The theological virtue of hope played a big part in my Tour de Priest excursion this past month. At our baptism we are infused with faith, hope and love through the sacramental grace gifted to us by the Lord, and hope is the recognition that this world is not the end, that even through the sufferings and challenges of earthly life we can live with joy and confidence that God accompanies us through suffering and will bring us to everlasting life. I must say, I thought about this often during my 270 miles or so biking down the Natchez Trace. After my first day of riding (a 60-mile jaunt between Tupelo and Starkville), I sat in pain in an easy chair at the rectory in Starkville, wondering how I would feel in the morning, and wondering honestly whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. But that was the whole point of the Tour de Priest, to be a joyful witness to the hope we have in the Lord and to radically trust that he is with us in our need.
I did complete the journey. I rode into Natchez tired but invigorated because during my bike ride I met with so many supporters of vocations, either virtually or at Mass or prayer, and it gave me great hope as vocation director. I want to thank the clergy and parish leadership in Tupelo, Starkville, Kosciusko, Jackson and Natchez for their collaboration. The Lord’s work continues in our diocese, and he is calling laborers to his harvest. Our job is to pray for them and encourage them, and I thank the many parishioners and priests who supported this bike tour. The event rose about $8,000 for seminarian education, and it helped to publicize our website, www.jacksonpriests.com and our Facebook and Instagram feeds @jacksonpriests. It also served as a great precursor to our first annual Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser. This event, scheduled for Oct. 9 at 6:30 p.m., will be live-streamed this year and will connect parishioners to our seminarians and those who form them to be the best priests they can be. This year’s keynote speaker is Father Jim Wehner, the Rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Father Jim is a dynamic speaker and a great ally for all those who desire to bring forth more vocations in their diocese.
The department of vocations has partnered with “One Cause,” an online platform that makes virtual gatherings easy to participate in, and so we are developing our giving center as we speak and will have much more information on sponsoring the event and buying tickets very soon. Thank you for your support of the Tour de Priest, there is so much hope to be found in our diocese, and I was filled with it during my ride, thanks to your prayers.
Friday, October 9, 2020 – First annual Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser (virtual)
Email email@example.com if interested in attending this event.
IN EXILE By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI Monks have secrets worth knowing, and these can be invaluable when a coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of us to live like monks.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of us have been forced to stay at home, work from home, practice social distancing from everyone except those in our own houses and have minimal social contact with the outside. In a manner of speaking, this has turned many of us into monks, like it or not. What’s the secret to thrive there? Well, I’m not a monk, nor a mental health expert, so what I share here isn’t exactly the rule of St. Benedict or a series of professional mental health tips. It’s the fruit of what I’ve learned from monks and from living in the give-and-take of a religious community for fifty years. Here are ten counsels for living when we are in effect housebound, that is, living in a situation wherein we don’t have a lot of privacy, have to do a lot of living within a very small circle, face long hours wherein we have to struggle to find things that energize us, and wherein we find ourselves for good stretches of time frustrated, bored, impatient and lethargic. How does one survive and thrive in that situation?
Create a routine – That’s the key. It’s what monks do. Create a detailed routine for the hours of your day as you would a financial budget. Make this very practical: list the things you need to do each day and slot them into a concrete timetable and then stick to that as a discipline, even when it seems rigid and oppressive. Resist the temptation to simply go with the flow of your energy and mood or to lean on entertainment and whatever distractions can be found to get you through your days and nights.
Wash and dress your body each day, as if you were going out into the world and meeting people. Resist the temptation to cheat on hygiene, dress and make-up. Don’t spend the morning in your pajamas: wash and dress-up. When you don’t do this, what are you saying to your family? They aren’t worth the effort? And what are you saying to yourself? I’m not worth the effort? Slovenliness invariably becomes lethargy and acedia.
Look beyond yourself and your needs each day to see others and their hurts and frustrations. You’re not in this alone; the others are enduring exactly what you are. Nothing will make your day harder to endure than excessive self-focus and self-pity.
Find a place to be alone for some time every day – and offer others that same courtesy. Don’t apologize that you need time away, to be by yourself. That’s an imperative for mental health, not a selfish claim. Give others that space. Sometimes you need to be apart, not just for your own sake but for the sake of the others. Monks live an intense community life, but each also has a private cell within which to retreat.
Have a contemplative practice each day that includes prayer. On the schedule you create for yourself, mark in at least a half hour or an hour each day for some contemplative practice: pray, read scripture, read from a serious book, journal, paint a picture, paint a fence, create an artifact, fix something, garden, write poetry, write a song, begin a memoir, write a long letter to someone you haven’t seen for years, whatever; but do some something that’s freeing for your soul and have it include some prayer.
Practice “Sabbath” daily. Sabbath need not be a day; it can be an hour. Give yourself something very particular to look forward to each day, something enjoyable and sensual: a hot bath, a glass of wine, a cigar on the patio, a rerun of a favorite old sitcom, a nap in the shade in a lawn chair, anything – as long as it’s done purely for enjoyment. Make this a discipline.
Practice “Sabbath” weekly. Make sure that only six days of the week are locked into your set routine. Break the routine once a week. Set one day apart for enjoyment, one day when you may eat pancakes for breakfast in your pajamas.
Challenge yourself with something new. Stretch yourself by trying something new. Learn a new language, take up a new hobby, learn to play an instrument. This is an opportunity you’ve never had.
Talk through the tensions that arise within your house – though carefully. Tensions will arise when living in a fishbowl. Monks have community meetings to sort out those tensions. Talk tensions through honestly with each other, but carefully; hurtful remarks sometimes never quite heal.
Take care of your body. We aren’t disembodied spirits. Be attentive to your body. Get enough exercise each day to keep your body energized. Be careful not to use food as a compensation for your enforced monasticism. Monks are careful about their diet – except on feast days. Monks do have secrets worth knowing!
(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.)
GUEST COLUMN By Meg Ferguson In the grand sea of types and styles of prayers, I’ve found myself at home in
prayerful ponderings. I love to take a virtue (like gratitude) or a specific topic (like suffering) and investigate it from all sides in hopes of clarifying how I can better live out this virtue or gaining some deeper insight into the topic. I could look at Scripture passages or writings of saints that relate to that theme, try to imagine what their lives were like, ask questions, and see what new insights speak to my heart. Usually, I will ponder one topic over days or weeks mulling the idea repeatedly in my head asking for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Recently, I’ve been meditating on pregnancy and the mystery of creating new life, and I would like to share my small insights with each of you. Since I am currently pregnant with my first child, it’s no surprise why the topic of pregnancy has been weighing on my heart lately. My husband and I got married this past December, and we are so blessed to be able to start a family right away! Our little one is due in October, and we just found out it’s a boy. The joy and anticipation that fills this chapter of my life can hardly be put into words! In my prayers, I find myself focusing on two passages in Scripture over and over again: Psalm 139:13-14 and 1 Kings 19:11-13. In Psalm 139, the psalmist is praising God for his greatness and all-knowing, all-powerful nature saying, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” (Psalm 139:13-14). This passage makes me feel elated and, indeed, wonderfully made, and a little confused. I can’t help but get stuck reading the metaphor of being ‘knit in a mother’s womb.’ I thought to myself as I read, is God like a master knitter? Somehow, the image of God the Father sitting in an old-fashioned wooden rocking chair intently focused on a knitting project made me smile (and laugh a little). But on a more serious note, God is like a knitter who meticulously crafts something beautiful. In Psalm 139:13-14, the beautiful creation God is so focused on is a child in utero. And in this metaphor, the mother is the one supplying God with the yarn, so to speak. That is, a mother provided the raw materials for God to create a new unique and truly awe-inspiring tiny human. God could have chosen to create new life another way, without the contributions of human men or women, but He chooses to work with us. How amazing is that!?! In all pregnant mothers, God, the Creator of All Life, is at work in a special way. But it’s not just pregnant mothers who work with God, fathers, too, are co-operating with God’s creative action. In thinking about this brief Bible passage, I am reminded that God is not a God who is faraway uninterested in human life, like a divine watchmaker who winds the watch and lets go. God is actively involved in our lives every day! Every breath we take is a gift God personally hands us like a flower picked for a special gift. In 1 Kings 19:11-13, Elijah recognizes God’s presence in his life. God tells Elijah that he will be passing by, and Elijah diligently waits. A tornado-like wind sweeps by, an earthquake shakes the mountain where he is, and a fire rages on, but Elijah knows God is not present in those destructive powers. Rather, when he hears “a light silent sound,” Elijah recognizes the Lord. When I read this passage, I connect the small gentle sound to the little baby kicks I have only recently started experiencing. God is present in the tiniest wiggle of my little one, and I am filled with joy! I ask myself, ‘How often do I miss the other tiny moments when God makes Himself present in my life (like a phone call or text from a friend, or the kind act of a stranger)?’ ‘How often to I forget to thank God for all that I’ve been given?’ I hope and pray we all strive to see God’s presence working in the everyday moments of our lives.
(Meg Ferguson is the director of campus ministry at St. Joseph Starkville.)
From the hermitage By Sister alies therese It is heaving I mean fierce good ‘ole tropical summer Southern Mississippi rain and I imagine God weeping over us. Weeping and weeping, weeping over Jerusalem because we just don’t get it. What is ‘it’? Well, we are made in the image of God, each one of us, not just the privileged. Do we experience our God gazing with love at us and mourning, almost saying, ‘after all that trouble My Jesus went to…?’
The band-aid has been ripped off some of the cancerous wound. Can we be cleansed? I find that difficult. You? I am reminded that our systems advantage one and clearly disadvantage another. (Consider Frederick Douglass’ speech on July 4, 1852.) Or worse, I suppose, is that ‘I know’ and ‘have known’ all along but have done nothing, or very little. Why does change only come when there is murder, anxiety, systemic racism, death penalty, abortion, virus, disease, abuse, hatred, hopelessness and brutality? They all sound very death-dealing to me. None very pro-life! Right. Death to them all! Easier said than done. I suppose the Gospels would inform my conscience and practice more if I’d dare to read them wanting to change (like wearing a mask) … but since I am advantaged I’d prefer, perhaps, to read them as a way of comforting myself rather than accepting Martin Luther King’s challenge: “Let us be dissatisfied.” (MLK, 1967, SCLC speech) We know some of things he was dissatisfied with: racial injustice, economic inequality, hunger and war. All those boiled down to his bottom line: he was satisfied with nothing short of the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, the Kindom of acceptance, of love in practice. I’m not sure I want to work that hard. You? At the heart of all this is reconciliation, not necessarily integration or assimilation or whatever the fashionable buzz-word is. In that same speech he reminded us: “I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes.” Racism is particularly ugly and over the years has been worth writing about. In 1989 the Pontifical Commission ‘Iustitia Et Pax’ produced ‘The Church and Racism. Towards a More Fraternal Society.’ (pub. CTS, 1989). This always makes me think: “Harboring racist thoughts and entertaining racist attitudes is a sin against the specific message of Christ from whom one’s ‘neighbor’ is not only a person from my tribe, my milieu, my religion, or my nation: it is every person that I meet along the way.” (page 34) That sin hasn’t changed. Have I? How have I begun to be an ally? What am I willing to give up? How do I understand the anguish of another and stand with them? Is each person another Christ? The Venerable Dorothy Day twigged a similar awareness as she sat in jail: “I am the mother whose child has been raped and slain. I was the mother who had borne the monster who had done it. I was even that monster, feeling in my own heart every abomination.” (Day, From Union Square, 1938) Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation (1961), offered this: “If people really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and God would give it to them. But why should God give the world peace it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is satisfaction of animal appetites for comfort and pleasure … really no peace at all … so instead of loving what you think is peace, love other people and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” (page 121-22) Langston Hughes in his ever-famous poem proposed a question we still need to answer: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like as a sore — And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” (Langston Hughes Reader, 1958) We have seen a few explosions (the many murders, brutality and ‘the-19’) and in these days we have had some wonderful peaceful protests. We have seen some changes (like the Mississippi state flag). Maybe we are able together to fully turn our hearts toward God and learn how prayer and action need to match. That would be a clear delivery of the mercy of God and we could show forth we are indeed, created in God’s image, all of us. “Love your neighbor like something which you yourself are.” (Shmelke of Nikolsburg, from Buber’s Early Masters, 1947)
(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing.)
(The following text is from a homily I gave at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo on the 15th Sunday or Ordinary Time. This was the first day of the Tour de Priest, a 300+ mile cycling journey that I took to build awareness for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.)
What if each one of us simply sought to do what God wanted us to do, and nothing else? What if we made no excuses, had no other motives, felt no outside pressure, and just did the will of God. If we all did that, there would not be a shortage of priests and nuns, and the priests and nuns that we had would all be faithful and fruitful and joyful in their ministry. If we all sought God’s will, not just in word, but in practice, in habit, by every day entering into prayer, by seeking out the sacraments as taught by the church, and by seeking to stop sinning not because we are terrible but because we need to allow space for God’s mercy to reign, the we wouldn’t have to think about churches closing, or the future of the faith in this country. What if each of us simply sought to do what God wanted us to do, and nothing else?
Loving God is an art. There are parts to it that come naturally to us: We intuit that God is there, but we need help reaching out to him. St. Francis de Sales says that the first thing we must keep in mind is the assurance of God’s mercy. So much of our avoidance of God comes down to the things that we believe are wrong with us or the things that indeed we have done wrong. But this is the whole point of God, to wrap us in his mercy and assure us of his love. But do we seek that out? Or are we too afraid? Too embarrassed to go to confession, too used to avoiding the difficult parts of our life to trust that God will bring healing and peace? That was me at 23. I knew that there was more to life than what the world could offer, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. It was easier to be steeped in my sin, to seek peace in relationships or experiences that were always passing. Then I entered a Catholic church for the first time after many years away, and I had an experience of God’s presence that could not be mistaken. It was transcendent, it gave me a peace that I could not produce on my own. This is the love that God can give us if only we open ourselves to it. The world will tell us that this is impossible. The world will say that it is slavery to abandon yourself to the will of another, but remember, the will we are giving ourselves over to is love itself, how in the world is that slavery? So, we need priests and nuns, and I think specifically the Lord has called me to seek out priests and nuns from this soil, from Mississippi. With all our diversity and beauty, and all our baggage and eccentricities, we need men and women to come forward to serve. And my job is to make the soil rich. My job as Vocation Director is to help young people understand how to listen to God’s will and follow it. Because otherwise they may have an initial love for God or impulse to do his will, but their attention can be snatched away in an instant simply because they were not taught anything different. They are like the seed on the path that is taken before it can bear fruit. I see this in a young man or woman who assumes that their life’s course will be the typical one. “Hey, I want to get married and have a family, therefore, God is calling me to do that.” Well of course you want this for your life, that is only natural. But God calls some to be a witness to the supernatural, a witness to the fact that everything on this earth should be done with eternity in mind, and our most pressing, most rewarding, most urgent relationship is with the Lord. Every young person who takes their faith seriously should come with an open heart. Lord, I may want this, but what do you want? My job is to help young men and women discern so that the persuasive voice of the world does not obscure the voice of the Lord in their discernment. The church’s teachings are radical, and they will always be challenged and rejected by many. But the church’s teachings are rooted in our belief that Jesus, and no one else, is the way and the truth and the life, and that truth can only be found when we seek to know God. Our world is in a desperate search for justice, but without God true justice will not be found. So someone who is open to God’s will is going to be open to being conformed to the truth that comes from God, and they will not seek to conform God to the truth as he or she sees it. My job is to help young men and women see that worldly success will only take you so far. Many times we make decisions about our future based on fear. “What if my needs and those of my family are not provided for?” “What if I am misunderstood or ridiculed for not taking a more typical approach to success?” When our only goal is to do God’s will, God will give us the grace we need to overcome that fear. My needs have always been provided for as a priest in amazing ways, and often I have come to realize that I don’t need the things I think I do, and that those hang ups were actually keeping me from a deeper freedom in the Lord. The church’s job is to provide rich soil for seeds to grow. Seek that out. Find good Catholic voices online when you have a question about the faith. Ask a priest or nun or sister or parish leader if you are struggling to follow the Lord’s will. Take advantage of the sacraments and make them a part of your life. Live fearlessly. And please, ask the question, “am I seeking to follow the Lord’s will?” If so, be open to the call to priesthood or religious life. If you have not been seeking to do God’s will, ask yourself, “where has this gotten me, am I fulfilled, or is there something missing that I can’t pinpoint?” That was the case for me, and if it’s the case for you, know that you are loved, and there is nothing to fear in coming to the Lord and his church and making a change. What if each one of us simply sought to do what God wanted us to do, and nothing else?
THINGS OLD AND NEW By Ruth Powers The Portiuncula Indulgence is coming up! What is that? Let me explain.
Possibly one of the most misunderstood teachings in the Catholic treasury is that of indulgences, and because many Catholics misunderstand this gift of God through His church, we do not take advantage of them when they are available to us. In order to understand indulgences one must first understand a little bit about church teaching on the consequences of sin and the nature of penance. First of all, sin has consequences: guilt and punishment, and punishment is both eternal and temporal (in this world). The idea that we have consequences for sin in the world goes all the way back to the story of the Fall in Genesis, where God tells Eve, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16) When the sinner repents God removes both the guilt and the eternal punishment, but the temporal punishment may remain, as we see in the story of David when he repents of his sin with Bathsheba, and the prophet Nathan tells him that God has forgiven him, but that he will still have to suffer some consequences for his act. (2 Samuel 12) Temporal penalties can also be remitted or removed, and God uses the church to do so. This is the basis of both the idea of the penances given as part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the church’s teaching on indulgences, which are closely connected. In the early church when one confessed sins one was given a penance that was often public and severe to lessen that temporal punishment for sin, but the church realized that the sinner could shorten the time of that penance by pious acts of prayer or charity that expressed sorrow for the sin concretely. The concept of indulgences developed as a way to shorten the time one would have been required to spend in doing a particular penance. It became customary to assign a particular number of “days” to a particular indulgence, meaning that performing this act would have removed that number of days from the person’s penitential discipline. Unfortunately, many people misinterpreted this to mean that a certain number of days would be removed from their time in Purgatory. This is not possible, as time in Purgatory does not exist in the same way we know time here. Instead, we can look at the definition of indulgences given by Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Constitution on indulgences. He said, “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints.” In an attempt to eliminate the confusion around “days” of indulgences, at the time he issued this teaching, he reduced the terminology around indulgences to partial (removes some of the temporal punishment due to sin) or plenary (removes all of the temporal punishment due to sin). However, he is clear that only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular indulgence is, because only God can read the heart of the person seeking it. The church offers numerous opportunities throughout the year for us to obtain a plenary indulgence, and one of my favorites as a Franciscan Secular is coming up soon. On Aug. 2 we celebrate the Feast of the Portiuncula. The Church of St. Mary of the Angels, which was called the Portiuncula or “Little Portion” was one of the chapels repaired by St. Francis of Assisi in the time after his conversion. It became the chapel where he lived and where he began to gather the followers who would eventually become the Order of Friars Minor, or Franciscans. It was also the place where he came to die in 1226. The little church, which is the cradle of the Franciscan Order, is now completely enclosed by the beautiful Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi. In the beginning the indulgence could only be obtained at the little church itself, but in 1967 when Pope Paul VI reformed the teaching on indulgences he reaffirmed the Portiuncula Indulgence and extended it to all parish churches. A plenary indulgence can be obtained on that feast day by devoutly visiting the parish church, and there reciting at least the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed for the intentions of the Pope, and receiving sacramental confession and Holy Communion. In order to gain the indulgence one should also be free from any attachment to sin, even venial sin. In these times of stress especially it is important to avail ourselves of the many helps the church holds out to us to help us remain faithful to the gospel, and draw closer to God, and the gift of indulgences is an underused treasure.
(Ruth Powers is the Program Coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez. She has over 35 years’ experience as a catechist and theology teacher at all levels from preschool to graduate school.)
Reflections on Life By Melvin Arrington All throughout Scripture we read about the need for and the benefits of patience, the fourth Fruit of the Spirit. The frequent references extolling longsuffering and endurance suggest that these qualities were lacking as much in the ancient world as they are in our own time.
In his classic Way to Inner Peace, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen offers penetrating insights into this elusive but essential virtue. He notes that patience is not an absence of action; rather it’s timing, waiting on “the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” He calls it “submissive waiting: a frame of mind which is willing to wait because it knows it thus serves God and his holy purposes.” And he adds “a person who believes in nothing beyond this world is very impatient, because he has only a limited time in which to satisfy his wants.” In conclusion Sheen believes “the more materialistic a civilization is, the more it is in a hurry.” Some people seem to be in a hurry all the time, and they don’t want to slow down for anything or anybody. In fact, they would probably view waiting as a waste of time. When I was young and immature that was more or less my perspective. Back then, I didn’t realize that, paradoxically, it’s possible to accomplish a lot by not doing anything. For example, when we find ourselves in a holding pattern – standing in line, sitting in a doctor’s office, or on the phone “on hold” hoping to be able to speak to a “real person” – we’ve actually been granted extra time for prayer and reflection. In these situations we should be still and listen because God is probably trying to tell us something. After all, being busy, in a hurry, rushing here and there can lead to serious consequences, such as anxiety. Perhaps those things are outward signs of an inner turmoil that’s already present. Either way, we all know how harmful anxiety can be physically, psychologically and spiritually. Anyone suffering from this malady should obviously seek medical help, but also invoke divine assistance. We should never underestimate the power of prayer. The Psalmist must have had prayer in mind when he wrote, “Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted!” (27:14) When we pray, we want an answer immediately; we don’t want any delays. But as the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18) shows, our petitions should not be of the one-and-done variety. Rather, we must “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17), and pray confidently, knowing that the Lord hears and answers every prayer – yes, every single prayer! Sometimes the answer is “yes,” and other times it’s “no.” And more often than we realize the answer is “Hold on. It’s not time yet.” According to the old saying, “the early bird gets the worm,” but for those who are impatient the pertinent adage is “good things come to those who wait.” If we do this, one of the things we’ll discover is that God’s clock keeps perfect time. When something is supposed to happen right away, and it doesn’t, some of us may become irritable; others may begin to worry; a few may even succumb to anxiety. But God’s schedule is not necessarily the same as ours. His timetable always overrides our own. He’s in charge and He has a plan for us, so we need to trust His timing and allow His will to unfold. Those guided by patience have a view to the big picture. They know they’re in for the long haul. And they know that good things do indeed come to those who wait. And so, we see that patience has connections to each of the theological virtues, faith, hope and love. It takes faith to yield to the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives rather than attempt to accomplish all things on our own. It takes hope to anticipate the good things God has in store for us without becoming restless. And, of course, there’s love. I Corinthians 13 tells us that love is patient; love bears all things. Patience is forbearance; it enables us to endure suffering. Bearing wrongs patiently is one of the spiritual works of mercy (CCC 2447). My whole life I’ve heard people refer to “the patience of Job,” but after reading his story in the Old Testament I came away with the impression that in some ways he didn’t seem patient at all. Job complained and he questioned God about his predicament; however, he did remain faithful and he persevered. And it’s important to note that in the end he was rewarded. So that has to be the lesson for us as we continue to go about our daily lives as best we can, given the restrictions of the corona pandemic. How long can God’s people endure being away from the Mass and the Eucharist? How long? As long as it takes. Because we know there’s a prize reserved for the stouthearted, those who persevere, those who wait for the Lord.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)
Guest column By James Tomek, Ph.D. Watching on Netflix Bob Nelson’s 2016 “The Confirmation,” about a boy and his father looking for stolen tools, immediately makes me think of “The Bicycle Thieves,” a 1948 post war Italian film about a father and son’s search for a stolen bicycle, necessary for work. There is a theology lesson in the comparison. After a short discussion of the two films, I will focus on the treatment of sacrament in the Nelson film.
The renown Vittorio De Sica movie is an example of neorealism, a genre that shows the real poverty of post-World War II Rome, where a bicycle is a precious tool to find and do work. With the help of his wife Maria, pawning her bed sheets, Antonio Ricci is able to unpawn his bicycle and leave the unemployment line as a poster hanger. The disparity of classes is shown when Ricci gives up and treats his son Bruno to a restaurant lunch with his remaining money. He tells his son that, with a job, they can eat every day, like at the adjourning table, where a well-off family casually dines. The film ends with Ricci and son wandering aimlessly on foot. In today’s society, Ricci and family belong to those most hurt by the COVID epidemic. “The Confirmation” follows a similar movement, about a father and son searching for a stolen set of tools, but the frame here is slightly different, focusing on the boy’s growing awareness of the complexities of life, as he spends a weekend with his estranged father Walt, while his mother and new husband go off on a weekend Catholic marriage encounter. The film opens with 8-year-old Anthony at confession, where we learn that he will soon receive the Eucharist and then be confirmed. But, here the film seems to lose focus as it hesitates between critiquing the Catholic faith and focusing on a son’s awareness of his father’s troubled existence. Hollywood does not always handle confession very well. Here, Father Lyons corrects Anthony’s awkward confession in a rude abrupt manner. Not my experience. Priests, personally speaking, are very helpful with penitents, especially first-time ones. Then later, in a conversation with his father, when Anthony is worried about the cannibalistic idea of “eating” Jesus’s body, the father Walt demeaningly interjects that it is only crackers and grape juice. Walt does advise Anthony that these are subjects that he will have to deal with later on. Is this in fact, the Confirmation of the title? Cannibalism with an 8-year-old? Grape juice? Bishop Joseph Kopacz, in a recent message to First Communion students, referred to Communion as a beautiful moment of coming close to Jesus who also wants to be with us intimately. Anthony’s mother Bonnie has superficial notions of the sacraments. The absolution she seeks is an imperfect contrition. The 8-year-old boy does seem older, and he does come of age discovering the weaknesses and strengths of his father, who is recovering from alcoholism. The movie does succeed in developing the understanding of father and son. The father is skilled in a smaller more “artistic” type of woodwork. His love of seeing doors mounted well is sacramental. We also see him putting brakes on his wife’s car – an ability requiring a deep sense of car mechanics. Anthony does witness true signs of friendship in Walt’s friend Otto who teaches Anthony about the effects of sobering up and the need to be patient. “The Bicycle Thieves” is very strong in showing the plight of the poor uneducated in postwar Rome, but it does not get into the specifics of Ricci and son. The Confirmation does succeed in getting into the souls of the characters. Relating the sacrament of Confirmation, with an anointing of true wisdom to the characters, is well enacted, but however, spoiled by a view of Catholicism seen in the superficial “get it done” attitude of the mother to the sacraments. Paying attention to our faith is a characteristic of theology seen in the Jane Hirshfield poem “Theology.” “A border collie’s preference is to do anything entirely, with the whole attention. This Simone Weil called prayer. And almost always her prayers were successful.” Paying attention raises existence to a prayer/sacramental level. The carpenter reflecting on his trade is at the start of an understanding of creation. Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist are sacraments of initiation, given to adults in the early church. Confession or Reconciliation is a vital part of maintaining these sacraments. Maybe we should teach children the general notion of sacrament rather than splitting them up individually. In carpentry, when we just want to learn how to fix things, we have a “material” mental attitude. Just get the job done. When we give carpentry more attention on how it really is a co-creation of the world, we are becoming more “sacra” mental. We elevate our existence from a material mentality to a “sacra-mentality.” The father Walt is a gifted carpenter and mechanic. When his tools recovered, he will be able to continue his work or art as a carpenter. With a sacramental attitude one has the patience to give one’s vocation full attention. Our official church Sacraments help us develop this attention. We are baptized into a community that needs forgiving and needs to forgive. Confirmation anoints us with a Holy Spirit strengthening oil, but it is essentially baptismal. We finish the initiation by taking part in the Eucharistic meal. We are not eating just to ease our physical hunger. We are at the table to share our lives with others as we remember Jesus’s example. Do Baptism and Confirmation happen once? We constantly renew these sacraments just as we need to renew our vocations, especially when, at times, we get discouraged and want to quit. The Eucharist is our constant reminder to reconcile ourselves to a sacramental view. In “The Bicycle Thieves,” Ricci and his son are in a society too poor to see the sacramental quality of life. He is a poster hanger – a job that, with a little patience and education, however, can take on sacramental vocational status. I remember, in my youth, when wall papering needed to be done, we had to wait until Aunt Mary was available. She had the patience to measure and prepare the paper and then hang it, thereby transforming rooms into beautiful places to live in.
(James Tomek is a retired language and literature professor at Delta State University who is currently a Lay Ecclesial Minister at Sacred Heart in Rosedale and also active in RCIA at Our Lady of Victories in Cleveland.)
Three months ago, as we started down the road of quarantine and shelter-in-place, I dusted off my old road bike, which actually was a hand-me-down from Msgr. Elvin Sunds by way of Father Matthew Simmons, and I started spending many late afternoons on the Natchez Trace. As I rode I had time to think and to dream. I believe that we can create a culture of vocations and we can call forth men and women who are feeling called to religious life from our communities, and we should do it now because they are waiting for us. They are waiting for someone to encourage them, someone to inspire them, someone to simply mention to them that they should be considering what their call from the Lord is. A culture of vocations is born from a culture of encounter.
So back to the bike. I would spend those evenings riding and thinking about how incredible the Natchez Trace is. It connects the people and parishes of our diocese in a way that is unique. Its beauty is transcendent and leads one to ponder big ideas and big dreams, and its name calls to mind our origins as a diocese. I found myself wanting to see more of it, explore more of it, and explore our diocese in the process. And of course as full-time Vocation Director I want to build a culture of vocations in all parts of the state. And that is how the Tour de Priest was born. Starting in Tupelo on Saturday, July 11 at St. James Tupelo, I will begin touring the diocese and visiting parishes as I ride the Trace from Tupelo to Natchez. I plan on stopping in places like Starkville, Kosciusko, Jackson and Port Gibson along the way. I am still working out the logistics of each stop, but even if you can’t meet me out on the road you will be able to follow the ride via our @jacksonpriests Facebook and Instagram feeds. Each day I will post updates with interesting sights and sounds, and I will be introducing you to our seminarians and young priests who I will meet along the way. This Tour will also build awareness for our Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser benefiting seminary education. The Gala is on October 9, so save the date, but you can contribute to our Seminarian Education Trust now through the “Givelify” app. Just download the app, search for the Diocese of Jackson, tap “Tour de Priest,” and give as generously as you can! The dividends we earn from the trust offset tuition costs each year, so the healthier the trust, the more seminarians we can support! Right now we have seven seminarians studying for our diocese, four of whom entered diocesan formation this year alone, that is awesome, but there is more good work to be done! I am so excited to begin this journey, and I hope that this Tour is a fun way to get everyone fired up about creating a culture of vocations in every corner of this big ole diocese. Every city on this tour has a story, what if every city on this tour brought forth a seminarian or a religious novice? It could happen! God will provide, but we have to pray … and ask!
IN EXILE By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI At the risk of being simplistic, I want to say something about prayer in a very simple way. While doing doctoral studies, I had a professor, an elderly Augustine priest, who in his demeanor, speech, and attitude, radiated wisdom and maturity. Everything about him bespoke integrity. You immediately trusted him, the wise old grandfather of storybooks. One day in class he spoke of his own prayer life. As with everything else he shared, there were no filters, only honesty and humility. I don’t recall his exact words, but I remember well the essence of what he said and it has stayed with me for the nearly forty years since I had the privilege of being in his class.
Here’s what he shared: prayer isn’t easy because we’re always tired, distracted, busy, bored and caught up in so many things that it’s hard to find the time and energy to center ourselves on God for some moments. So, this is what I do: no matter what my day is like, no matter what’s on my mind, no matter what my distractions and temptations are, I am faithful to this: Once a day I pray the Our Father as best I can from where I am at that moment. Inside of everything that’s going on inside me and around me that day, I pray the Our Father asking God to hear me from inside of all the distractions and temptations that are besetting me. It’s the best I can do. Maybe it’s a bare minimum and I should do more and should try to concentrate harder, but at least I do that. And sometimes it’s all I can do, but I do it every day as best I can. It’s the prayer Jesus told us to pray. His words might sound simplistic and minimalistic. Indeed the church challenges us to make the Eucharist the center of our prayer lives and to make a daily habit of meditation and private prayer. As well, many classical spiritual writers tell us that we should set aside an hour every day for private prayer, and many contemporary spiritual writers challenge us to daily practice centering prayer or some other form of contemplative prayer. Where does that leave our old Augustinian theologian and his counsel that we pray one sincere Our Father each day – as best we can? Well, none of this goes against what he so humbly shared. He would be the first to agree that the Eucharist should be the center of our prayer lives, and he would agree as well with both the classical spiritual writers who advise an hour of private prayer a day, and the contemporary authors who challenge us to do some form of contemplative prayer daily, or at least habitually. But he would say this: at one of those times in the day (ideally at the Eucharist or while praying the Office of the Church but at least sometime during your day) when you’re saying the Our Father, pray it with as much sincerity and focus as you can muster at the moment (“as best you can”) and know that, no matter your distractions at the moment, it’s what God is asking from you. And it’s enough. His advice has stayed with me through the years and though I say a number of Our Fathers every day, I try, at least in one of them, to pray the Our Father as best I can, fully conscious of how badly I am doing it. What a challenge and what a consolation! The challenge is to pray an Our Father each day, as best we can. As we know, that prayer is deeply communitarian. Every petition in it is plural – “our,” “we,” “us” – there’s no “I” in the Our Father. Moreover, all of us are priests from our baptism and inherent in the covenant we made then, we are asked daily to pray for others, for the world. For those who cannot participate in the Eucharist daily and for those who do not pray the Office of the Church, praying the Our Father is your Eucharistic prayer, your priestly prayer for others. And this is the consolation: none of us is divine. We’re all incurably human which means that many times, perhaps most times, when we’re trying to pray we’ll find ourselves beset with everything from tiredness, to boredom, to impatience, to planning tomorrow’s agenda, to sorting through the hurts of the day, to stewing about who we’re angry at, to dealing with erotic fantasies. Our prayer seldom issues forth from a pure heart but normally from a very earthy one. But, and this is the point, its very earthiness is also its real honesty. Our restless, distracted heart is also our existential heart and is the existential heart of the world. When we pray from there, we are (as the classical definition of prayer would have it) lifting mind and heart to God. Try, each day, to pray one sincere Our Father! As best you can.
(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.)