Motherhood, steward for life

Stewardship paths
By Julia Williams
JACKSON – The month of May is a special month because it is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year, we celebrate two important Marian feasts during this month: Our Lady of Fatima on May 13 and The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31.

May is also dedicated to recognizing moms, grandmothers, stepmoms, mothers-to-be and all women who, in and through their lives, encompass the qualities of motherhood.

When we talk about Christian stewardship, we talk about sacrificially returning to God what we have been given. What can more clearly be a demonstration of complete sacrifice than the relationship between mother and child during the nine months of growth in the womb?

All mothers should look to Mary as their model for motherhood and ask her intercession as they strive to fulfill their God-given role in their children’s lives.

During the month of May, let us all take some time to express our appreciation to our mothers for allowing us to come into this world, for loving us, and for serving as an example of what it means to be a steward for life.

(To subscribe to the monthly Stewardship PATHS newsletter, scan the QR code or email julia.williams@jacksondiocese.org. Excerpts: bigcatholics.blogspot.com)

Virgin Mary, Jan van Eyck, 1426-1429 (Public Domain)

Ardent longing

From the Hermitage
By sister alies therese
In Madeleine L’Engle’s marvelous Wrinkle in Time, Meg learns what to long for in darkness and foreboding. When she discovered Mrs. Whatsit loved her, Meg could use it. Only hatred and deception filled It, yet by love, Meg would make all things well again, despite her fears. The more she insisted she loved her brother Charles Wallace, the more he was freed from It’s powerful falsehoods to become himself again; freedom reigned, and they escaped. I wonder if Julian saw something like this in her shewings, her wrinkle in time; the passion being full of hatred and darkness yet ultimately exposing great love?

“In a world that is in danger of losing sight of the fact that ‘all shall be well,’ Julian’s soteriology has something to contribute to hope…unity between all things: God, creation and humanity…it generates hope that our present experience of divine love will come to eschatological fruition for all creation, all things, in the fulness of God’s time.” (Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfillment: The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich, Kerrie Hide)

Consider some similarities: Julian (1342-1416) was surrounded by plague…the Black Death killed over 55,000 in Norfolk when she was six. The Hundreds’ Year war, peasant revolts, the troubled reign of Richard II, prosecution of heresy, and the Great Schism splitting the Latin and Eastern rites were among top news items. Today’s issues are sadly familiar. Many languish looking for hope, wondering what to desire.

To discover the hope and joy that Julian will finally tell us about, this ‘all shall be well,’ invites us into the search to discover the demon of deception who tries to overcome God’s kindness. We find Julian disclosing her encounters with Jesus in her book.

Sister alies therese

What did the revelations on May 8, 1373, unveil? God’s love for all He had created. The first fifteen came three days after pain left her during a near-death experience; the sixteenth came after a gap where she was confronted by the devil in frightening darkness. God’s love keeps and sustains all and though there is sin, God looks on all God has made with pity, does not blame, and assures us that ‘all will be well.’

Julian was in her 30’s when she picked up her cat, moved with her maid, and set off to pray in an anchorhold, rooms attached to the church. The local Bishop sealed her in with a liturgy of the dead and consecration, and she never left, speaking only to her maid, the priest and those who came to her window for consolation facing the busy streets of Norwich, then England’s second-largest city.

“Concerning my third petition, I conceived a very great desire to receive three wounds: the wound of true contrition, the wound of natural compassion, and the wound of fullhearted longing for God.” (Revelations of Divine Love, Intro)

God answered her plea.

What do I ardently long for? Julian’s three gifts are stark in our world of opposites. The wounds are central to her life, and she says: “…in grief and sorrow, I said this to my Lord, in fear and trembling: ‘Oh good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin?’” (chapter 29)

In chapter 31, the good Lord answered with this: “I am able to make all things well, and I shall make all things well. And you will see for yourself that all manner of thing shall be well.”

Consider this: “Find delight in the Lord, who will give you your heart’s desires.” (Psalms 37:4) Jesus will quote from this psalm when teaching the beatitudes: “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and will delight in great prosperity.” (37:11) These ‘meek’ are those ‘overwhelmed by want,’ the anawim, and ‘denotes those who are aware of their dependence upon God.’ (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 532). Those deceived are sure they are in control. Julian, however, like these anawim, banked on Jesus whose: “Hidden dynamism was at work by which all manner of thing would be well. This ‘secret,’ this act which the Lord keeps hidden is the full fruit of the Parousia. It is not just that ‘Jesus comes,’ but Jesus comes to reveal with God’s final answer to all the world’s anguish…the ‘great deed’ the Lord will do on that day, not of destruction and revenge, but of mercy and life…all will be made right in spite of all its sorrow. The ‘wise heart’ remains in hope and contradiction…fixed on the secret.” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton)

Finally, Julian wants to reveal this love, this joy, this ‘secret’ Merton speaks of. In chapter 14 she shares: “I saw in my imagination heaven, and our Lord as the head of the house, who had invited all dear servants and friends to a great feast. The Lord occupied no one place in particular in the house, but presided regally over it all, suffusing it with joy and cheer. Utterly at home, and with perfect courtesy, Jesus was the eternal happiness and comfort of friends, the marvelous music of unending love showing in the beauty of His blessed face full of joy and delight.”

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

Lady Julian of Norwich, lesson of hope

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
The acclaimed English mystic known to us as Lady or Dame Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich (c. 1342-1416) was, in all likelihood, a Benedictine nun whose birth name has been lost to history. Lady Julian lived during the 14th century, an age that historian Barbara Tuchman in her study A Distant Mirror characterized as “calamitous.” Those were indeed dark and perilous times besieged by plague, wars, pogroms, famines and schism. Yet, despite all the societal upheavals and her own personal tribulations, Julian remained surprisingly upbeat and hopeful.

In 1373 she became deathly ill, a condition she had actually prayed for in an effort to become united with Christ in suffering. On May 8 of that year, while near death, Julian received 16 visions (or “showings”) of Our Lord, beginning with the Crown of Thorns. Although claiming to be a “simple unlettered creature” (probably a reference to not knowing Latin), she wrote, not long after her recovery, a volume of meditations based on these visions. This work, Revelations of Divine Love, now considered a classic of Western spirituality, is also noteworthy for being the first book in English authored by a woman.

Julian produced two versions of the Revelations, both written in Middle English: the “short text,” containing 25 chapters, composed shortly after receiving the “showings,” and the “long text,” consisting of 86 chapters, written over a period of twenty years. The latter offered a more detailed account as a way of explaining and clarifying the meaning of the visions.

Following her brush with death, she withdrew from the world and lived the remainder of her life as an anchorite or, to use the feminine form, anchoress, an urban recluse, confined to a small, cell-like room attached or “anchored” to the outer wall of the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England – the same church by whose name we know her today. She spent those last years meditating on the 16 revelations and offering spiritual advice to all who came to seek her council.

I first became interested in the life and writings of this holy woman last fall while recovering from a life-threatening illness. Unlike Julian’s infirmity, which she had asked God for, mine was thrust upon me. I remember the emergency room physician telling me, “Well, it looks like you’re going to survive.” What? Wait a minute! Survive? My situation couldn’t be that grave! But it was, and as I soon learned, I was facing several months of medication therapy and recovery time. Later in that conversation the doctor remarked that he couldn’t figure out how I had made it to the hospital alive. Here’s my explanation: God must have intervened on my behalf and performed a miracle because He had something more for me to do. Miracles do happen, and when they occur, it’s for a reason.

To the modern-day observer the fact that Julian would pray for an illness that would cause terrible suffering and bring her to the door of death is beyond perplexing. Was this unusual petition made in an effort to purge some mortal sin? We don’t know. But clearly, she believed that through her agony she could draw nearer to Jesus. As for me, my ordeal brought me closer to Our Lord in a way I had never known before and gave me a renewed sense of hope. He can truly bring forth good from a bad situation. (Romans 8:28)

According to the Catechism, by the theological virtue of hope “we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (1817) Furthermore, this virtue “keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.” (1818) The Catechism adds that hope “affords us joy even under trial.” (1820) During Julian’s close encounter with death she could claim this joy because of the reassuring words Our Lord had spoken to her, the same words we remember her by today: “I am able to make all things well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Although sometimes referred to with the title “Saint” or “Blessed,” this remarkable English mystic was never officially canonized or beatified. Nevertheless, the church commemorates her on May 13; in addition, the Catechism (313) cites her as an authority. The important lessons she can teach us may be summarized as follows: we all have a cross we must bear, and no matter the weight of that cross, no matter the trials and tribulations we face, the severity of the affliction or the intensity of the pain we have to endure – in short, no matter how bad it gets – “All shall be well.” As Archbishop Sheen says, “We need never fear the outcome of the battle of life; we need never ask whether we will win or lose. Why, we have already won, only the news has not yet leaked out!”

Lady Julian of Norwich was able to proclaim “all shall be well” because she could see the big picture. Her hope was based not just on this life but also on a longing for union with God and a desire to spend all eternity with Him in the world to come. If we have this same hope, we can experience a similar joy and peace that no one can take away.

Fear of missing out

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
It’s hard for a child to have to go to bed in the middle of an evening when the rest of the family is still celebrating. Nobody wants to go to bed while everyone else is still up. No one wants to miss out on life.

Remember how as a child, tired and unable to keep your eyes open, you still struggled against anyone who would try to put you to bed. Exhausted or not, you didn’t want to miss anything. You didn’t want to leave and go to sleep while so much life was going on.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

We never really outgrow that. That resistance is congenital and still haunts us on our deathbeds.

One of our more painful anxieties is triggered by a sense that we are forever missing out on something. This is also one of our major fears about dying. For most people, the heaviness and darkness of dying come not so much from a fear of what they might meet in the next life, judgment and punishment, but from a fear of annihilation.

Moreover, the fear here is not so much that their personal identity will be snuffed out (though that is a real fear) but rather that they will be taken away from all the life of which they have been part. The sadness lies in the having to let go, in knowing that life will now go on without us, of being taken off to bed while the party continues. And, this is deep inside us, so deep, that we find it difficult to imagine how the world can even go on without us.

However, this is not a sign that there is something wrong with us, some neurosis that needs fixing or some moral or religious issue that needs attention. It’s the human condition, pure and simple, and God is the architect of that. In short, we’re built to be part of a fabric, not single threads content in their isolation.

I was twenty-three years old when I watched my dad die in a hospital room. He was still young, sixty-two years old, and ideally should have had a number of years still ahead of him. But he was dying, he knew it, and despite a faith that gave him some comfort, was deeply sad about it. What he struggled with in his dying was not with some fear of the afterlife or some amends he still needed to make in this life. None of that. There was no unfinished business with God, nor religious and moral issues still to mend. Nor were there unhealthy fears of the afterlife. His only unfinished business had to do with this life, and what he would now miss out on in terms of (figuratively) being put to bed early while the party was still going on. In addition, for him, the party was in full swing.

His adult children were just beginning to establish their lives and give him grandchildren, and the younger half of his family were actively preparing to enter into their adult lives. He wasn’t going to be around to see how all of this turned out and he wasn’t going to be around to see most of his grandchildren. More important still, he had a wife, a soulmate, whom he would be leaving. It wasn’t a good evening to be sent to bed early.

Beyond all this, he still had his own siblings, neighbors, friends, a parish, civic involvements, sports teams and countless other life-giving connections, and he was aware, not without huge heartache, that these were all about to end, at least on this side of eternity.

Why shouldn’t he have been sad? Indeed, why shouldn’t any of us be sad whenever we are facing a death of any kind, when we are being put to bed while the rest of life is still going on?

We are constitutively communitarian. As God himself said when he created the human family, it is not good for anyone to be alone. We are meant to be part of a family and a community, part of the fabric of life, and a fabric is made up of multiple threads. Thus, it’s understandably saddening whenever our single, fragile, lonely thread is being pulled away from the rest of the fabric. No wonder little children don’t want to be put to bed while everyone else is still carrying on with the evening.

Moreover, this isn’t just true for the sadness we experience when we face our deaths. The same dynamic is operative whenever we undergo the various mini deaths that beset us as we age, lose our health, retire, get fired from jobs, lose people we love, lose marriages, are geographically dislocated, or in any other way are pushed out of the mainstream of life towards the margins.
So, it can be helpful to know that nothing is wrong here. Dying is hard. Letting go is hard. Being pushed aside is hard. Disappearing from life is particularly hard. That’s why little children don’t like being put to bed.

(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

Mother’s Day snuck up on me I must admit, it feels like we are usually well into the double-digit days of May before we set aside a day to honor Mom. I’m sitting here at my desk remembering the many lessons my mom taught me, at home, at school and in the church. My mother was my elementary school principal. I attended St. Benedict School in Elberta, Alabama where Claudia Adam was the principal from 1995-2005. It’s not every kid who can say that his mom literally ‘taught him.’

Father Nick Adam remembers his mother, Claudia Adam (on right) on Mother’s Day. She was a huge impact on him and her courageous witness helped him to say yes to God’s call.

Because mom was a Catholic School teacher, she had plenty to do with the life of the parish. St. Bartholomew Parish sits right across the street from St. Benedict, and my mom cared deeply about enriching the faith of all the students under her care. With the help of handymen in the community she converted an old storage room into a very nice chapel on the school campus, and she never missed an opportunity to talk to us students about the importance of Mass and other devotions that we took part in like Stations of the Cross during Lent. I still remember that we would sing the parts of the Stabat Mater in Latin, we sounded like angels, except for being out of tune! My mother’s example was a huge reason that I became a priest. I saw her life of service, and it spoke to me.

So, this is my encouragement to all you moms out there who have sons that are the apple of your eye. Please encourage them if you see priestly gifts in them. I know it can be frightening and different for your child to choose a road less traveled but take Mary’s example to heart. Mary had one child, and that child was miraculously conceived. Mary had a choice, and she said yes. And that yes blessed not just her family, not just her people, not just her country, not just the world, but the universe. That ‘yes’ brought Jesus into the world. God could have done it another way, but he allowed a free choice to bring Jesus into the created order. Your ‘yes’ can bless the universe as well. Your ‘yes’ can help Jesus be made sacramentally present in a parish that doesn’t have a resident priest right now. And we don’t just need more priests, we need more good priests. We need good men from good families who could serve their community and the world doing anything because they are so talented, but they choose to serve the church because they were called to this vocation, and they were nurtured and encouraged by their family to be generous with their gifts for the salvation of souls.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

Moms have a lot to do with a good man choosing to serve the church as a diocesan priest, and they can also have a lot to do with steering a man away from that call. I know it is scary, but I promise to do my best to walk with you and your family on the journey. I am so grateful to the mothers of our current seminarians who, like Mary, said yes. And their yes will lead to Jesus being made present in the sacraments for decades to come. In your charity, please say a prayer for my mom, who died in 2014. I miss her, but her example of humble service still inspires me, and even though she died before I was ordained, her courageous witness helped me to say yes to the Lord when the time came. Blessings to all moms and mother figures!
– Father Nick Adam

If you are interested in learning more about religious orders or vocations to the priesthood and religious life, please email nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org.

Then God created light again

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
It doesn’t matter whether you picture the origin of time the way science does, as beginning with the Big Bang, or whether you take the biblical account of the origins of the world literally. Either way there was a time before there was light. The universe was dark before God created light. However, eventually the world grew dark again. When?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

We are told in the Gospels that as Jesus was dying on the cross, between the sixth and ninth hour, it grew dark and Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” What really happened here?

Are the Gospels saying that it actually grew dark in the early afternoon, an eclipse of the sun, or are they referring to another kind of darkness, of a spiritual kind? Was there an eclipse of the sun as Jesus was dying? Perhaps. We don’t know, but that is of secondary importance anyway. What the Gospels are referring to is a kind of darkness that envelops us whenever what’s precious to us is humiliated, exposed as powerless, ridiculed, terminally defeated and crucified by our world. There’s a darkness that besets us whenever the forces of love seem overpowered by the forces of hatred. The light extinguished then is the light of hope, but there is deeper darkness and this is the kind of darkness that the Gospels say formed a cloud over the world as Jesus hung dying.

What’s being insinuated here is that at Jesus’ crucifixion, creation went back to its original chaos, as it was before there was light. But what’s also being insinuated is that God created light a second time, this time by raising Jesus from the dead, and that this new light is the most staggering light of all. Moreover, unlike the original light, which was only physical, this light is a light both for the eyes and for the soul.

For the eyes, the light of the resurrection is also a radically new physical phenomenon. At the resurrection of Jesus, the atoms of the planet were shaken up from their normal physical workings. A dead body rose from the grave to a life from which it would never again die. That had never happened before. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus was also a radically new light for the soul, the light of hope. What is this latter light?

There’s a famous song written by Robbie Robertson made popular in the early 1970s by Joan Baez, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Narrated in the first person by a man called Virgil Caine, the song is a sad lament about the distress experienced by a poor white Southern family during the American Civil War.

All that could go wrong for them, seemingly had gone wrong, including the death of their young son, killed in the war. Their situation is dark, lacking any hope. At a point in the song, the narrator offers this lament about his brother’s death:

He was just eighteen, proud and brave;
But a Yankee laid him in his grave;
I swear by the blood below my feet;
You can’t raise the Cain back up when it’s in defeat.

Can life be raised back up when it’s in defeat? Can a dead body come out of its grave? Can a violated body again become whole? Can lost innocence ever be restored? Can a broken heart ever be mended? Can a crushed hope ever again lift up a soul? Doesn’t darkness extinguish all light? What hope was there for Jesus’ followers as they witnessed his humiliation and death on Good Friday? When goodness itself gets crucified, what’s the basis for any hope?

In two words – the resurrection. When darkness enveloped the earth a second time, God made light a second time, and that light, unlike the physical light created at the dawn of time, can never be extinguished. That’s the difference between the resuscitation of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus, between physical light and the light of the resurrection. Lazarus was restored to his self-same body from which he had to die again. Jesus was given a radically new body which would never die again.

The renowned biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown tells us that the darkness that beset the world as Jesus hung dying, would last until we believe in the resurrection. Until we believe that God has a live-giving response for all death and until we believe God will roll back the stone from any grave, no matter how deeply goodness is buried under hatred and violence, the darkness of Good Friday will continue to darken our planet.

Mohandas K. Gandhi once observed that we can see the truth of God always creating new light, simply by looking at history: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.”

(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

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

I was honored to be asked by Bishop Kopacz to represent our diocese at the keynote banquet at the Knights of Columbus State Convention in Tunica on Saturday, April 23. As a part of the night’s festivities the Worthy State Deputy Roy Gamez and State Secretary Guy Heying presented a generous donation to the Bishop Gerow Priest Education Fund totaling more than $40,000. These funds go directly to the annual budget for our seminarians and our efforts to find more men to study for the priesthood.

One of the focuses of the evening was the role that men need to play in the Catholic Church. The core virtues of the Knights of Columbus are charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, and Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly highlighted how the organization has been living out these virtues in the midst of these trying times. I also believe that these virtues, if lived out by Catholic men, can lead to a great abundance of priestly vocations. I have shared in this space before that one of the driving forces behind my discernment was the example of my Knights of Columbus Council in Meridian. Council 802 is filled with Catholic lay men who take their call to serve and the mandates of their faith in Jesus Christ very seriously. This made a great impact on me as I considered how I was called to serve in the church.

There is great power in the example of men in the church. If men care more about their time in prayer and service than their time on the couch or on the golf course or at the gym or at the game, then that speaks to our young people. If men can build healthy friendships rooted in faith that enables them to share healthy leisure time together, that encourages the same behavior in their families. If men can love God and country in a way that seeks first and foremost to serve those most in need with generosity and courage, then they are a great light to our world in desperate need for examples of fervent faith. They are most especially lights to their families, which the Knights of Columbus seek to support in everything that they do.

ROBINSONVILLE – Mississippi Knights of Columbus State Secretary Guy Heying (St. Richard Council 15131) presents a donation to Father Nick Adam on behalf of the Councils and Assemblies of the Knights of Columbus in the Diocese of Jackson.

I greatly appreciate the generosity of our KC councils and assemblies throughout the State of Mississippi. The annual financial contribution that they make to support future priests is a fruit of the work that they do in their communities throughout each year. I encourage any man who is wanting to grow in faith to consider joining their local council. I am glad that I joined mine all those years ago.

– Father Nick Adam

If you are interested in learning more about religious orders or vocations to the priesthood and religious life, please email nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org.

Ounce of prevention, worth a pound of cure

OUNCE OF PREVENTION
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC
The number one reason adult survivors don’t tell their parents about being sexually abused is they didn’t want to make the situation worse. They fear the parent wouldn’t be able to handle the information in a healthy way.

Opening a conversation doesn’t have to be awkward and heavy. Ask your adolescent and adult children what their views are on the recent #metoo movement and the #timesup movement. Then, listen, listen, listen.

Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

Different generations define sexual assault differently. What was shrugged off in the 1970’s may not be considered something to ignore now. Ask your kids what they consider unwelcomed flirtation and unwelcomed physical touch. Listen to their definitions of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Define as a family what is considered criminal versus what is considered inappropriate. Then discuss how to handle both.

Always include both male and females in these conversations. Males are even less likely to report sexual abuse than females. Open the dialogue. Reduce the stigma, at least in your own home.

Families are as sick as their secrets and as healthy as their dialogue. Let your children know you can handle what they have to say. You can listen. You can respond in a firm and rational way. If not, they are not likely to come to you with a report of abuse. If you find that this is a subject you simply cannot breech with your children, talk with someone about why. Unresolved issues of a parent’s own sexual abuse can lead to the cycle continuing because it has become a taboo subject.

It is not uncommon for the same family member or community person that abused the parent to also abuse their child. The damage will have lifelong consequences by never reporting or revealing the assault. Abuse can become a multigenerational issue that leads to increasingly severe mental health damage.
However, there is a wide range of what is considered a reportable offense. It’s a new era. Sexual misconduct is in the media and out in the open more than ever.

These tips are for parents of adolescent and adult children.
– Open a discussion with your adolescent and adult children. Ask them to teach you what they know about the #metoo movement. In a discussion with my own son, I stated there were things we just learned to put up with, the “lighter” offenses. He said his generation doesn’t think you should have had to; therefore, we have the #timesup movement. Made sense. I liked it. I learned something.

– Be open and be honest with your children.

– People can’t recover from what has not been uncovered.

– The difference between a victim and a survivor is a victim still has an open wound, a survivor has healed and carries the scar. No shame in carrying a scar-Jesus didn’t hide his and neither should we. Scars show trauma has healed.

– If child abuse prevention is a subject you simply cannot talk about with your children, talk with someone about your own experiences. We must break the cycle.

– If not now, when. If you keep putting off these discussions, they will never happen.

Adult survivors of sexual abuse are as high as 20% of the general population. Be mindful how you discuss child sexual abuse when in the general public, you are likely to be within ear shot of someone who has suffered and survived one of the most devastating offenses to ones mental, social, sexual and spiritual development.

“To help heal the world, start with your own family.” – St. Mother Teresa

(Reba J. McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She continues to work in the field of mental health as a consultant and is available for public speaking. Reba can be reached at rebaj@bellsouth.net.)

Loving. Respecting. Forgiving.

KNEADING FAITH
By Fran Lavelle
The Synod on Synodality is forming and informing the work of the diocese as we continue to recover from the pandemic. Being a self-confessed overthinker, the implications about what we are hearing has my mind and heart working overtime. Yes, I am at the point of sleeping with a notepad next to the bed to write things down in the middle of the night lest I forget them by morning. There is much work to be done for sure. While our process has highlighted the challenges facing the church, it has also revealed a great hope that is palatable but energizing and exciting.

Our Synod Advisory Council spent a Saturday last month combing through the individual responses from the parishes. A common thread throughout the responses be it Anglo, Hispanic, African American, or youth is a call for unity and healing. Literally the Body of Christ is suffering from divisiveness and indifference toward the other. The question remains, how do we come back together under the four marks of the church – One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic? It is a behemoth task, but it can and must be undertaken for the good of all God’s people.

In our regional listening sessions with Bishop Kopacz, we have been asking people to give us concrete ideas on how we can truly heal and restore unity.

Sometimes in the United States we can be a little egocentric and not see life beyond our borders. One of the things that Covid revealed was the culture of dualistic thinking and divisive political rhetoric is not unique to the U.S. This culture of dis-unity has permeated the globe. We can all point fingers or become armchair sociologist in offering explanations on how we got here. To a degree I think reflecting on the question of how we got here is helpful in discerning how we move on from here, but we cannot allow the question of how we got here further divide us with blame.

The call for unity and healing can be achieved if we truly recognize and understand the dignity of all people. If we believe that we were created in the image and likeness of God, then we all share the dignity given to God’s children. At one of the regional listening sessions a young boy aged 8-9 came up to me after the session was over to turn in his paperwork. After thanking him he turned and walked away. I glanced down at the paper he handed me. In response to how we can foster healing and unity he wrote, “To love and to respect and to forgive. We should be loving people.” This young boy understands with great clarity our mission to heal and unite takes love, respect, and forgiveness.

One of the Gospel readings from the local listening sessions was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We all know the story. But do we really know the story? (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 81)

Pope Francis underscores the point of the parable, “By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). In other words, he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbors to help, but that I must myself be a neighbor to others.”

In responding to the question of what the Holy Spirit is calling us to in this reading, one high school student responded beautifully, “The good Samaritan ignored the social differences between himself and the victim in the name of mercy. This is the mindset we should have today.”

It can feel somewhat overwhelming when we consider the multitude of challenges that face our world today. It is easy to feel small and insignificant. Many people pass by the victim on the road. It only takes one person to stop and show compassion. I am reminded of an oft noted quote by Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. How are we being called to pour oil and wine into the wounds of our neighbors? That is the question before us today. I think my young friend from the listening session framed our response beautifully … Loving. Respecting. Forgiving.

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

Straining to hear the voice of Good Friday

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
They shall look upon the one whom they have pierced! A phrase that names the voice that’s left behind on Good Friday.

In 1981, an anonymous young girl was brutally raped and murdered by the military at an obscure location in El Salvador, fittingly called La Cruz (the Cross). Her story was reported by a journalist named Mark Danner. In his account of this, Danner describes how after a particular massacre some soldiers shared how one of their victims haunted them and how they could not get her out of their minds long after her death.

They had plundered a village and raped many of the women. One of these was a young girl, an evangelical Christian, whom they had raped many times in a single afternoon and tortured. However, throughout it all, this young girl, clinging to her belief in Christ, had sung hymns. The soldiers who had violated and eventually executed her were haunted by that. Here are Danner’s words:

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

“She kept right on singing, too, even after they had done what had to be done and shot her in the chest. She had lain there on La Cruz with the blood flowing from her chest and had kept on singing – a bit weaker than before, but still singing. And the soldiers, stupefied, had watched and pointed. Then they had grown tired of the game and shot her again, and she sang still, and their wonder began to turn to fear – until finally they had unsheathed their machetes and hacked her neck, and at last the singing had stopped.” (The Massacre at El Mozote, N.Y., Vintage Books, 1994, pp. 78-79.)

They shall look upon her whom they have pierced! Notice the feminine pronoun here because in this instance the one who is looked upon after being pierced is a woman. Dying such a violent, unjust, and humiliating death with faith in her heart and on her lips makes her the crucified Christ, and not just because she (like all Christians) is a member of the Body of Christ. Rather because at this moment, in this manner of death, with this kind of faith overt in her person, like Jesus, she is leaving behind a voice that cannot be silenced and which will haunt those who have done violence to her and all the rest of us who hear about it.

What haunted those soldiers? The haunting here is not that of some wounded spirit that now seeks retribution by frightening us and forever unsettling our dreams. Nor is it the haunting we feel in bitter regret, when we recognize a huge, unredeemable mistake which had we foreseen the consequences of, we would never have made. Rather, this is the voice that haunts us whenever we silence, violate, or kill innocence. It’s a voice which we then know can never be silenced and which irrespective of the immediate emotions it evokes in us, we realize we can never be free from, and which paradoxically invites us not to fear and self-hatred but to what it embodies.

Gil Bailie, who makes this story a corner-piece in his monumental book on the cross and non-violence, notes not just the remarkable similarity between her manner of death and Jesus’, but also the fact that, in both cases, part of the resurrection is that their voices live on.

In Jesus’ case, nobody witnessing his humiliating death on a lonely hillside, with his followers absent, would have predicted that this would be the most remembered death in history. The same is true for this young girl. Her rape and murder occurred in a very remote place and all of those who might have wanted to immortalize her story were also killed. Yet her voice survives, and will no doubt continue to grow in history long after all those who violated her are forgotten. A death of this kind morally scars the conscience and leaves behind a permanent echo that nobody can ever silence.

When we parse out all that’s contained in that echo, when we take a reflective look at Jesus on the cross or at the death of this young evangelical, we cannot but feel a wound at a gut level. To gaze upon the one whom we have pierced, Jesus or any innocent victim, is to know (in a way that undercuts all culpable and invincible ignorance) that the voice of self-interest, injustice, violence, brutality, and rape will ultimately be silenced in favor of the voice of innocence, graciousness and gentleness. Yes, faith is true.

A critic reviewing Danner’s book in the New York Times tells how, after reading this story, he kept “straining hopelessly to hear the sound of that singing.”

In our churches on Good Friday, we read aloud the Gospel account of Jesus’ death. Listening to that story, like the soldiers who brutally murdered an innocent young, faith-filled woman, we are made to look upon the one whom we have pierced. We need to strain to hear more consciously the sound of that singing.

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