Called by name

Father Nick Adam

It’s not often an Alabama alumnus uses an LSU football analogy, so be sure to read this:

If we don’t make time for prayer as a Catholic community, then we will continue to struggle bring forth men and women for priesthood and religious life. Young people must be taught not just how to pray, but how to build a habit of prayer. This way they can discern the things of the world and discover amongst the noise what God is calling them to do, not just what they think would bring about the most security.
Now for my LSU football analogy to drive this point home: The best quarterbacks do not always make the safe throw. The best quarterbacks push the ball down the field, recognizing that sometimes the defense could get the better of them, but they make throws that win games. Joe Burrow is a great example. Last year, he sought the safe throws, and LSU was mediocre. This year, he trusted his coaches and his gifts and took risks, and LSU morphed into an historically great team.
Prayer brings forth greatness, not in the eyes of the culture, but in the eyes of God. Jesus Christ made choices that were impossible to comprehend to the outside observer, but because he was rooted in relationship with his heavenly Father, his choices led to triumph.
Our screens are loud. Talking heads are loud. They are convincing. So how much time are we spending away from those sources and listening to the Lord in the silence of prayer? I know the arguments, because I present them to my own spiritual director all the time! “I am too busy right now to pray, it is impossible.” For busy families, silence is at even more of a premium. But we make time for other pursuits, and we simply must make time for prayer. And it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming amount. So much of our life is built on the habits that we have. It is easy to make time for youth sporting events and other activities, because we are in the habit of doing them. They are what everyone does. So why isn’t prayer one of these habits for many families? Why does it seem so abnormal?
So, if you have not been praying – start. And you don’t have to pray a crazy amount. Just start by reading one chapter of the gospel per day and spend as much time as you can in silence as you read. Consider your life in light of Jesus’ words and actions, and close it with a Glory be to the Father. The more you build up the habit, the more you will be attracted to silence and reflection and conversation with the Lord, and the more you will make time for it. And don’t strive just for security and comfort. Listen to what God wants you to do, he created you, you can trust Him.

The little way

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Most of us have heard of St. Therese of Lisieux, a French mystic who died at age 24 in 1897 and who is perhaps the most popular saint of the last two centuries. She’s famous for many things, not least for a spirituality she called her “little way.”
Popular thought has often encrusted both Therese and her “little way” within a simple piety which doesn’t do justice to the depth of her person or her spirituality. Too often her “little way” is understood simply to mean that we do little, hidden, humble, acts of charity for others in the name of Jesus, without expecting anything in return. In this popular interpretation we do the laundry, peel potatoes, and smile at unpleasant people to please Jesus. In some ways, of course, this is true; however her “little way” merits a deeper understanding.
Yes, it does ask us to do humble chores and be nice to each other in the name of Jesus but there are deeper dimensions to it. Her “little way” is a path to sanctity based on three things: littleness, anonymity and a particular motivation.
Littleness: For Therese “littleness” does not refer first of all to the littleness of the act that we are doing, like the humble tasks of doing the laundry, peeling potatoes or giving a simple smile to someone who’s unpleasant. It refers to our own littleness, to our own radical poverty before God. Before God, we are little. To accept and act out of that constitutes humility. We move towards God and others in her “little way” when we do small acts of charity for others, not out of our strength and the virtue we feel at that moment, but rather out of a poverty, powerlessness and emptiness that allows God’s grace to work through us so that in doing what we’re doing we’re drawing others to God and not to ourselves.
As well, our littleness makes us aware that, for the most part, we cannot do the big things that shape world history. But we can change the world more humbly, by sowing a hidden seed, by being a hidden antibiotic of health inside the soul of humanity and by splitting the atom of love inside our own selves. And yes, too, the “little way” is about doing little, humble, hidden things.
Anonymity: Therese’s “little way” refers to what’s hidden, to what’s done in secret, so that what the Father sees in secret will be rewarded in secret. And what’s hidden is not our act of charity, but we, ourselves, who are doing the act. In Therese’s “little way” our little acts of charity will go mostly unnoticed, will seemingly have no real impact on world history and won’t bring us any recognition. They’ll remain hidden and unnoticed; but inside the Body of Christ what’s hidden, selfless, unnoticed, self-effacing, and seemingly insignificant and unimportant is the most vital vehicle of all for grace at a deeper level. Just as Jesus did not save us through sensational miracles and headline-making deeds but through selfless obedience to his Father and quiet martyrdom, our deeds too can remain unknown so that our deaths and the spirit we leave behind can become our real fruitfulness.
Finally, her “little way” is predicated on a particular motivation. We are invited to act out of our littleness and anonymity and do small acts of love and service to others for a particular reason, that is, to, metaphorically, wipe the face of the suffering Christ. How so?
Therese of Lisieux was an extremely blessed and gifted person. Despite a lot of tragedy in her early life, she was (by her own admission and testimony of others) loved in a way that was so pure, so deep and so wonderfully affectionate that it leaves most people in envy. She was also a very attractive child and was bathed in love and security inside an extended family within which her every smile and tear were noticed, honored and often photographed. But as she grew in maturity it didn’t take her long to notice that what was true in her life wasn’t true of most others. Their smiles and tears went mostly unnoticed and were not honored. Her “little way” is therefore predicated on this particular motivation.
In her own 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. … Oh, I don’t want this precious blood to be lost. I shall spend my life gathering it up for the good of souls. … To live from love is to dry Your Face.”
To live her “little way” is to notice and honor the unnoticed tears falling from the suffering faces of others.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com. Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

Elders shape the future

Sister Constance Veit, LSP

GUEST COLUMN
By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
During February my thoughts turn to two of my favorite biblical figures, Simeon and Anna.
Simeon is described in St. Luke’s Gospel simply as “a man in Jerusalem” and Anna as an 84-year-old “prophetess.” These two elders greet Mary and Joseph as they bring their newborn infant to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. We celebrate this moment in Jesus’ life, referred to as the Presentation in the Temple, on February 2.
Simeon and Anna are not just two pious old people making a fuss over a baby. Each one had been waiting for the coming of the Lord for many years. Their whole lives were defined by their patient, prayerful waiting. When the moment came, they recognized Jesus as the Messiah and testified on his behalf before all the people.
Pope Francis wrote, “When Mary and Joseph reached the temple to fulfill the law, Simeon and Anna jumped to their feet. They were moved by the Holy Spirit. This elderly couple recognized the child and discovered a new inner strength that allowed them to bear witness.”
Simeon and Anna have an important message for our time. They represent the crucial role of older people who “have the courage to dream,” as Pope Francis said. “Only if our grandparents have the courage to dream and our young people imagine great things will our society go on.” Francis believes that older people who dream are able to move forward creatively as they envision a future.
“Without the witness of their elders’ lives, the plans of young people will have neither roots nor wisdom,” he said. “Today more than ever, the future generates anxiety, insecurity, mistrust and fear. Only the testimony of elders will help young people look above the horizon to see the stars. Just learning that it is worth fighting for something will help young people face the future with hope.”
We Little Sisters are privileged to share our lives with many successors of Simeon and Anna – older people who have persevered in their faith through the years as they sought a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
Among them is a woman I know who poured her life-savings into the rehabilitation of a child stuck in the cycle of drug addiction, and who later sacrificed her own comfort to support three generations of her family members who were displaced after a hurricane ravaged their island home.
Another resident, a tiny woman in her mid-80’s, divides her time between helping in our chapel and working in the parish founded by her priest-brother – the only Vietnamese parish in our diocese – helping with sundry tasks and taking Holy Communion to the sick.
I recently attended Mass at this Vietnamese parish as part of our annual fund raising appeal and enjoyed seeing our resident in action. While she and many of the women of the parish wore their traditional Vietnamese tunics and flowing pants in bright hues and varied designs, most of the young people came to church in the jeans, yoga pants and baggy sweatshirts typical of American youth.
The liturgy was completely in Vietnamese. I saw what a fine line these young people walk – with one foot planted firmly in the land of their parents and grandparents and the other in America.
I was touched to see that even the young people venerated our resident. As she scurried around the church attending to many details, she would give the young people a quick word of direction in Vietnamese or a charming smile of encouragement.
Our residents embody Pope Francis’ dream of elders as “a choir of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life.”
Although I am not yet a senior it won’t be long before I am, and I am grateful for the example of our residents who, like Simeon and Anna, are teaching me how to assume the mantle of a wise elder in the believing community.

(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor. )

Who are you learning from?

Sister alies therese

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
It is Catholic Schools Week and where do we find ourselves and Jesus? He was 12, just a tween on the verge of teenager-ness. We are almost a month in from the coming of Jesus at the nativity, celebrating the shepherds, Wise Men and Jesus the refugee into Egypt. We have seen Anna and Simeon with Jesus for the first time in the Temple where He is “recognized as the long-expected Messiah, the light of the nations, and the glory of Israel, but also a sign that is spoken against. The sword of sorrow promised to Mary announces Christ’s perfect and unique oblation on the Cross that will impart the salvation God had prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (530) We have also celebrated His return to Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and the Holy Family’s life together. Curiously, however, we have no more information until this story breaks into the ‘hidden life.’
The Catholic Catechism lets us know that He, like other boys His age, would have been spending a “daily life without evident greatness, a life of manual labor. His religious life was that of an obedient Jew to the law of God, a life in the community … it is revealed to us that Jesus was obedient to His parents and that He increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and the human community.” (531)
Remembering age 12, in the seventh grade, I too was without evident greatness, but avoided manual labor and was not that obedient to my parents! Oops. It was the year I was preparing to be confirmed, tackling many new subjects at middle school and was pretty good at sports. I also began to feel a call to religious life. I attended CCD at the local Catholic school where the Sisters taught us. Being a high introvert, however, I took a page from Mary’s book and ‘pondered these things in my heart.’
Did Jesus really make little clay birds fly for His friends in the village? This and other stories floated around trying to disavow the ‘humanness’ of Jesus. Or should I say, tried to take away any of the things passed down by Mary’s side of the family? For Jesus to show how He is ultimately ‘Savior,” He needs all that was human as well as God. Personally, I vote no on the clay birds flying.
Some 12-year old’s are very bright and perceptive. Twelve is not a child. In Jewish tradition, it’s time for bar or bat mitzvah, admitting the young person into the adult community. Today with so much screen time, a 12-year-old is either much brighter and smarter than we were, or very much more sluggish. I’ve met both. But are they ‘wise?’ What transpires in each of our hidden lives?
Jesus is supposed to be returning home after the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem. Look at Luke 2:41 and read the whole story. Since Jesus was considered almost an adult, He probably didn’t spend a lot of time with His parents during the feast. Some NIV notes indicated that 12-year old’s could be in a caravan with their parents or as with Jesus, thought to be in the other caravan with the men. But, when the caravan did leave Jerusalem, He stayed behind because he had been talking and listening to the teachers and they were listening to Him. During Passover, the greatest Rabbis were there, and they assembled people and had master classes of sorts and long discussions. The coming of the Messiah was a big topic and perhaps this interested Jesus. The notes from the NIV conclude, it was not Jesus’ youth that impressed them, “but His wisdom.”
St. Pope Paul VI, spoke at Nazareth in 1964, on the Feast of the Holy Family: “The home at Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus — the school of the Gospel. First a lesson of silence… A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love … A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the ‘Carpenter’s Son,’ I would understand the redeeming law of human work … I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern, their brother who is God.” (533)
So, students who are you learning from? Are you paying attention to those who can assist and help you move forward into your vocation as these Rabbis helped the young man Jesus that you will be of service? Don’t be afraid to be serious about your search – listen and learn. And, families, often very broken and in pain, remember that love is the bottom line in the Holy Family or in your ‘Holy’ family. Brokenness lets the light through and I dare say often brings wisdom.
Blessings.

(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She is author of six books of spiritual fiction and is a weekly columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

Called by name

Father Nick Adam

A desire for marriage and family is written on the human heart. We all have an innate desire to be known by another to the very depth of our being, and to give ourselves completely to another, and through that bond, to be fruitful and to see the fruit of that love. This desire is fulfilled in the sacrament of matrimony. This innate desire was reaffirmed in my own heart this Christmas. As I visited my siblings and witnessed anew the love that they have for their spouses and children, the sacrificial way that they cared for one another, I was prompted by the Lord to reflect on my own vocation. Am I giving myself away like my brother is to his wife and his children, like my sisters to their families?
And this is all natural. Of course, I am attracted to natural fatherhood by the example of the families in my life, because I am a human being! But I have discerned a call from the Lord to celibacy “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt. 19:12) I have been asked, for reasons that I will never completely comprehend, to live a life for others that is not the norm, but which is vitally necessary because it is a living witness that this world is not all there is, that we are building a kingdom that will never end and we must live ultimately for the Kingdom of God.
The thinking, “I want to get married and be a father, therefore I am not called to be a priest,” is wrong-headed. Of course every young man wants to get married and have a family, but Jesus doesn’t say, “let those who for some reason can handle the thought of not getting married become my priest,” he says “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”
I would never recommend a young man to the seminary who I did not think would be a fantastic husband and father. Priesthood is a sacrifice, a choice, that demands full acceptance of the call of Christ and the ability to make that choice over another good. Jesus asks us to live out celibacy, but it does not mean that we are somehow disinterested cyborgs who don’t have a normal human experience. So, if you feel attracted to marriage and family, praise the Lord, but please, simply ask God what he wants for you. If you find yourself attracted to the actions of the priest at Mass, in your parish, or in your school, don’t brush it off. He may be calling you, and it will be a sacrifice, but ask any husband or wife, so is marriage. God will give us the grace to take on any challenge, all we need to do is ask him what he wants and to respond to his promptings with courage.

Friday, Jan. 31 – Feb. 2 – Notre Dame Seminary Visit, New Orleans, Louisiana. The Vocations Department is sponsoring this annual event for young men in “pre-discernment.” You can’t make an informed decision about priesthood without seeing what seminary is like! Meet seminarians, participate in beautiful liturgy and other exciting community events.

Friday, Feb. 7-9 – Nashville Dominican Sisters, Jesu Caritas Retreat. This is semi-annual retreat hosted by a rapidly growing religious community in the Southeast. Please contact Father Nick at frnick@saintrichard.com if you would like to register!

Contact the Office of Vocations if interested in attending any of these events.
vocations@jacksondiocese.org
www.jacksonpriests.com

Anchoring ourselves within God’s goodness

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
What would Jesus do? For some Christians, that’s the easy answer to every question. In every situation all we need to ask is: What would Jesus do?
At a deep level, that’s actually true. Jesus is the ultimate criterion. He is the way, the truth, and the life and anything that contradicts him is not a way to God. Yet, I suspect, many of us find ourselves irritated in how that expression is often used in simplistic ways, as a fundamentalism difficult to digest. Sometimes, in our irritation at this, we spontaneously want to say: Jesus has nothing to do with this! But, of course, as soon as those words escape our mouths we realize how bad that sounds! Jesus has a lot to do with every theological, ecclesial or liturgical question, no matter its complexity. Granted, there’s the danger of fundamentalism here; but it’s equally as dangerous to answer theological, ecclesial and liturgical questions without considering what Jesus might do. He’s still, and forever, a non-negotiable criterion.
But while Jesus is a non-negotiable criterion, he’s not a simplistic one. What did Jesus do? Well, the answer isn’t simple. Looking at his life we see that sometimes he did things one way, sometimes another way, and sometimes he started out doing something one way and ended up changing his mind and doing it in a different way, as we see in his interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman. That’s why, I suspect, within Christianity there are so many different denominations, spiritualities and ways of worship, each with its own interpretation of Jesus. Jesus is complex.
Given Jesus’ complexity, it’s no accident then that theologians, preachers and spiritualities often find in his person and his teachings ways that reflect more how they would handle a situation than how he would. We see this in our churches and spiritualities everywhere, and I say this with sympathy, not with judgment. None of us gets Jesus fully right.
So where does this leave us? Do we simply rely on our private interpretation of Jesus? Do we give ourselves over uncritically to some ecclesial or academic authority and trust that it will tell us what Jesus would do in every situation? Is there a “third” way?
Well, there’s a “third” way, the way of most Christian denominations, wherein we submit our private interpretation to the canonical (“dogmatic”) tradition of our particular church and accept, though not in blind, uncritical obedience, the interpretation of that larger community, its longer history, and its wider experience, humbly accepting that it can be naïve (and arrogant) to bracket 2000 years of Christian experience so as to believe that our insight into Jesus is a needed corrective to a vision that has inspired so many millions of people through so many centuries.
Still, we’re not meant to park the dictates of our private conscience, our critical questions, our unease with certain things and the wounds we carry, at our church door either. In the end, we all must be true to our own consciences, faithful to the particular insights that God graces us with, and mindful of the wounds we carry. Both our graces and our wounds are meant to be listened to and they, along with the deepest voices within our conscience, need to be taken into account when ask ourselves: What would Jesus do?
We need to answer that for ourselves by faithfully holding and carrying within us the tension between being obedient to our churches and not betraying the critical voices within our own conscience. If we do that honestly, one thing will eventually constellate inside us as an absolute: God is good! Everything Jesus taught and incarnated was predicated on that truth. Anything that jeopardizes or belies that, be it a church, a theology, a liturgical practice, or a spirituality is wrong. And any voice within dogma or private conscience that betrays that is also wrong.
How we conceive of God colors for good or for bad everything within our religious practice. And above all else, Jesus revealed this about God: God is good. That truth needs to ground everything else, our churches, our theologies, our spiritualities, our liturgies and our understanding of everyone else. Sadly, often it doesn’t. The fear that God is not good disguises itself in subtle ways but is always manifest whenever our religious teachings or practices somehow make God in heaven not as understanding, merciful, and indiscriminate and unconditional in love as Jesus was on earth. It’s also manifest whenever we fear that we’re dispensing grace too cheaply and making God too accessible.
Sadly, the God who is met in our churches today is often too-narrow, too-merciless, too-tribal, too-petty, and too-untrustworthy to be worthy of Jesus … or the surrender of our soul.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com. Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

Reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2020 World Day of Peace message

Making a Difference
By Tony Magliano
This new year, this new decade, begins much like the past year, the past decade: wars between countries, wars within countries, nations around the globe preparing for future wars and astronomical military budgets cemented in place to ensure all this unholy madness continues.

Tony Magliano

As an elixir to this seemingly hopeless trap the world finds itself in, Pope Francis offers us a hopeful path forward away from the blood and tears of war.
In his Jan. 1, 2020 World Day of Peace message “Peace as a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion,” the Holy Father writes “Hope is thus the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable.”
But fully aware that in order for us to move forward we must first honestly look at what is holding us back, and why we foolishly hold onto it, Francis says, “Entire nations find it difficult to break free of the chains of exploitation and corruption that fuel hatred and violence.”
So following the pope’s line of thought here, we must ask ourselves, who are the people being exploited? Where is the corruption coming from? And to what degree is national and individual selfishness, indifference and moral blindness contributing to exploitation and corruption?
Francis explains that “War is fueled by a perversion of relationships, by hegemonic ambitions, by abuses of power, by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle. And these, in turn, are aggravated by the experience of war.”
Reflecting on his recent pastoral visit to Japan, the Holy Father insightfully declares that “ ‘our world is paradoxically marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.’ ”
He adds, “The Hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are among those who currently keep alive the flame of collective conscience, bearing witness to succeeding generations to the horror of what happened in August 1945 and the unspeakable sufferings that have continued to the present time.”
The pope teaches that “Social and economic decisions are being made that lead to tragic situations where human beings and creation itself are discarded rather than protected and preserved.”
He adds, “There can be no true peace unless we show ourselves capable of developing a more just economic system.”
Francis says, “The world does not need empty words but convinced witnesses, peacemakers who are open to a dialogue that rejects exclusion or manipulation. In fact, we cannot truly achieve peace without a convinced dialogue between men and women who seek the truth beyond ideologies and differing opinions.”
He adds, “Listening to one another can lead to mutual understanding and esteem, and even to seeing in an enemy the face of a brother or sister.”
Pope Francis prophetically challenges us to admit our unfaithfulness here: “If a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence, we believers should acknowledge that by so doing we were not faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and preserve”
There is much more in Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message for us to sink our moral teeth into. So, please read and prayerfully reflect on how we can put it into practice in 2020 (see: https://bit.ly/2MpfE73).

(Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net.)

It’s all about love

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
As the saying goes, “love makes the world go ’round.” Love, the eternal theme, was there at the beginning of time when God made the world and everything in it. But sin entered the Garden and destroyed the intimate relationship humanity enjoyed with the Creator. Ever since Adam’s transgression, religion (from Latin, religare, meaning “to bind again, re-connect”) has offered us the hope of re-establishing the bond of communion that was torn apart by Original Sin.

Melvin Arrington

Despite our tendency to go our own way, our Heavenly Father still cares for us and draws us to Him. And because our hearts were made for unity, we feel pulled toward the source of love like steel to a magnet, as the 17th century Mexican nun-poet Juana Inés de la Cruz put it. We somehow have this notion that man searches for God, but in reality it’s the other way around. The “Hound of Heaven” is constantly in pursuit of us.
From Genesis to Revelation God demonstrates His abiding concern for His children. After Adam sinned he hid from his Creator, but the Lord went looking for him and called out to him (Genesis 3:8-9). In I Samuel 3 He repeatedly summoned the boy Samuel, who would grow up to be a great prophet. The Gospels record how the Apostles, when they heard the Master calling them, left their former ways of life and followed Him. And Revelation 3:20 tells us that Jesus stands at the door knocking, waiting for us to open up so that He can come into our hearts, an image brilliantly captured by William Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World” (c. 1854). Simply put, God wants us to be in communion with Him.
It should come as no surprise that the first of the nine Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is love, that tricky little word with no true synonym that has so frequently been misunderstood. C. S. Lewis, in his classic study The Four Loves (1960), clears up some of the confusion. There are, he explains, three “natural” types: familial affection, friendship, and the well-known romantic variety, the latter reaching its ultimate expression in the conjugal bond between husband and wife. These three dimly reflect the “supernatural” form, charity, often denoted by the Greek term agape and the Latin caritas.
When we think of love, it’s usually something like tender affection for someone. Consider all the songs and movies that celebrate romance. But the real thing, agape, goes far beyond that. It’s sacrifice, giving of self until there is nothing left to give. It’s caring for someone who probably will not love us in return. Narcissism and lust have nothing to do with it; they are not even on the same spectrum.
Some may remember these lines from two popular 1960s songs that ponder the meaning of life: “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?” and “Is that all there is?” In the 1978 movie Superman, Clark Kent’s earthly father admits he doesn’t know why his foster son came to Earth, but he’s certain that he has come for a reason. We were all made for a purpose, and we have a reason for living, but it’s not to make a lot of money or pursue worldly pleasures, as our modern culture would have us believe. That’s not all there is. There’s so much more. In short, it’s all about love.
The Baltimore Catechism says God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him for all eternity in the next. The Father wants us, His adopted children, to enter into a personal relationship with Him, and when we do we’ll soon discover that love manifests itself most noticeably in sacrifice and service.
As Christians, we’ve all been sent on a mission. The last thing Jesus told His followers before His Ascension was to go out and evangelize the world (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s our mission today. At the conclusion of mass we hear: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
For a long time I prayed for some sign that would reveal to me my place of service. As I was making daily visits to a local nursing home where my mother was a resident, I had no idea the Lord was going to send me there as a volunteer. That had never occurred to me, even though the opportunity was right under my nose; I was just too blind to see it. In time I came to realize I’d finally found what I’d prayed for. That was and still is my mission, until I’m sent elsewhere. God works perfectly, but in mysterious ways.
I’d like to imagine one reason He created families was so parents could gain a better understanding of the meaning of John 3:16. The Father gave up His only Son and made Him suffer a cruel and excruciatingly painful death on the Cross in order to redeem us and save us from hell, which means eternal separation from God. Once parents reflect on how they would willingly make any sacrifice for their children, they can begin to comprehend how deeply our Heavenly Father cares for us.
The old cliché still rings true. Love does make the world go ’round. God continues to do His part, but are we doing ours? As the New Year begins, I need to ask myself a couple of questions that you may wish to ask yourself as well: “Do I put the Lord above everything else in my life?” and “Do I show as much concern for the welfare of others as I do for myself?” How we answer will reveal whether we’re helping the world go ’round or hindering it.

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)

Justice and charity

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
We’re all familiar, I suspect, with the difference between justice and charity. Charity is giving away some of your time, energy, resources and person so as to help to others in need. And that’s an admirable virtue, the sign of a good heart. Justice, on the other hand, is less about directly giving something away than it is about looking to change the conditions and systems that put others in need.
No doubt, we’re all familiar with the little parable used to illustrate this difference. In brief, it goes like this: A town situated on the edge of a river finds itself confronted every day by a number of bodies floating downstream in the river. The townsfolk tend to the bodies, minister to those who are alive and respectfully bury the dead. They do this for years, with good hearts; but, through all those years, none of them ever journey up the river to look at why there are wounded and dead bodies floating in the river each day. The townsfolk are good-hearted and charitable, but that in itself isn’t changing the situation that’s bringing them wounded and dead bodies daily. As well, the charitable townsfolk aren’t even remotely aware that their manner of life, seemingly completely unconnected to the wounded and dead bodies they’re daily attending to, might in fact be contributing to the cause of those lost lives and dreams and that, good-hearted as they are, they may be complicit in something that’s harming others, even while it’s affording them the resources and wherewithal to be charitable.
The lesson here is not that we shouldn’t be charitable and good-hearted. One-to-one charity, as the parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear, is what’s demanded of us, both as humans and as Christians. The lesson is that being good-hearted alone is not enough. It’s a start, a good one, but more is asked of us. I suspect most of us already know this, but perhaps we’re less conscious of something less obvious, namely, that our very generosity itself might be contributing to a blindness that lets us support (and vote for) the exact political, economic and cultural systems which are to blame for the wounded and dead bodies we’re attending to in our charity.
That our own good works of charity can help blind us to our complicity in injustice is something highlighted in a recent book by Anand Giridharada, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. In a rather unsettling assertion, Giridharada submits that generosity can be, and often is, a substitute for and a means of avoiding the necessity of a more just and equitable system and fairer distribution of power. Charity, wonderful as it is, is not yet justice; a good heart, wonderful as it is, in not yet good policy that serves the less-privileged; and philanthropy, wonderful as it is, can have us confuse the charity we’re doing with the justice that’s asked of us. For this reason among others, Giridharada submits that public problems should not be privatized and relegated to the domain of private charity, as is now so often the case.
Christiana Zenner, reviewing his book in America, sums this up by saying: “Beware of the temptation to idealize a market or an individual who promises salvation without attending to the least among us and without addressing the conditions that facilitated the domination in the first place.” Then she adds: When we see the direct violation of another person, a direct injustice, we’re taken aback, but the unfairness and the perpetrator are obvious. We see that something is wrong and we can see who is to blame. But, and this is her real point, when we live with unjust systems that violate others we can be blind to our own complicity because we can feel good about ourselves because our charity is helping those who have been violated.
For example: Imagine I’m a good-hearted man who feels a genuine sympathy for the homeless in my city. As the Christmas season approaches I make a large donation of food and money to the local food bank. Further still, on Christmas day itself, before I sit down to eat my own Christmas dinner, I spend several hours helping serve a Christmas meal to the homeless. My charity here is admirable and I cannot help but feel good about what I just did. And what I did was a good thing! But then, when I support a politician or a policy that privileges the rich and is unfair to the poor, I can more easily rationalize that I’m doing my just part and that I have a heart for the poor, even as my vote itself helps ensure that there will always be homeless people to feed on Christmas day.
Few virtues are as important as charity. It’s the sign of a good heart. But the deserved good feeling we get when we give of ourselves in charity should not be confused with the false feeling that we’re really doing our part.

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

Called by name

Father Nick Adam

My phone has every piece of information I ever will ever need within it, so why do I feel like I know less now than I did ten years ago? Why do I no longer know my way around town without my phone? Why am I at a loss at a break in conversation at dinner and feel a compulsion to reach to my phone just to occupy the silence? I think many people ask the same questions that I often ask and many people, like me, both love and hate the technology that drives our society.
What our phones give us is instant gratification, but what they can never recreate is human accompaniment. The conversations, relationships, journeys that we take with one another and the knowledge that we are truly known by another cannot be replicated, and they make us whole. God wants to walk with us on our pilgrim journey of faith, but we have to give him the time and the space to speak, to listen and to encourage us. For young men and women who have grown up even more attached to their devices than a millennial like me, accompaniment becomes paramount.
This is why my approach to vocation promotion has to go far beyond making flyers or sending out bulk emails about events or making a great website and updating social media. Young people need to be accompanied. They need to be listened to, and when they are, it is inspiring to hear how deep their faith is and how much they want to know about God’s will for them. Our wider society may be moving further away from God, but young people are very open to hearing the Gospel and they are looking for ways to grow in their faith and support one another. Our diocesan SEARCH retreat proves this twice a year. The high school juniors and seniors are always inspired by their time away together, and then they take leadership positions and help with the next retreat.
Parish leaders are stretched in a thousand different directions, but if I give one piece of advice. Don’t worry so much about which programs you use, but ask yourself, are my people being accompanied within these programs. Are they able to get real support from parish leaders, from priests and catechists? That is what this generation needs, a connection that is not technological, a connection that is human. And that human connection will help them to feel less alone in an increasingly isolated world and your sacrifice will show them God’s love for them as well and encourage them to consider whether they are being called to be a priest or nun called to accompany God’s people in a special way in the Church.

                                                           – Father Nick Adam

Vocations Events
Friday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2020 – Annual Notre Dame Pre-Discernment trip. Open to men of any age who are open to a call to priesthood, we will spend three days on the campus of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.