds of friends everyone should have:
The Prophet … who helps name what voices are guiding you in your life;
the Cheerleader … who is sympathetic and encouraging;
the Harasser or Teaser … because on the way to taking compassion seriously sometimes we take a detour and take ourselves too seriously; and,
the Inspirational friend that calls us to be all that we can be without embarrassing us that we are where we are.
Little did I know when we first met the impact she would have on my life and the role she would play as a prophet, cheerleader, teaser, and inspirational friend. This is not good-bye. I fully expect to continue to share good laughs, tasty meals, and a sporting event or two. I also expect I’ll continue to seek her advice.
If you are lucky to have the four types of friendships Dr. Wicks identifies you are very fortunate. When they come wrapped up in one bundle of energy, joy, and laughter you are especially blessed. There’s an old Irish proverb that reminds me of Cathy: “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have.”

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

The power of beauty

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
The world will be saved by beauty! Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that, Dorothy Day quoted it, and centuries before Jesus, Confucius made it central to his pedagogy. They were on to something. Beauty is a special language that cuts through and sidelines all the things that divide us – history, race, language, creed, ideology, politics, economic disparity, gender, sexual identity, and personal wounds. Beauty melts down all differences. Its speech, like that of a newborn, has no explicit words, but is a language so perfect that it can only be soiled by violating oneself. Two things in this world cannot be argued with, beauty and a baby. They also cannot defend themselves, and have only their own vulnerability as protection.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In classical Western philosophy, beauty is seen as one of the transcendental properties of being, and therefore as one of the properties of God. God is understood as having four transcendental qualities, namely, as being One, True, Good and Beautiful. Hence, beauty possesses a divine, sacred quality. Artists and everyone sensitive to aesthetics have always recognized this, not necessarily in that they affirm explicitly that beauty is a property of God, but that they recognize a godly quality in beauty; they sense a “blaspheme” whenever it is defaced, and feel the energy to create as divine.
Beauty, as we know, takes many forms. Who of us has not at times felt the stunning power of physical beauty? Who has not been momentarily transfixed by the beauty of a sunset, an ocean, a mountain range, the stars, a full moon, a desert landscape, a particular tree, a thunderstorm, fresh snow, a gentle rain, an animal in the wild, a work of art or architecture, or a human body? Physical beauty is self-justifying. It cannot be argued with and may never be denigrated by an appeal to something higher and more spiritual. It is unequivocally real and thus needs to be recognized, affirmed, and blessed.
For most of us, when we hear the word beauty, physical beauty is what comes to mind. Now, while that beauty is real, powerful, and can transform the heart, there are other kinds of beauty equally as powerful and transforming. I am not sure what language works in terms of what I am about to describe, so forgive me if my expression here is amateur and awkward, but we can speak, and need to, of beauty in the emotional and moral realm. There is something we might call emotional beauty or moral beauty.
Emotional beauty is not the beauty of a sunset or a great painting, but is the beauty of a particular expression of love, of empathy, or of compassion that, like a beautiful sunset, we are occasionally graced to witness. For example, we can be transfixed when seeing the miraculous rescue of a child, when seeing a helpless animal saved by rescuers, when seeing an elderly couple affectionately holding hands, or when hearing of a generous response by the public to a plea for help by a poor family. As with physical beauty, there is a divine quality here and, as with physical beauty, there is something here that only the most boorish of persons would dare smudge. However, whenever our emotions are involved there is always the danger of an unhealthy sentimentality also being present; but, that danger notwithstanding, our emotions, like our eyes, are also an opening to beauty.
Finally, not least, there is moral beauty, beauty of soul. The salient example here is martyrdom and every other kind of love that sacrifices its own wishes, desires, and life for something higher. While this does not always make for a beautiful body, it does make for a beautiful soul. In affirming this, I am not thinking, first, of its most salient examples, the religious martyrs who gave up their lives rather than deny their faith, or even of persons like Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Maximillian Kolbe, Oscar Romero, and the many today who give up their lives for others. These are powerful examples of moral beauty, but many of us see this first-hand in our own families and circle of friends. For example, I look at my own mother and dad who for most of their lives sacrificed to provide for a large family and, especially, to provide that family with what is more important than food and clothing, namely, faith and moral guidance. There was a moral beauty in their sacrifice, though sometimes during those years, by Hollywood standards, my mom and dad looked more haggard than beautiful. Moral beauty, though, is measured by a different standard. That being said, there is also the need to be cautious here: while emotional beauty carries the risk of sentimentality, moral beauty carries the risk of fanaticism. Fanatics, serial killers, and snipers are also highly focused morally. Morality, like anything else, can be misguided.
The world will be saved by beauty! True, though I would employ the present tense, the world is being saved by beauty.

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

Call by Name

            The longer I walk with discerners the more I realize that I need to stop rushing. It took two-and-a-half years from the time I heard the Lord’s call to the priesthood until I ultimately enrolled in seminary. Sometimes I am tempted to forget that fact as I witness the journey of the men who are treading that same path today. It is easy to try to rush. It is easy to try to push, prod, and pull men through the door to the seminary. Discernment in a seminary or religious house really is wonderful, and I want as many good young Catholics as possible to experience it, but God’s time is not my time and I cannot rush it!

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

            I know that there are many young men who are being called to the priesthood in our midst, and it is my job to help guide them along the path, but I also believe that they often know the trajectory of their journey much better than I do. A young man has to have the desire and the maturity to enter into formation fruitfully, but he also has to pick the right time. In my case, I had a contract that I needed to honor with my employer. I could have cut and run I suppose, but that course of action would not have brought the same peace as leaving the right way did. It also would not have set a great example to my employer! I began to really seriously consider entering the seminary about a year after I heard God’s call, but it took another year and a half for me to be able to leave the right way. And it was worth the wait, every minute of it.

            I see this process being born out with the men and women that I work with here in the diocese. I wish I could bring about that perfect timing myself, but this is not my task. My task is to trust that the Lord is working, and to empower our discerners to trust their prayer and the path that the Lord has put them on. I thank you for your continued prayers. I assure you that they are working in the lives of men and women who know that the Lord has called them to something great.

            I also want to take this space to let you know how hard our current seminarians are working. The six men that are studying for the priesthood right now are truly seeking after God’s will, and I am very grateful that this is the first “crop” of seminarians that I have had the opportunity to lead as Vocation Director. I know that many of you got to see our seminarians in action as they served at the altar and in parishes during their Easter break, and many of you told me how wonderful it was to have those men sharing their gifts back at home. I agree with you!

Prediscernment Prayer Nights:

Each event is from 6-7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, Aprill 27 at Catholic Community of Meridian; 6-7 p.m. at St. Patrick

Novenas: powerful periods of prayer

THINGS OLD AND NEW
By Ruth Powers
With the increasing popularity of the Divine Mercy Novena, which began on Good Friday and ended on the Sunday after Easter, many Catholics are rediscovering an ancient form of Catholic prayer which has fallen out of regular use in recent years — the novena. “Novena” comes from the Latin word novem (nine) and refers to a nine-day period of public or private prayer to obtain special graces, to ask for special favors, or to make special petitions.

Ruth Powers

There is no mention of nine-day celebrations among the Jewish people in the Old Testament, so it is likely that the origin of the novena is not in Jewish practice. However, Roman culture had a tradition of celebrating nine days of prayer for various reasons, such as to avert some evil predicted by soothsayers or in the aftermath of some “wonder.” There was also a nine-day period of mourning after the death of a loved one, with a special feast on the ninth day. These practices make it likely that the origin of the novena is in the adaptation of Roman culture to Christianity as the Christian religion began to spread outside of Palestine. The very first novena of the followers of Christ, however, is described in the New Testament. Between the Ascension of Christ and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost nine days later, the Acts of the Apostles recounts that they spent the time in constant prayer.
In the ancient church, novenas continued to be associated with nine days of prayer after someone had died, just as in the pagan Roman community. For this reason, some of the Church Fathers, such as Augustine, warned against the practice. As Christianity spread, however, the practice expanded to include periods of prayer honoring a particular saint, in preparation for a feast day, or to ask for special favors from God. Church writers began to associate the nine days with specifically Christian themes, such as the nine months Jesus spent in the womb of Mary, Jesus giving up his spirit at the ninth hour, and the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost. Some writers also gave numbers various symbolic meanings. The number ten was seen as symbolic of the perfection of God, so the number nine was seen as symbolic of imperfect humans turning toward God. By the Middle Ages, novenas of all types had become popular, especially those associated with Mary. After the Protestant Reformation, novenas used by Catholics had to have papal approval, and Pope Pius IX (pope from 1846 to 1878) was known for approving large numbers of novenas and promoting their use.
Novenas generally have one or more of four basic purposes. There are mourning novenas to pray for the soul of a departed loved one either before or after burials, which was their original use. Preparation novenas are joyful and are prayed in preparation for a feast day. Petition novenas ask God for intervention or some other help, usually through the intercession of a saint. Finally, Indulgence novenas are acts of penance and are usually said in conjunction with the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Novenas can be a spiritually fruitful form of devotion when approached properly. First, we must remember that a novena is an act of devotion to God. One possible reason for the decline in popularity of novenas recently is that they came to have superstitious overtones. Some people approached them almost as a form of “magic,” believing that if they said a particular novena their prayer would always be granted, rather than seeing a novena as ultimately an act of devotion with its outcome dependent on God’s will. The traditional novena is said over a period of nine days although it can be said in a shorter format by saying the prayers once per hour over a period of nine hours. It is helpful to pray the novena at the same time each day or each hour to develop the discipline of prayer. Novenas can be prayed privately or with a group. Some parishes have even experimented with praying a novena in a social media live stream that people can join virtually!
If you decide to explore this devotional practice further, there is available a multitude of novenas to many different saints, for many different needs and for many different feasts. Try one!

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

Consider mercy

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
I was particularly reminded of mercy when Pope Francis was in Iraq. He has been heavily quoted, but this touched my heart, so I offer it again:
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our Father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful, and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane God’s Name by hating our brothers and sister … Peace begins with the decision not to have enemies!” (Pope Francis, Ur, 6Mar21)

Sister alies therese

In fact, I suspect that everything we have had, have now, are, or want to be is tied up in this web of God’s mercy. If like the Pharisee we try to wriggle out of the web and think only of ourselves, rather than like the tax-collector who knows his blessing is in God alone … well, how will we reach the mercy seat?
A few years ago, I wrote this little meditation:
“Where do you want to meet, greet, and spend all of eternity? ‘Come ye Disconsolate,’ where? At the mercy seat, the very throne of God. How shall we arrive there? We shall be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, in the arms of friends who love us, or by catching onto the coattails of that ‘holy’ friend who, as s/he ascends toward heaven, carries us along, to Jesus. The question God will ask each of us as we stand before this mercy seat is, where are all the others? Who did you bring with you? Who did you enable to receive mercy that they might never again live an ungrateful or useless life? Why are you here by yourself, and where are your wounds … what did you do with what came your way? You know the scars that still hurt a bit? The terrible wounds of childhood or the loss of a child. Maybe the scars are from addictions or physical abuse? Regrets or what you did to others? Sin. The mercy seat is for those who were changed by God’s mercy to the extent that nothing means more to them than being a wounded servant like Jesus. If you wish to sit at the mercy seat with Jesus and His friends, experience the fulfillment of joy and love for eternity, become a mercy-maker and bring lots of others along with you.” (The Mercy Seat, pg. 43, Contemplative Drawing and the Gifts of Mercy, 2016)
This year has been tough. Lots of negatives and lots of opportunities maybe for the first time to learn real service, real mercy? Who did we see who really needed us? And what did we do?
St. Sister Faustina tells this: “Jesus came to the main entrance (of the convent) today, under the guise of a poor young man who was emaciated, barefoot and bareheaded, with his clothes in tatters. He was frozen as the day was cold and rainy. I went to the kitchen, searched about, found nothing but some soup I reheated and crumbled in some bread. He ate it and told me He was the Lord of heaven and earth. When I saw Him as He was, He vanished from my sight … in my meditation I heard these words in my soul: ‘My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless Me as they leave your gate have reached my ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased Me. … I have tasted the fruits of your mercy.’” (St. Faustina’s Diary, #1312, 2005).
Until we literally bump into the mercy of God everything done to us or that we have done to others remains festering deep within. When we are brave enough to accept God’s mercy and grace to give it over, we change our focus, and our life is shiny and new. Then we can become true friends, real lovers, people of the Way. Then we can recognize Jesus in the poor, Jesus in the rich, Jesus in everyone! Wound together in the soft web of God’s mercy we will be gently held, by hands wounded for us, and full of joy.
‘Hold a true friend with both your hands.’ (Nigerian Proverb)
St. Augustine tells us what sitting at the mercy seat is going to be like. I want to be there, with you and all the people God has in mind, and that is everyone who wants to come! Nothing completes our life, not another person, thing, or duty. Nothing is enough until filled with mercy.
“When I am completely united to You, there will be no more sorrows or trials; entirely full of You, my life will be complete.” (Augustine, Confessions)
BLESSINGS.

(sister alies is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

An unlikely affinity

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
One of Dorothy Day’s favorite saints was Therese of Lisieux, Therese Martin, the saint we call “the Little Flower.” At first glance, this might look like a strange affinity. Dorothy Day was the ultimate activist for justice, protesting in the streets, being arrested, going to prison, and starting a community and a newspaper, the Catholic Worker, in service of the poor. Therese of Lisieux was a contemplative nun, hidden away in an obscure convent in a small town in France. Indeed, during her whole life, except for one brief trip to visit to Rome with her family and parish, she never left her small town and, at her death, was probably known by fewer than two hundred people. Moreover, in her writings, one finds precious little that might be considered explicitly prophetic in terms of social justice. She wrote as a mystic, with a focus on the interior life and on our personal intimacy with Jesus. Not exactly the stuff of protests in the streets. So why did Dorothy Day, whose life looks so different, have an affinity for this young recluse?
Dorothy Day was drawn to Therese’s spirituality because she understood it beyond its popular misconception. Among all known saints, Therese of Lisieux stands out as one of the most popular saints of all time and as one of the most misunderstood saints of all time, and her popularity is part of the problem. Popular devotion has encrusted her person and spirituality in an over-simplistic piety that generally serves to hide her real depth. Therese termed her spirituality “the little way.” Popular piety, for the most part, thinks of her “little way” as a spirituality that invites us to live quiet, humble, simple, anonymous lives wherein we do everything, especially the small humble tasks asked of us, with fidelity and graciousness, unassuming, childlike, grateful to God just to be of service. While there is a lot of truth in that understanding, it misses some of the depth of Therese’s person and spirituality.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

To understand Therese’s “little way” and its connection with justice for the poor, we need to understand certain things in her life that helped constellate the vision that lay behind her “little way.”
Therese of Lisieux had a very complex childhood. On the one hand, her life was touched by deep sadness, not least the death of her mother when Therese was four years old and several bouts of clinical depression from which she nearly died. She did not have an easy walk through childhood. On the other hand, she had an exceptionally graced childhood. She grew up in family of saints who loved her deeply and honored (and often photographed) her every joy and pain. She was also a beautiful young girl, attractive and graced with a disarming warmth and sensitivity. Her family and everyone around her considered her special and precious. She was much loved; but this did not make for a spoiled child. We can never be spoiled by being loved too much, only by being loved badly. Her family loved her purely, and the result was a young woman who opened her heart and person to the world in an exceptional way.
Moreover, as she matured, she began to notice something. She noticed how when she was a child her every tear was noticed, valued, and honored, but that this was not the case for many other people. She recognized that countless people suffer heartbreaks and injustices, endure abuse, are humiliated, live in shame, and shed tears that no one notices and no one cares about. Their pain is not seen, not honored, not valued. From this insight, she articulated this ground metaphor that undergirds her “little way.”
Her words: One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of his divine hands. I felt a pang of great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling on the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive its dew. … I don’t want this precious blood to be lost. I shall spend my life gathering it up for the good of souls.
From this, we see that her “little way” is not about privatized piety, but about noticing and responding to the pain and tears of our world. Metaphorically, it is about noticing and “gathering up” the blood that is dripping from the suffering face of Christ which this face is presently suffering in our world in the faces of the poor, the faces of those who are bleeding and shedding tears because of heartbreak, injustice, poverty, lack of love, and lack of being deemed precious.
Dorothy Day walked the streets of the poor, noticing their blood, drying their tears, trying in her own way to gather them up. Therese did the same thing mystically, deep inside the body of Christ. It is no surprise that Dorothy Day took her as her patron saint.

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

Called by Name

The following is an excerpt (with minor edits) that completes a homily I delivered on the 3rd Sunday of Lent. If you’d like to hear the complete audio plus a reflection on the content, please listen to my podcast “The Discerning Catholic” which can be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. 

The Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, in which Jesus rebukes the ongoing business in the Temple during Passover, demonstrates that “we’ve always done it this way” is an obstacle to evangelization. The Court of the Gentiles is flooded with pilgrims and money changers and believers, and yet their activity is actually making it more difficult for the Gentiles to get a glimpse of what the faith is all about. If we are not careful, we can flood our own parishes and departments with practices that are stuck in their ways, and which can be obstacles to others joining in.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

God will give you the help you need to make changes to your own routine that will bring you closer to him. God will help me take up my cross as I figure out ways to connect with young people that may not be in my wheelhouse. This is how we grow; it is how we become the disciples that we are called to be. And don’t settle for “this is the way it’s always been done” in the Church most of all, please! With the dynamic talent throughout our diocese who knows what can be unleashed when we work together? Bishop Kopacz has put forth a vision which calls us to Embrace Diversity, Serve Others and Inspire Disciples. That is a great place to start. The Bishop is our Shepherd, and we trust that he is Spirit-led in his efforts to build up the diocese, but each one of us has a part to play in bringing this vision about. 

Some might say, “oh these are empty words, they are just a nice thing to slap on a poster.” Well yeah, they are empty until we fill them! And are we? Are we seeking to embrace diversity in a true way? Not in just saying we appreciate other cultures but in engaging and learning about the differences and similarities we have and inviting people to come to mass that are not just in our social circle? In the Vocation Department I want our seminarian poster to “look like” our diocese. I want men from all corners of our boundaries and from all backgrounds, and I need to develop strategies and skills to make that happen. I’m planning on going to brush up on my conversational Spanish this summer in order to connect with the parents of potential Hispanic discerners to keep them in the loop of their son’s journey. Are we serving others? As Vocation Director I need to serve our seminarians and discerners by pouring myself out for them; by spending time listening to their needs and responding. We all are called to do this in our own way with those entrusted to us. And are we inspiring disciples? First of all are we learning from our Good Teacher Jesus and then becoming witnesses to others through that relationship, and is that relationship leading us to be joy-filled and attractive to those who are struggling with their faith?

We can’t just do the same old thing and expect a different result. We must become evangelists to the fullest extent of the term. We cannot only promote that which we are comfortable with about our faith, but we must learn more and more about what Jesus teaches and become so engulfed in God’s love for us that we simply want to do the will of the Father and nothing else. This will lead to a dynamism that is attractive, and which parts the red tape of “we’ve always done it this way” and leads more people through the doors of our parishes and through the doors of the seminary as well!