A priest once told me that Vocation ministry is like watching a tree grow minute by minute; you don’t see immediate results, but that doesn’t mean the growth isn’t happening. That priest was Fr. Mark Shoffner, and he told me that just a couple of weeks ago!
I appreciated that agricultural analogy very much and have been reflecting on it ever since because it mirrors my experience as I look back on the last year of vocation promotion. We just sent out our new poster to parishes and schools in the diocese featuring the faces of our six seminarians, and while there are no new additions this year, there has certainly been growth in our program. I have been so appreciative of the prayers and support of people that I run into across the diocese who know what we are doing and are offering their support in whatever way they can. I look forward to reaching out in new ways in the coming weeks and months to these stakeholders. The awareness of our need for good men from our soil and the excitement that is building among our people is palpable, and I know that growth, though sometimes silent, is occurring.
We also do have our first candidate for women’s religious life from our diocese in quite some time entering formation right now! Ms. Kathleen McMullin has just departed to begin her formation with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois. The mission of this order is to “make the merciful love of Christ visible.” They do this through working in healthcare and education across the world. Kathleen continues to be a great light in our diocese even though she is now a few hours away. Bishop Kopacz and I were honored to attend a “going-away” party hosted by some friends of the McMullins in the Jackson area, and it was really inspiring to see how much love and support she has as she witnesses to the call of Christ to religious life.
Please continue to pray for vocations and also encourage people who you believe may have a call. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you see gifts in them that could serve the Church well. You’d be surprised how many young people have never been encouraged to think about priesthood or religious life and therefore have never believed they were capable of it. I also remind you to please come to our 2nd Annual Homegrown Harvest Festival on October 2nd at St. Paul’s in Flowood. This event will bring together vocation supporters from across the diocese for a night of music, food and fun with our seminarians! You can buy your tickets or sponsor the event by going to one.bidpal.net/homegrownharvest2021. I appreciate your consideration as we want to give as many excellent resources as possible to our future priests and religious.
IN EXILE By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI Nothing so much approximates the language of God as does silence. Meister Eckhart said that.
Among other things, he is affirming that there is some deep inner work that can only be done in silence, alone, in private.
He’s right of course, but there’s another side to this. While there is some deep inner work that can only be done in silence, there is also some deep, critical, soul work that can only be done with others, in relationship, in family, in church and in society. Silence can be a privileged avenue to depth of soul. It can also be dangerous. Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, lived in silence, alone; as have many other deeply disturbed individuals. Mental health professionals tell us that we need interaction with other people to keep us sane. Social interaction grounds us, balances us, and anchors our sanity. I look at some of our young people today who are interacting with others (in person and through social media) every hour of their waking lives and worry for their depth, though not for their sanity.
We need each other. Jean-Paul Sartre once famously stated, “hell is the other person.” He couldn’t be more misguided. In the end, the other is heaven, the salvation for which we are ultimately destined. Utter aloneness is hell. Moreover, this malevolent aloneness can sneak up on you wearing the best altruistic and religious disguises.
Here’s an example: I grew up in a very close-knit family in a small rural community where family, neighbor, parish and being with others meant everything, where everything was shared and you were rarely alone. I feared being alone, avoided it, and was only comfortable when I was with others.
Immediately after high school, I joined a religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and for the next eight years lived in a large community where, again, most everything was shared and one was seldom alone. As I approached final vows and permanent commitment to religious life and priesthood, what I feared most was the vow of celibacy, the loneliness it would bring. No wife, no children, no family; the isolation of a celibate life.
Things turned out very differently. Celibacy has had its cost, admittedly; and admittedly it is not the normal life God intended for everyone. However, the loneliness I feared (but for brief moments) seldom ensued – the opposite. I found my life overly full of relationships, interaction with others, flat-out busyness, daily pressures and commitments that took up virtually every waking hour. Rather than feeling lonely, I found myself almost habitually longing for solitude, for quiet, to be alone; and I grew quite comfortable with being alone. Too comfortable in fact.
For most of the years of my priesthood, I have lived in large religious communities and they, like any family, have their demands. However, when I became president of a School of Theology, I was assigned to live in a house designated for the president and for a period of time lived alone. At first, I found it a bit disorienting, never having lived alone before; but after a while it grew on me. I really liked it. No responsibilities at home to anyone but myself.
Soon enough though, I perceived its dangers. After one year I ended the arrangement. One of the dangers of living alone and one of the dangers of celibacy, even if you are living faithfully, is that you don’t have others to call you out daily and put every kind of demand on you. You get to call your own shots and can avoid much of what Dorothy Day called “the asceticism of living inside a family.” When you live alone, you can too easily plan and live life on your own terms, cherry-picking those parts of family and community that benefit you and avoiding the difficult parts.
There are certain things that begin as virtues then easily turn into a vice. Busyness is an example. You sacrifice being with your family in order to support them by your work and that keeps you from many of its activities. Initially, this is a sacrifice – eventually, it’s an escape, an inbuilt dispensation from having to deal with certain issues inside family life. Vowed celibacy and priesthood court that same danger.
We all know the expression, ‘I am spiritual but not religious’ (which we apply to people who are open to dealing with God but not open to dealing with church). However, we struggle with this in more ways than we might think. At least I do. As a vowed, celibate priest, ‘I can be spiritual but not religious’ in that, for the highest of reasons, I can avoid much of the daily asceticism demanded of someone living in a family. However, this is a danger for all of us, celibate or married. When, for every kind of good reason we can cherry-pick those parts of family and community we like and avoid those parts we find difficult, we are spiritual but not religious.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)
GUEST COLUMN By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC A wise man is silent till the right time comes, but a boasting fool ignores the proper time. Ecclesiastes: 20:6
Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling ignored or brushed aside? It usually happens when we tell someone something about ourselves that is either exciting, sad or upsetting. You share something big only to find yourself on a completely different subject about the other person moments later. Have you ever wondered how or why this happens?
It’s happens when information you are sharing triggers a thought in the listener about themselves. That is normal enough and even to be expected. However, it can prevent opportunities to truly listen to one another. Immediately changing the subject is an ineffective form of communication.
In training to be a counselor, I was taught listening skills. There are entire textbooks devoted to listening skills. I doubt any of us would want to ‘listen’ to all that. I think it can be reduced to what I refer to as: the two-sentence rule.
• When somebody shares something about themselves, ask at least two sentences that has to do with what they just said. Ask them before moving on to what that reminds you of – namely, yourself. Try asking questions beginning with who, what, where, when or how; but never why. For example: When did it start? How did it go? Who else was there? What got you interested in that? Or, where were you? Those are called open ended questions.
• Starting a sentence with ‘why’ puts the other person on the defensive. Most of us don’t know why it happened, why it made us so upset or excited or sad. ‘Why’ often shuts down the conversation.
• Remember, a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. When people interrupt too quickly with, “Well I…” – the subject is about to shift. A conversation is an exchange of thoughts, feelings, or ideas between two or more people – a two-way street.
• The two-sentence rule is easy to remember and a good way to catch yourself. Any more than two sentences could seem like probing. Any less than two sentences could seem uninterested. Pay attention to how many times you start a sentence with, “Well, I …” If a horn honked every time you start a sentence with “I,” would it sound like a car alarm was going off? I … I … I … I
• If you don’t care to listen, don’t ask the person a question.
The two-sentence rule is not meant to be complicated or rigid. In fact, you can skip the two-sentence rule if you check your mindfulness. Check and see if you are listening and genuinely care. If so, slow down thoughts of yourself enough to be mindful of the other person, at least for two sentences.
Wonder who, what, where or how they are feeling, when they come away from a conversation with you. We can all learn more from truly listening rather than simply hearing.
(Reba J. McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for over 25 years. She continues to work as a mental health consultant, public speaker and freelance writer in Jackson, Mississippi. Reba can be reached at email@example.com.)
From the hermitage By sister alies therese Must say I am grateful that my prayers do not take as much time to reach the ear of God as the post takes to travel from Jackson to my hermitage less than two hours away! Somehow even the post has been attacked by ‘the twisties.’ I read plenty this summer and was filled with great excitement, mystery, several sides of politics, spiritual action and joy. I also spent time drafting short stories – my favorite format. For recreation I took in some Olympics (both). The sheer determination, perseverance and desire of athletes outweighed any gold, silver or bronze medal.
The bravery of Simone Biles, a Black Catholic, to come forth despite ‘the twisties’ was impressive and showed real Olympic gold, despite her bronze. She and others admitted the truth (i.e., human with limitations) and reminded me that expectations of others can also be set aside in favor of a deeper truth.
I re-read, The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don José Ruiz. At the end of the second chapter, they state: “What is real we cannot change, and it doesn’t matter what we believe.” Quite powerful, especially with the political and church discourses currently in flow. They explained it this way: “The truth does not need you to believe it; the truth simply is, and it survives whether you believe it or not. Lies need you to believe them. If you don’t believe lies, they don’t survive your skepticism, and they simply disappear.” (page 99)
With ‘the twisties’ a gymnast cannot tell up from down. Other than being in the air, there is no truth for them and that causes the danger. Body, mind and soul are muddled and no matter where the athlete thinks is up … it may not be so.
September is a glorious month, on the edge of summer and fall, contributing to weather changes. Each season, though not always as dramatic in one place as in another, was set to help us, to nourish us, to provide for all of Creation. We can see the drastic interruption of seasons both by the long-term picture of normal global development, and the constant contribution to climate change by our (my) unwillingness to cut back, change plans, see the truth, and stop calling it something else. The twisties prevail.
A U.N. report gives us a ‘red card’ for irresponsible, unsafe behavior. Normal global development is well authenticated over millions of years … once we were under ice, a volcano sits deep under Jackson Stadium, and various aspects of nature seemed to disappear of their own accord. Today, however, we are also aware that portions of God’s marvelous Creation are exterminated, eliminated, and endangered because of our (my) failure to look at the truth and act. COVID asks us (me) to move from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ If vaccinations are necessary to protect others, get one. If masks are helpful to mitigate symptoms and decrease the power of the virus, wear one. No brainer. Do not let ‘the twisties’ get you. Part of the dilemma might be – how do I know the truth? How do I find out? One way, not unlike our gymnastic friends … is to step away from all our flying about, sit quietly and consider.
Pray. There are plentiful definitions of prayer in the Catechism and Compendium. As the gymnasts want to freely fly in the air all the time; we want to always pray and act for the common good. Like this definition in the Compendium: “576. Praying is always possible because the time of the Christian is the time of the risen Christ who remains ‘with you always.’ (Matthew 28:20)
Prayer and Christian life are therefore inseparable: ‘It is possible to offer frequent and fervent prayer even at the marketplace or strolling alone. It is possible also in your place of business, while buying or selling, or even while cooking.’ St. John Chrysostom.”
The truth is unmasked by the actual things we do, think or say. With God’s help, we can work our way out of a twistie if we find ourselves entrapped. Others might choose to complain and create spinning stories that unfortunately affect more people than we would like to believe. What was once just an idea over a cold drink became something with legs that ran downhill, full of twisties. And people died. (Consider January 6, 2021.)
Do we use the phrase ‘practicing our faith’ with ease? Does it need more attention? Ask a gymnast or any athlete (or musician), what ‘practicing’ means. And what is the cost? If you run into ‘the twisties’ step back, breathe and pray. It is indeed the ‘truth’ that sets us free.
(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)
El reciente documental del New York Times sobre el valiente periodismo de investigación de Jason Berry ha vuelto a fijar nuestra mirada en la tragedia duradera de la crisis de abuso sexual en la Iglesia Católica Romana.
Además de narrar la cruzada de una década de Berry para exponer el papel de la jerarquía estadounidense en la protección de sacerdotes sexualmente depredadores, la película incluye el testimonio abrasador de Berry sobre los grandes costos emocionales, espirituales y financieros de decir la verdad en la iglesia.
Escuchar a Berry relatar su decisión de alejarse de la peligrosa lucha por la justicia para centrarse en su familia y su bienestar mental es desgarrador. Uno no puede evitar llorar por él y por todos los que se han atrevido a documentar y protestar por las devastadoras historias de pecado de abuso y violencia de la iglesia frente al silencio, la indiferencia y la enemistad.
Esto es especialmente cierto en el caso de las personas negras, víctimas de abuso sexual de la iglesia.
A principios de este año, un panel de eruditos y sacerdotes católicos negros, convocados por la Universidad de Fordham, para confrontar las causas y el legado del abuso sexual por parte del clero argumentó que el racismo sistémico ha agravado la crisis en las comunidades negras, dejando a la mayoría de los sobrevivientes negros invisibles e incapaces de acceder al sistema y mecanismos formales de la iglesia para testificar sobre los abusos sufridos para hacer justicia.
El hecho de que la mayoría de los académicos y periodistas estadounidenses no consideren las raíces de la crisis de abuso sexual en la participación fundamental y principal de la iglesia en la institución de la esclavitud en las Américas también ha ayudado en gran medida a borrar a los sobrevivientes católicos negros.
Si bien se ha prestado una mínima atención académica y popular a la explotación sexual de personas negras esclavizadas y negros libres, por parte de sacerdotes y hermanas, antes de la abolición de la esclavitud en los Estados Unidos; la iglesia, en los primeros archivos y registros judiciales de las Américas, tiene abundantes ejemplos.
De hecho, uno de los primeros casos que documentan el abuso sexual del clero y su resistencia en las Américas surge de Lima, Perú, que dio a la iglesia la primera santa afrodescendiente del “Nuevo Mundo”, así como una gran cantidad de hombres santos y mujeres negros que trabajaron contra su voluntad en los primeros conventos y monasterios estadounidenses.
El 9 de agosto de 1659, una mujer negra esclavizada llamada Ana María de Velasco presentó una denuncia en el tribunal eclesiástico de Lima contra su sacerdote y propietario, Pedro de Velasco. La denuncia de Ana reveló que el primer clérigo la había “acechado y golpeado y la había obligado a vivir aislada con sus dos hijos pequeños para encubrir su pecaminosa convivencia.”
Antes de esto, Ana estuvo cautiva en un convento local de monjas. Esta mujer católica negra esclavizada no solo luchó contra su abuso, sino que también buscó un remedio legal, específicamente para cambiar de dueño, reducir su precio de compra y en última instancia, asegurar su libertad.
La historia de Ana María de Velasco sacada a la luz en la monografía de 2016, meticulosamente investigada de Michelle A. McKinley, “Libertades fraccionarias: esclavitud, intimidad y movilización legal en Lima colonial, 1600-1700”, demuestra que las mujeres negras esclavizadas estuvieron entre las pioneras de los fieles en utilizar los tribunales para documentar y protestar contra el abuso sexual del clero en la Iglesia Católica en las Américas.
También sirve como un anteproyecto importante para académicos, investigadores y periodistas comprometidos con la recuperación de la historia, aún mayormente oculta, de la esclavitud católica en América del Norte.
Ya tenemos documentación de sacerdotes franceses que mantenían a mujeres negras como concubinas y engendraban a sus hijos en la Luisiana colonial. También sabemos que los jesuitas en Missouri solían desnudar a las mujeres esclavizadas antes de azotarlas. Sin embargo, se necesita una investigación más sustancial y basada en principios sobre la violencia inherente de la esclavitud católica en los Estados Unidos y Canadá.
A medida que los líderes de la iglesia y fieles continúan teniendo en cuenta la crisis de abuso sexual, especialmente a raíz de la inminente investigación federal de las escuelas residenciales indias dirigidas por sacerdotes y hermanas europeos y estadounidenses blancos, es imperativo que busquemos completamente debajo de la alfombra para exponer y recuperar las historias de todas las víctimas de esta violencia inexcusable, incluso en el contexto de la esclavitud.
También debemos recordar decir los nombres de mujeres católicas negras valientes en la historia de la iglesia como Ana María de Velasco, quien frente a probabilidades aparentemente insuperables documentó y protestó por esta violencia que, a su vez, aseguró libertades y protecciones críticas para ellas y sus hijos durante una de los capítulos más oscuros de la historia católica.
(Shannen Dee Williams es profesora asociada de historia en la Universidad de Dayton, Ohio. Ella escribe la columna de Catholic News Service, “La Cruz de Griot”. Foto del CNS / John C. Shetron, cortesía de la Universidad de Villanova)
Nada se aproxima tanto al lenguaje de Dios como el silencio. Meister Eckhart dijo eso.
Entre otras cosas, está afirmando que hay un profundo trabajo interior que solo se puede hacer en silencio, solo, en privado.
Tiene razón, por supuesto, pero hay otro lado de esto. Si bien hay un trabajo interno profundo que solo se puede hacer en silencio, también hay un trabajo profundo y crítico del alma que solo se puede hacer con otros, en las relaciones, en la familia, en la iglesia y en la sociedad. El silencio puede ser una avenida privilegiada hacia la profundidad del alma. También puede ser peligroso. El terrorista Ted Kaczynski, conocido como el “Unabomber”, vivía en silencio, solo, al igual que muchas otras personas profundamente perturbadas.
Los profesionales de la salud mental nos dicen que necesitamos la interacción con otras personas para mantenernos cuerdos. La interacción social nos sostiene, nos equilibra y ancla nuestra cordura. Miro a algunos de nuestros jóvenes de hoy, que están interactuando con otros, en persona y/o a través de las redes sociales, cada hora de su vida de vigilia y me preocupo por su profundidad, aunque no por su cordura.
Nos necesitamos el uno al otro. Jean-Paul Sartre dijo una vez que “el infierno es la otra persona.” No podría estar más equivocado. Al final, el otro en el cielo, la salvación a la que finalmente estamos destinados. La soledad absoluta es el infierno. Además, esta soledad malévola puede acercarte sigilosamente con los mejores disfraces altruistas y religiosos.
Aquí hay un ejemplo: Crecí en una familia muy unida en una pequeña comunidad rural donde la familia, el vecino, la parroquia y estar con los demás significaban todo, donde todo se compartía y rara vez estabas solo. Temía estar solo, lo evitaba y solo me sentía cómodo cuando estaba con otras personas.
Inmediatamente después de la secundaria, me uní a una orden religiosa, los Oblatos de María Inmaculada, y durante los siguientes ocho años viví en una gran comunidad donde, nuevamente, casi todo se compartía y uno rara vez estaba solo. A medida que me acercaba a los votos perpetuos y al compromiso permanente con la vida religiosa y el sacerdocio, lo que más temía era el voto de celibato, la soledad que traería. Sin esposa, sin hijos, sin familia, el aislamiento de una vida célibe.
Las cosas resultaron de manera muy diferente. El celibato ha tenido su costo, es cierto; y hay que reconocer que no es la vida normal que Dios quería para todos. Sin embargo, la soledad que temía (pero por breves momentos) rara vez se produjo, al contrario. Encontré mi vida demasiado llena de relaciones, interacción con los demás, ajetreo total, presiones diarias y compromisos que ocupaban prácticamente cada hora de vigilia. En lugar de sentirme solo, me encontré casi habitualmente anhelando la soledad, el silencio, estar solo, y me sentí bastante cómodo estando solo. Demasiado cómodo de hecho.
Durante la mayor parte de los años de mi sacerdocio, he vivido en grandes comunidades religiosas y ellas, como cualquier familia, tienen sus demandas. Sin embargo, cuando me convertí en presidente de una Facultad de Teología, me asignaron vivir en una casa designada para el presidente y durante un tiempo viví solo. Al principio, lo encontré un poco desorientador, nunca antes había vivido solo; pero después de un tiempo creció en mí. Realmente me gustó. No tengo responsabilidades en casa con nadie más que conmigo mismo.
Sin embargo, pronto percibí sus peligros. Después de un año terminé el arreglo. Uno de los peligros de vivir solo y uno de los peligros del celibato, incluso si vive fielmente, es que no tiene a otros que lo llamen a diario y le hagan todo tipo de exigencias. Tienes la oportunidad de tomar tus propias decisiones y puedes evitar mucho lo que Dorothy Day llamó “el ascetismo de vivir dentro de una familia.”
Cuando se vive solo, se puede planificar y vivir la vida en sus propios términos con demasiada facilidad, eligiendo las partes de la familia y la comunidad que lo benefician y evitando las partes difíciles.
Hay ciertas cosas que comienzan como virtudes y luego se convierten fácilmente en un vicio. El ajetreo es un ejemplo. Sacrificas estar con tu familia para poder apoyarlos con tu trabajo y eso te aleja de muchas de sus actividades. Inicialmente, esto es un sacrificio; eventualmente, es un escape, una dispensa incorporada de tener que lidiar con ciertos problemas dentro de la vida familiar.
El celibato jurado y el sacerdocio cortejan ese mismo peligro. Todos conocemos la expresión, soy espiritual pero no religioso, que aplicamos a las personas que están abiertas a tratar con Dios pero que no están abiertas a tratar con la iglesia. Sin embargo, luchamos con esto. Al menos yo lo hago. Como sacerdote célibe declarado, puedo ser espiritual pero no religioso en el sentido de que, por la más alta de las razones, puedo evitar gran parte del ascetismo diario que se exige a alguien que vive en una familia. Sin embargo, esto es un peligro para todos, célibes o casados. Cuando, por toda clase de buenas razones, podemos seleccionar con precisión las partes de la familia y la comunidad que nos gustan y evitar las que nos resultan difíciles, somos espirituales, pero no religiosos.
(El padre oblato Ron Rolheiser es un teólogo, maestro y autor galardonado.
Thanks to all the pastors and parish staffs who hosted seminarians this summer. It is vital that our future priests have
positive experiences working with the People of God in our diocese, so thanks to St. Joseph Starkville, St. Paul Vicksburg, St. Peter Jackson, St. Joseph Greenville and Our Lady of Victories Cleveland for hosting our men. Also thanks to Father Scott Thomas, Father Mark Shoffner and the staff at St. Mary Basilica in Natchez as they continue to work with Deacon Andrew Bowden during his internship, which will last until mid-October.
SAVE THE DATE(s) Our 2nd Annual Homegrown Harvest Festival is set for Oct. 2 at St. Paul in Flowood. This celebration of vocations and seminarians in our diocese will be a great opportunity for the people of the diocese get to know our current seminarians and also learn how they can support vocations in the coming year. Our fundraising goal is $100,000 to go toward our operating budget for the year. I will be sending out a Flocknote with much more information very soon, but if you want to buy tickets or sponsor the event you can go to one.bidpal.net/homegrownharvest2021 – right now!
Deacon Andrew Bowden is scheduled to be ordained to the presbyterate at 10:30 a.m. on May 14, 2022 at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle; Carlisle Beggerly will be ordained to the diaconate in preparation for priesthood at 10:30 a.m. on June 4, 2022 at his home parish – Immaculate Conception in West Point. Please mark these dates on your calendar!
Our Quo Vadis discernment days were such a hit this summer that we are going to be offering another young men’s discernment retreat Friday, Nov. 19 through Sunday, Nov. 21. The Diocese of Baton Rouge will also be taking part. I will be extending invitations to young men that I know may be interested, but if there are young men that you want to invite, please let me know and I will get them all the information!
If you want to know more about becoming a priest or religious brother or sister, please contact Father Nick at 601-969-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about vocations by visiting to www.jacksonpriests.com.
Follow vocations on Facebook and Instagram: @jacksonpriests
IN EXILE By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI Several weeks ago after giving a lecture at a religious conference, the first question from the audience was this one: How can you continue to stay in a church that played such a pivotal part in setting up and maintaining residential schools for the indigenous people of Canada? How can you stay in a church that did that?
The question is legitimate and important. Both in its history and in its present, the church has enough sin to legitimize the question. The list of sins done in the name of the church is long: the Inquisition, its support for slavery, its role in colonialism, its link to racism, its role in thwarting women’s rights, and its endless historical and present compromises with white supremacy, big money and political power. Its critics are sometimes excessive and unbalanced, but, for the most part, the church is guilty as charged.
However, this guilt isn’t unique to the church. The same charges might be leveled against any of the countries in which we live. How can we stay in a country that has a history of racism, slavery, colonialism, genocide of some of its indigenous peoples, radical inequality between its rich and its poor, one that is callous to desperate refugees on its borders, and one within which millions of people hate each other? Isn’t it being rather selective morally to say that I am ashamed to be a Catholic (or a Christian) when the nations we live in share the same history and the same sins?
Still, since the church is supposed to be leaven for a society and not just a mirror of it, the question is valid. Why stay in the church? There are good apologetic answers on this, but, at the end of the day, for each of us, the answer has to be a personal one. Why do I stay in the church?
First, because the church is my mother tongue. It gave me the faith, taught me about God, gave me God’s word, taught me to pray, gave me the sacraments, showed me what virtue looks like, and put me in contact with some living saints. Moreover, despite all its shortcomings, it was for me authentic enough, altruistic enough, and pure enough to have the moral authority to ask me to entrust my soul to it, a trust I’ve not given any other communal entity. I’m very comfortable worshipping with other religions and sharing soul with non-believers, but in the church in which I was raised, I recognize home, my mother tongue.
Second, the church’s history is not univocal. I recognize its sins and openly acknowledge them, but that’s far from its full reality. The church is also the church of martyrs, of saints, of infinite generosity, and of millions of women and men with big, noble hearts who are my moral exemplars. I stand in the darkness of its sins; but I also stand in the light of its grace, of all the good things it has done in history.
Finally, and most important, I stay in the church because the church is all we’ve got! There’s no other place to go. I identify with the ambivalent feeling that rushed through Peter when, just after hearing Jesus say something which had everyone else walk away from him, Peter was asked, “do you want to walk away too?” and he (speaking for all the disciples) replied: “We’d like to, but we have no place else to go. Besides we recognize that, despite everything, you still have the words of everlasting life.”
In essence, Peter is saying, “Jesus, we don’t get you, and what we get we often don’t like. But we know we’re better off not getting it with you than going any place else. Dark moments notwithstanding, you’re all we’ve got!”
The church is all we’ve got! Where else can we go? Behind the expression, ‘I am spiritual, but not religious’ (however sincerely uttered) lies either an invincible failure or a culpable reluctance to deal with the necessity of religious community, to deal with what Dorothy Day called “the asceticism of church life.” To say, I cannot or will not deal with an impure religious community is an escape, a self-serving exit, which at the end of the day is not very helpful, not least for the person saying it. Why? Because for compassion to be effective it needs to be collective, given the truth that what we dream alone remains a dream but what we dream with others can become a reality. I cannot see anything outside the church that can save this world.
There is no pure church anywhere for us to join, just as there is no pure country anywhere for us in which to live. This church, for all its checkered history and compromised present, is all we have. We need to own its faults since they are our faults. Its history is our history; its sin, our sin; and its family, our family – the only lasting family we’ve got.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)
On Ordinary Times By Lucia A. Silecchia Recently – when it was still July – a friend sent me a text from the supermarket with a photo of a Halloween candy display in the aisle. I expected that the Halloween blitz would be coming soon. Yet, “back-to-school” sales are still in full swing and, in my mind, August is still summer!
I guess I should not have been surprised. After all, I did see “back-to-school” sales advertised in June, making me wonder how someone could possibly go back to school before even leaving school for the summer. Perhaps Halloween candy must be sold in the summer so that Christmas decorations can come out right after Labor Day and Valentine’s Day cards can be on the shelves the day after Christmas. Of course, they too will disappear quickly so that the Easter candy can come out before Lent even begins. Maybe next year, Halloween costumes can be on the shelves in June.
Why the rush?
I appreciate the joy of anticipation. I understand the need to plan. I know the satisfaction of checking things off a “to do” list early. Yet, as the race through the months seems to accelerate every year, I have to wonder why.
I know much of this is driven by commercial interests. The longer that products sit on the shelves the better it is from a consumption perspective.
Yet, I worry that this also reflects an all-too common and, I fear, growing tendency to anticipate our tomorrows at the expense of treasuring our todays.
I’ve done this myself. From the time I was a toddler and well-meaning adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, tomorrow seemed like an exciting place to be. When I was in kindergarten, the most adventurous thing in the world seemed to be starting “real school” in the first grade. Then, like most eighth graders, high school seemed to be a great journey on the horizon. Then, in high school it was college, in college it was graduate school, in graduate school, it was a first job, and then a second job, and then moves and new escapades were eagerly planned and anticipated.
But, as time goes by and I have gotten older, I am starting to realize two things.
First, time seems to be passing by far too quickly on its own. My parents warned me this would happen and, as with so many things, they were right. Thus, I am coming to resist all of those things that try to, artificially, hasten time along. Halloween can wait when these precious weeks of summer still linger.
Second, and more importantly, I am coming to appreciate the way that today holds so many joys – and sorrows, too, – that I will miss if I constantly keep my eyes on what will come next. Prudence and planning for tomorrow are important parts of adult life. But so too is realizing that the 1,440 minutes that God has given me today deserve my full attention, deep gratitude and wise use. I have no promise of anything beyond today. Indeed, if I have learned anything this past year and a half, it is that precise planning for the future is so often impossible.
But what is possible is to wake up grateful for the gift of today. To look at the people I love and be grateful for their presence today. To pray for my “daily bread” without demanding the long-term meal plan – confident in the assurance that God will provide what I need for today. Seeing a blazing sunset, a friendly stranger or wide-eyed kitten are the joys of today. Hearing my phone ring, or a favorite song, or those cherished words “I love you,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Thank you” or “Don’t worry” are the joys of today. Feeling a friend’s embrace, a summer breeze or the sand of a beach are the joys of today. Smelling a late summer rose, fresh bread, or a whiff of hearty food are the joys of today. Having quiet moments alone with God and hectic hours with the people I love are the joys of today.
I pray that there will be blessings that fill your tomorrows and mine. But, as I get older, those words “tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:34) mean more to me. I understand them a bit more now. I understand a little more with each day that races by how precious each one is – even those days that are hard.
I hope that when I shop for my Halloween candy in October, there is still some left for me. (If not, I’m sure I can get Christmas candy canes then.) But for now, I still want to hold on to the gift that is August. The gift that is now. The gift that is today. I want to walk, not race, through ordinary time.
(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at email@example.com.)
Reflections on Life By Melvin Arrington Among the saints with an August feast day is Santo Domingo de Guzmán – St. Dominic (1170-1221) – founder of the Dominican Order, the Order of Preachers (O.P.). Born in North-Central Spain, he began his religious life as a contemplative, but when he was in his mid-30s Pope Innocent III sent him to the south of France on a preaching campaign in an effort to halt the spread of the Albigensian heresy sweeping across the land. The Albigensians taught that all material things, including the body and human sexuality, were evil; they saw extreme austerity as the only way to achieve perfection. Dominic preached relentlessly against these false doctrines, countering the bizarre practices of the heretics by walking barefoot across the countryside and enduring other mortifications, all the while praising God.
Dominic and the friars who gathered around him devoted themselves to intellectual life and preaching the Gospel. Formal papal approval for the Order came in 1216, but some 10 years earlier in France Dominic had already organized a group of women converts from Albigensianism, establishing a convent in Prouille. So, interestingly, Dominican sisters actually predate the friars.
As stories arose about his life, the line separating historical fact from tradition and legend gradually became blurred. One example concerns how he got his name. While on a pilgrimage to the shrine of 11th century Spanish saint Domingo de Silos, Dominic’s mother had a vision of a dog leaping from her womb and carrying a torch that lit up the world. Later, when she gave birth to a son, she named him Dominic, in honor of the namesake of the abbey she had visited. Thus, the Dominicans became known as the Hounds of the Lord, in Latin domini canes.
Illustrative of Dominic’s charity is this anecdote from his student days, during a time of famine in Spain. In an effort to alleviate suffering, he sold all his possessions, including his cherished books, giving the proceeds to the poor. His life of self-denial and personal holiness would be totally foreign to today’s self-absorbed, pleasure-seeking culture.
Dominic is often associated with the origin of the Rosary. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary, appeared to him in a vision and gave him the first Rosary. Early on, the Dominicans were the ones largely responsible for spreading this Catholic devotion throughout Europe.
Concerning his love of books and learning and his devotion to Sacred Scripture, it was said that he always carried copies of Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s letters wherever he went and that he knew all those texts by heart. Through prayer and study he and his friars equipped themselves for teaching and preaching, thereby combining the contemplative life with the active, something that had not been done before on such a broad scale.
I feel connected to this saint in several ways, not the least of which is that I was born in St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson, not the sprawling complex off I-55 at Lakeland, but the original one, the former Jackson Infirmary, located on North President Street, just off Capitol Street. The Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, acquired the old hospital in 1946. In 1954 operations moved to the current location, where my sister was born.
My mother, a nurse, spent much of her career at St. Dominic’s. When I was a little boy, I would often go with Daddy to the hospital to pick her up after her shift. When we entered the building, I would inevitably encounter one of the sisters moving down the hallway in our direction at a rapid pace. I just knew she was coming to get me. In those days a Dominican nun typically wore a voluminous, free-flowing tunic, topped off with a headpiece that was imposing, to say the least. The sisters looked like nothing I had ever seen before, and I was scared to death of all of them.
Mama had several surgeries and procedures performed at St. Dominic’s and Daddy passed away there after suffering a massive heart attack. So, my family has long had close ties to the hospital.
Another link with Dominic concerns the fact that he was Spanish. During college and graduate school, I majored in Spanish language, literature and culture. Before I became Catholic, I was moved by the holiness and spirituality of the Spanish saints I read about. Those studies played some role in my conversion, as did the strong faith of my wife, who received her first 12 years of formal education from the Adrian Dominicans in Detroit.
In a recently published study, Saint Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God, Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP, and Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, OP, offer valuable insights into the saintly path followed by this great man of God, whom they characterize as a “hidden saint.” Other holy men, like Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola, were more famous, in part due to their striking conversion stories and their influential writings. Dominic, on the other hand, grew up in the church, and he left behind practically nothing in the way of written texts. Nevertheless, his legacy is formidable, especially when one considers his Order’s contributions across the centuries and around the world.
When Pope Honorius III officially confirmed Dominic’s preaching mission, he encouraged him to strive to spread the Gospel by remaining “insistent in season and out of season.” He faithfully carried out this mandate until the day of his death, which occurred 800 years ago, on Aug. 6, 1221. We celebrate his feast day in the summertime, on Aug. 8, but he is truly a saint for all seasons.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)