Beginnings and endings for Norbertines

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Holy Week is upon us and we will be immersed in all the rituals and ceremonies celebrating death and life. The legislative session is mercifully over, and the politicians are all out campaigning to get reelected. We still fight for the same social justice issues that so much need to be addressed, but these days, we do it with a fresh spirit. Is it the coming of Spring perhaps? There is some new energy that gets released when the Vernal Equinox arrives.

Father Jeremy Tobin

So, the coming of Easter is a new beginning. We celebrate death and resurrection. We do this so often in our own lives. Spring is a time of letting go – perhaps in the form of “spring cleaning.” Perhaps in the form of a walk outside to witness the transformation of the landscape. Out in the woods around our priory new creatures emerge; birds have staked out their turf. The fresh green leaves, the blossoms and the extended daylight say out loud life continues. Even death is the seed that produces new life.
Endings and beginnings. During my 30-years of work in Chicago, I got to know a lot of folks with roots in Mississippi. One family moved back to Vicksburg in the early 80s. They waited until they heard a blizzard was about to bury Chicago and the temps would plummet to invite me South for a visit. For three years in the 80s I spent the week after New Year’s in Vicksburg eating soul food and talking about the old days. I did not know then that my community would seek to establish a foundation in Mississippi.
We Norbertines came to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1990 at the invitation of the late Bishop William Houck. We took up residence at Jackson St. Mary Parish, 653 Claiborne Avenue. In November, 2004, we moved into the new priory on Midway Road. Bishop Joseph Latino blessed it. From then till now more than 15 Norbertines were part of this community. Mississippi changed all of us, for me – the change was profound.
A lot happened in 29 years. I reconnected with Mississippi people related to Chicago people I knew. I learned so much more about the struggle for justice that shapes my life.
But, as we all got older, no young blood stepped forward to replace us. So, our leadership in De Pere Wisconsin decided to close the priory and move us back to St. Norbert Abbey. This has been in the works for a couple of years and now we are selling the property and moving back by June. People are shocked but I have to get this out there.
We live in a fast-paced changing world. Climate change is going on right now even though we may be unaware. A chunk of a massive glacier in Antarctica, the size of the state of Florida is rapidly coming apart. The sea levels are dramatically rising. Nothing we can do about it now. Scientists are measuring the changes anticipating the outcome. There are pictures from space. There are oceanographer ships out there close by. They write about the warm water hollowing out the glacier until giant pieces collapse. Our planet is changing. We need to reread Laudato Si again. Maybe it is the first time. There is wisdom and a plan to protect our common home.
Lent is so much about mercy and compassion. The Scripture readings for Sundays and weekdays make for great reflection. The prodigal son, the woman awaiting stoning, the woman at the well. The morning I am writing this, at the Carmelite monastery we read from John 5: 17-30. Jesus is describing his identity and mission. In verses 22 and 23 he says, “Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father…” We see just how a merciful judge Jesus is. “Has no one accused you?…Neither will I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”
We will miss our home in the deep South, but we must also embrace our beginnings and our endings. Me? I will move back with my brother Norbertines and then return to Jackson and take up residence at Holy Family Church on Forest Avenue off Watkins with Father Xavier Amirtham, our Norbertine pastor, for another year. I hope to do what I am doing now and be useful. I hope to continue writing for the Mississippi Catholic until I “really retire” up North. There will be more to come. Be blessed everyone.

(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Speaking up can lead to healing

Dounce of Prevention
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC
Whether the perpetrator of abuse is a family member, a member of the clergy, a teacher or a stranger, publicly coming forward can take years and sometimes decades. People often wonder why report the crime after so much time has passed.

(Reba McMellon,


If a child is in the second grade and is being sexually abused, they can’t get in their car, move away, get an apartment and thus find safety. Second graders have very little power over their lives. They have to go to school every day and blend in academically, learn all sorts of basic math skills, eat breakfast, play on a sports team, interact like a normal child. If the abuse is ongoing, they learn to compartmentalize the trauma so they can go on to the next day, the next year and on with some semblance of a life. Sometimes the trauma of sexual abuse gets buried so deeply it doesn’t surface for decades.
This can be the case no matter how old the person is when the abuse happens. Memories sometimes are repressed completely until triggered later in life. Others don’t completely forget what happened but minimize it and put a lot of energy into not dealing with the damage.
When working with adult survivors of sexual abuse, it is quite common to have women come for counseling in their early 30s, after the birth of their first child.
The experience of pregnancy is one in which the body has been taken over by something one is not completely in charge of. The experience of giving birth is sometimes traumatizing. Having an innocent child of your own changes perspective and sometimes triggers memories. It is common for new mothers come to counseling with excessive worry and fear that something bad was going to happen to their child.
This prompts the survivors to uncover the trauma and walk through it.
It is rare someone wakes up and decides to publicly report sexual abuse and exploitation out of the blue. More often, it is after working with a counselor or spiritual director for a long period of time to build skills, confidence and understanding that it was not their fault. More often than not, it takes years to realize it was life-altering abuse.
Male survivors of sexual abuse often seek counseling after a long history of unstable relationships, promiscuity or the inability to be intimate. Men often come to counseling well into adulthood with a lot of life behind them, before disclosing childhood sexual abuse.
Counselors don’t always encourage the survivor to disclose their abuse publicly. When there is imminent danger to others, reporting the perpetrator is encouraged. If the abuser still has access to children, disclosing the crime publicly serves the greater good and empowers the survivors.
Publicly reporting childhood sexual abuse and exploitation should not be confused with sharing the trauma with trusted friends and family members. Keeping the abuse a complete secret perpetuates the shame and damage.
It takes a strong stable person to be able to speak out with confidence and tell publicly what happened to them. It can be retraumatizing. The public will question the legitimacy of the report and agencies will investigate whether the “story” is credible. Bear in mind, we are talking about intimate and horrifying facts.
The public can unwittingly say incredibly insensitive things such as, “those people just want attention.” It would take a severe personality disorder to humiliate themselves and others for attention. There is a small percentage of individuals who falsely report. It is not difficult to diagnose such a person through the interview process, when the interviewer is appropriately trained.
Statistics consistently show that one in three females are sexually abused before the age of 18. One in five males are sexually abused before age 18. These numbers haven’t gone up or down drastically in the 35 years I have studied child sexual abuse. What we can change is how we respond to reports of abuse whether it’s decades later or immediate.
The healing that can result by breaking the silence of sexual abuse is encouraging. I’ve often said a person cannot recover from what they haven’t uncovered. Wonderful strides have been made in our society when it comes to responding to allegations of sexual abuse.
If you’re tempted to wonder what difference reporting abuse makes now, after all these years, please know it makes all the difference in the world. It leads to healing, safety and hope for the future.
The Lord is close to the broken hearted, He saves those whose spirit is crushed. Psalm 34:19

(Reba McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for over 25 years. She can be reached through The Mississippi Catholic or rebaj@bellsouth.net.)

Lessons through failure

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
What’s to be learned through failure, through being humbled by our own faults? Generally that’s the only way we grow. In being humbled by our own inadequacies we learn those lessons in life that we are deaf to when we are strutting in confidence and pride. There are secrets, says John Updike, which are hidden from health. This lesson is everywhere in scripture and permeates every spirituality in every religion worthy of the name.
Raymond E. Brown, offers an illustration of this from scripture: Reflecting on how at one point in its history, God’s chosen people, Israel, betrayed its faith and was consequently humiliated and thrown into a crisis about God’s love and concern for them, Brown points out that, long range, this seeming disaster ended up being a positive experience: “Israel learned more about God in the ashes of the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians than in the elegant period of the Temple under Solomon.”
What does he mean by that? Just prior to being conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, Israel had just experienced what, to all outside appearances, looked like the high point of her history (politically, socially and religiously). She was in possession of the promised land, had subdued all her enemies, had a great king ruling over her and had a magnificent temple in Jerusalem as a place to worship and a center to hold all the people together. However, inside that apparent strength, perhaps because of it, she had become complacent about her faith and increasing lax in being faithful to it. That complacency and laxity led to her downfall. In 587 BCE, she was overrun by a foreign nation who, after taking the land, deported most of the people to Babylon, killed the king and knocked the temple down to its last stone. Israel spent the next nearly half-century in exile, without a temple, struggling to reconcile this with her belief that God loved her.
However, in terms of the bigger picture, this turned out to be a positive. The pain of being exiled and the doubts of faith that were triggered by the destruction of her temple were ultimately offset by what she learned through this humiliation and crisis, namely, that God is faithful even when we aren’t, that our failures open our eyes to us our own complacency and blindness and that what looks like success is often its opposite, just as what looks like failure is often its opposite. As Richard Rohr might phrase it, in our failures we have a chance to “fall upward.”
There’s no better image available, I believe, by which to understand what the church is now undergoing through the humiliation thrust on it through the clerical sexual abuse crisis within Roman Catholicism and within other churches as well. To recast Raymond Brown’s insight: The church can learn more about God in the ashes of the clerical sexual abuse crisis than it did during its elegant periods of grand cathedrals, burgeoning church growth and unquestioned acquiescence to ecclesial authority. It can also learn more about itself, its blindness to its own faults and its need for some structural change and personal conversion. Hopefully, like the Babylonian exile for Israel, this too will be for the churches something that’s positive in the end.
Moreover, what’s true institutionally for the church (and, not doubt, for other organizations) is also true for each of us in our personal lives. The humiliations that beset us because of our inadequacies, complacencies, failures, betrayals and blindness to our own faults can be occasions to “fall upward,” to learn in the ashes what we didn’t learn in the winner’s circle.
Almost without exception, our major successes in life, our grander achievements and the boost in status and adulation that come with that generally don’t deepen us in any way. To paraphrase James Hillman, success usually doesn’t bring a shred of depth into our lives. Conversely, if we reflect with courage and honesty on all the things that have brought depth and character into our lives we will have to admit that, in virtually every case, it would be something that has an element of shame to it – a feeling of inadequacy about our own body, some humiliating element in our upbringing, some shameful moral failure in our life or something in our character about which we feel some shame. These are the things that have given us depth.
Humiliation makes for depth; it drives us into the deeper parts of our soul. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t always make for a positive result. The pain of humiliation makes us deep; but it can make us deep in two ways: in understanding and empathy but also in a bitterness of soul that would have us get even with the world.
But the positive point is this: Like Israel on the shores of Babylon, when our temple is damaged or destroyed, in the ashes of that exile we will have a chance to see some deeper things to which we are normally blind.

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

Amid scandals, a way forward

GUEST COLUMN
By Lee Gilbert, Catholic News Service
Many Catholics are speaking now of their anger, of their downheartedness and even of the threat to their own faith that the recent scandals have caused. This is understandable. Yet, offering one another counsels of anger, despair and indignation does not seem the way to go, either.
What then? As someone once said, we are in the grave with Jesus Christ, but he knows the way out.
The very severity of the problem indicates a way forward, a way that is not the usual, soft way into which we have fallen over the past half century, but an effective way for all that, the way of the cross. We are being driven to become a disciplined people who know how to bring grace down from heaven in torrents.
That does not at all mean we should hide our heads in the sand over this business. We should be as well informed as necessary. But how much information do we need to act responsibly as Catholics? Do we need, for example, to read the sordid details of every instance of abuse?
While we need to be well-informed, we do not need to put our own mental health and spiritual lives at risk.
I have come to think of the news media as “Institutionalized Worry.” It is the job of journalists to report exceptions to good order. But when you read a newspaper filled with stories about these exceptions, you begin to get the idea that the entire world is a mess. It isn’t.
I teach fifth-graders at my parish and with my new awareness about the media was able to say that, on the whole, the world is an orderly and beautiful place. Your dad gets up every morning, day after day, to provide for your family; your mother, too, works very hard. You have pleasant meals together on the whole and had a very nice vacation last year. And there are many, many families like yours. This is perfectly normal, and that is why there is no reportage. People do not want to read about normality.
Similarly, there are 400,000 priests around the world and a great many of them are living heroic lives. No one in the secular press reports on priests martyred for the faith, priests who preach the truth bravely, who get up at all hours to assist the dying. If we do read such stories, our mental state would be much better, our faith built up.
I get that this is a scandal of historic proportions, that people’s lives were ruined, that many priests betrayed their vows, that there are bishops who made grave errors.
That is all the information I need when I set out to do what I can as a layman. I will avoid falling into the same traps that the abusive priests fell into, namely, letting my prayer life slip, speaking ill of my superiors and falling into the grace-sapping trap of anger. There is such a thing as righteous anger, but when a person sinks into a state of anger and depression, he is paving the way for temptations.
I need to bolster my spiritual life by reading lives of the saints, not the deeds of unrepentant sinners.
Any Catholic with even a cursory familiarity with recent news has more than enough information to inspire him to a life of prayer and penance.
Digging up more news is to one degree or another self-deception, and even, one could say, a species of addiction, where one opens a blog or a newspaper to get another shot of adrenaline, of self-justification, for however bad I might be, at least I am not that bad. From my standpoint as an ancient of 75 years, this is a dangerous, dangerous business, and itself a ploy of the devil, for one does not become a saint by thinking of sinners and their sinful deeds.
Prayer and penance, however, make up the well-worn way to a noble and a holy life.

(This commentary was published online Feb. 14 on the website of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. It was written by Lee Gilbert, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Portland.)

The joyful season of Lent

Guest Column
By Father Father John Catoir, JCD
There is a famous quote from St. John Chrysostom that draws attention to the supreme purpose of Lent; namely, the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. “Every year we celebrate Easter, the greatest and most shining feast of the Liturgical calendar.”
From the beginning, the Lenten Liturgy has been filled with references to joy, not only because it is a time of preparation for the Resurrection, but also because our purification through prayer and fasting brings a special form of delight to the soul.
We need to think of Lent as both a time of joy, and a time of penance. This is not a new idea. Gregory the Great, who was pope at the turn of the sixth century A.D., emphasized the theme of joy. He spoke of the two-fold path before us: the way of life that leads to joy, and the way of death that leads to misery. He quoted from the first Psalm to make his point: “Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked.”
Lent is a 40-day period devoted to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is designed to help us focus on the mystery of our redemption. Through it all we all called to live joyfully because of the knowledge of God’s love. We fast because there is always a need for penance.
Think of Lent as a musical prelude to the joyful symphony of Easter. The entire celebration lasts 50 days beyond Easter Sunday, right up to Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church. During this Easter cycle we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, who came down upon us on the birthday of the Church. The ultimate celebration comes when Jesus returns to us at the end of time.
Fasting helps us to free ourselves from the things of this world that diminish our desire to put first things first; namely the love of God, the love of neighbor and love of self.
Fasting is particularly helpful for those who are addicted in some way: to drugs, or one of the vices. Think about it: greed is an acquisitive spirit, anger is a lust for vengeance, jealousy is the constant fear that someone is taking from you what you think is rightly yours, envy is sadness over the good fortune of another, and lust is an inordinate attraction to sex. We want to grow in virtue.
Almsgiving helps us to cultivating a generous spirit; it strengths us as we strive to love God above all things. Abbot John Chapman a great spiritual master wisely said, “The only way to pray well is to pray often. Pure prayer is in the will to give yourself to God. In prayer, you never have to force feelings of any kind.
Jesus is our role model. He prayed and fasted for 40 days in the desert, before he began his public ministry. “I have set an example, that you should also do as I do.”- John 13:15. Love is the supreme law, and the ultimate purpose of our Lenten discipline.
When Jesus entered His public ministry, He was scorned, humiliated and betrayed by one of his own. He carried His cross, leaving us a legacy of courage, perseverance, hope and the promise of eternal joy.
“In this world you will have many troubles, but cheer up and take heart, for I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

(Father John Catoir is the founder and current president of the St. Jude Media Ministry, a national apostolate which uses Radio and TV to reach out to the millions of unchurched people in America – and to those in need of joy in their daily lives.)

Hello, Lent!

Fran Lavelle

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled to welcome Lent. Questions of what we can do to mark the season with meaning and purpose gives rise to some serious introspection. The thing is, for most of us, Spring is a marathon run at sprint speeds. From the blooming of the first daffodil in mid-February until the last pecan tree sets its leaves, the unfolding of Spring is as chaotic as it is beautiful.
The austerity of Lent is the Dr. Jekyll to Spring’s Mr. Hyde. That is, perhaps, the reason I am grateful for the season, especially this year. The speed of life really does ramp up the older one gets. Months that used to drag on forever in my youth now seem to pass with warp speed. I remember in grade school the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving seemed like an eternity. Now it feels like a few days.
The very last thing we need is to allow our Lenten observations to become check marks in our already hectic lives. Yes, Lent should have a measure of sacrifice but if our Lenten observations add to our “list of things to do” and are not opportunities to be experienced, we are merely adding cargo to the hamster wheel.
Searching for some new ideas I turned to my friend and arbitrator of all disagreements, Google. The internet is full of ideas of what to do to make Lent more meaningful, from “40 things to fast from” to “50 new things to give up for Lent” which, no lie, included falling asleep at Church. Dang, that’s deep. I’ve thought about this a lot and concluded that I will observe Lent a little differently this year. For what it is worth, here’s my list:
1) This year I am going fast from being busy. Now this does not mean that I will not get my work done or cease in being productive. What it does mean is I will be measured in my response to the work at hand. I can be Chicken Little and squawk about the sky falling, as in proclaiming my busy-ness to anyone who will listen, or I can be grateful for the opportunities for encounter with others that my work brings.
2) I am going to be intentional in accepting others where they are. I have discovered the hard way that there are difficult people in all walks of life. Our family, workplace, volunteer group, and Bible study group all have one thing in common, people. We are all created in the likeness and image of God. Understanding that we are all God’s beloved should stop us dead in our tracks. To quote Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
3) I’m going to spend more time with and be more present to the people I love. In the past two years, three of my contemporaries from high school and college have died. All three in their mid-fifties. Their deaths have been a huge wake-up call for me. I need to spend more time with my family and friends to laugh more, love more and enjoy one another more.
4) In spending more time with people I love, I might laugh a little harder, drink some good wine and share a delicious meal or two. There is something wholesome in gathering people around my table. I recently had a dinner for some friends who are moving. We laughed and shared stories, we enjoyed a good meal, and in all of it I was reminded that the love is real, and love is eternal. It is not a matter of excess. It is not an expression of gluttony. It is an intentional effort to be present in the moment. In hospitality, I am called to enjoy the gift and blessings of family and friends. Mind you, I will honor the time that I am alone and quieted and present to God. Those times are essential. I find great value in God’s word, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 However, I also see value in being present and loving well. That well may mean having salmon instead of fish sticks.
5) Last but not least, I am going to work on dumping my relationship with fear. This is a big one. More than I care to admit, I am afraid of the unknown. Too often, I fall into the rabbit hole that can lead me on an exhausting litany of “what ifs”. Fear guts my faith and disrupts my trust in God. One. Day. At. A. Time. This is the one that will be the hardest to be present to, but I am putting myself in front of the situation and opening a dialogue with God asking for help.
St. Augustine reminds us that, “Fear is the enemy of love.” If true, then love is the antidote for fear. At the end of my examination, at the end of the introspection is the voice of God calling me to love more profoundly. A bit more challenging than giving up falling to sleep in Mass. But if I am successful in even a very small way, I can’t think of a better way to spend these 40 days of Lent.

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

“Active participation” not activity

Father Aaron Williams

SPIRIT AND TRUTH
By Father Aaron Williams
In my previous article, I introduced the topic of the Solemn Liturgy as envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. Now, I wish to begin considering certain elements which the Council Fathers named as essential to that form of worship: the first and most fundamental of which is the active participation of the faithful. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, states, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14). The question, however, is how we are to define what constitutes this sort of participation. In recent years, it has been the trend to attempt to meet this standard of participation by making ‘jobs’ for people at Mass — a large number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, dividing readings into sections particularly at school Masses so that several students can each read a portion, or only using musical selections which the congregation can easily sing without preparation.
While there is certainly legitimate room for lay participation in the liturgy in certain specific roles, the vision of the Second Vatican Council cannot be reduced to mere “activity”— such that we only consider people to be actively participating in the Mass if they have some particular and individual task. The Sacred Liturgy is the foremost place where we express the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ and thus the greatest participation in the liturgy can only be expressed in those ways that the Body acts as a whole and not as individual functionaries.
When the term “active participation” first appeared in a Papal document, it was in 1903 when Pope Saint Pius X wrote to the faithful in the Diocese of Rome in order to encourage a greater and active participation, particularly by chanting the dialogues and responses at Mass.
In most places today, parishes never experience this sort of participation. But, Pope Pius X considered it a beautiful and fundamental expression of the unity of the Church to see the priest and faithful elevate their various dialogues into song—the chanting of the greeting (“The Lord be with you”) or the Preface of the Mass, as well as the various texts of the Ordinary (the “Gloria” or the “Sanctus”). But, more than that, his later successor, Pope Pius XII, commended the faithful to a participation which unified the mind to the voice. It was his desire that the faithful prepare themselves first by learning about the Mass and the articles of the faith that the liturgy expresses, so that when they make their responses at Mass, they do so with a real interior spirit of faith. To this end, he encouraged the publication of personal missals containing the readings and prayers of the Mass so the faithful could study them before Mass and pray with them during the Mass as a way of mentally joining themselves to the prayers that the priest speaks aloud in their name.
Pope Saint John Paul II underlined that participation in the liturgy is much more than speaking or gestures, but can even be deeply spiritual in the form of meditative silence. He says, “Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active.”
What is truly regrettable, is that in the modern experience of the liturgy, many parishes treat the aim of active participation as a requirement to get people “involved” in various roles. But, this is really at its heart a hidden form of clericalism, or at least a lack of true understanding of the lay vocation to holiness. It is not just the sort of recognizable ministerial “roles” at the Mass which make us holy, as if the lay faithful “miss out” on something deeply spiritual by not taking on particular tasks, or as if only the priest has access to the highest form of participation. Rather, true participation — even on the part of the priest — requires a spiritual closeness to the Lord in the Mass.
For this, we should take as our model the Blessed Virgin Mary. She gives the greatest image of active participation by her quiet observance of the Crucifixion. It was not her who was nailed to the Cross, but her own participation was heightened and perfected by uniting her heart to the sacrifice of her Son. It should be our aim above all else that, in the Mass, we can achieve this level of participation by our awareness of the prayers and readings, our interior prayer, our disciplined preparation before Mass. We are not mere spectators, nor are we actors — we are members of the Body of Christ in the Mass and the members of the Body must be united in their heart to the mind of the Head, who is Christ the Lord.

(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at Greenville St. Joseph Parish and serves as the liaison to seminarians for the Office of Vocations.)

Struggling inside our own skin

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
I’ve been both blessed and cursed by a congenital restlessness that hasn’t always made my life easy. I remember as a young boy restlessly wandering the house, the yard, and then the open pastures of my family’s farm on the prairies. Our family was close, my life was protected and secure, and I was raised in a solid religious faith. That should have made for a peaceful and stable childhood and, for the most part, it did. I count myself lucky.
But all of this stability, at least for me, didn’t preclude an unsettling restlessness. More superficially, I felt this in the isolation of growing up in a rural community that seemed far removed from life in the big cities. The lives I saw on television and read about in the newspapers and magazines appeared to me to be much bigger, more exciting, and more significant than my own. My life, by comparison, paled, seemed small, insignificant, and second-best. I longed to live in a big city, away from what I felt to be the deprivations of rural life. My life, it seemed, was always away from everything that was important.
Beyond that, I tormented myself by comparing my life, my body, and my anonymity to the grace, attractiveness, and fame of the professional athletes, movie stars, and other celebrities I admired and whose names were household words. For me, they had real lives, ones I could only envy. Moreover, I felt a deeper restlessness that had to do with my soul. Despite the genuine intimacy of a close family and a close-knit community within which I had dozens of friends and relatives, I ached for a singular, erotic intimacy with a soulmate. Finally, I lived with an inchoate anxiety that I didn’t understand and which mostly translated itself into fear, fear of not measuring up and fear of how I was living life in face of the eternal.
That was the cursed part, but all of this also brought a blessing. Inside the cauldron of that disquiet I discerned (heard) a call to religious life which I fought for a long time because it seemed the antithesis of everything I longed for. How can a burning restlessness, filled with eros, be a call to celibacy? How can an egotistical desire for fame, fortune, and recognition be an invitation to join a religious order whose charism is to live with the poor? It didn’t make sense, and, paradoxically, that’s why, finally, it was the only thing that did made sense. I gave in to its nudging and it was right for me.
It landed me inside religious life and what I’ve lived and learned there has helped me, slowly through the years, to process my own restlessness and begin to live inside my own skin. Beyond prayer and spiritual guidance, two intellectual giants in particular helped me. As a student, aged 19, I began to study Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. My mind was still young and unformed but I grasped enough of what I was reading to begin to befriend the restless complexities inside my own soul – and inside the human soul in general. Even at age 19 (maybe particularly at 19) one can existentially understand Augustine’s dictum: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
And then there was Thomas Aquinas who asked: What is the adequate object of the human intellect and will? In short, what would we have to know and be in love with in order to satisfy every flame of restlessness within us? His answer: Everything! The adequate object of the human intellect and will is Being as such – God, all people, all nature. Only that would satisfy us.
Except … that’s not what we mostly think. The particular restlessness that I experienced in my youth is today in fact a near-universal disease. Virtually all of us believe that the good life is had only by those who live elsewhere, away from our own limited, ordinary, insignificant, and small-town lives. Our culture has colonized us to believe that wealth, celebrity, and comfort are the adequate object of the human intellect and will. They are, for us, “Being as such.” In our culture’s current perception, we look at the beautiful bodies, celebrity status, and wealth of our athletes, movie stars, television hosts, and successful entrepreneurs and believe that they have the good life and we don’t. We’re on the outside, looking in. We’re now, in effect, all farm kids in the outback envying life in the big city, a life accessible only to a highly select few, while we’re crucified by the false belief that life is only exciting elsewhere, not where we live.
But our problem is, as Rainer Marie Rilke once pointed out to an aspiring young poet who believed that his own humble surroundings didn’t provide him with the inspiration he needed for poetry, that if we can’t see the richness in the life we’re actually living then we aren’t poets.

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

Persistence, determination needed in making abortion unthinkable

Guest Column
March for Life president Jeanne Mancini calls abortion “the greatest human rights abuse of our time.”
She’s right. More than 60 million human lives snuffed out by abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision – broken down, that’s one child killed every 23 seconds. No other mass killing is as large as this.
Mancini asked the crowd attending the 46th annual March for Life Jan. 18 if they will keep marching to fight abortion, to march for the “poorest of the poor” and those who cannot march for themselves until “we no longer need to march” and abortion “is unthinkable.” She received a resounding “yes” to each question.
Speaking to more than 2,400 teens from St. Louis attending the Generation Life pilgrimage, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson stressed importance of remaining determined and persistent in our efforts to make abortion unthinkable.
“Each abortion is more than just a number,” he said. “It’s a tiny baby whose life was snuffed out and a mother injured in the process. … There are always alternatives, right? Always alternatives.”
He’s also right. Just days before the March for Life, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in his State of the State address told the Missouri Legislature that his administration will be “promoting a culture of life.” He also recommended almost $6.5 million for Missouri’s Alternatives to Abortion program in the next fiscal budget. Funding goes toward resources, including food, clothing and supplies related to pregnancy and parenting, housing, prenatal care, transportation and utilities and more.
That’s just one piece of the support. Pregnancy centers across Missouri are introducing mothers to their babies through ultrasounds made possible by the Knights of Columbus Meet Life campaign. But the help doesn’t stop there. These same centers are connecting their clients to resources that will support them as they raise their children.
That conveys a message that pregnancy centers support both the parent and child – not just at the moment of pregnancy and birth, but well beyond, said Karen Ludwig, executive director of My Life Medical and Resource Center in High Ridge.
“You can’t say ‘choose life,’ and then – ‘oh, good luck,’” Ludwig said. “It’s wonderful to be able to walk alongside them.”
The pilgrims who traveled to Washington have been charged with the call to bring back a pro-life message to their local communities. This cannot be a simple message of saying that we’re pro-life. It must become a way of life – in our everyday actions and attitudes toward others.
Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade, we still have a lot of work in front of us. But it’s important to trust in God’s timing, and to keep a steady hand in the work of helping women to choose life over abortion.
“It’s all in God’s hands, and we have to trust that,” said Respect Life Apostolate executive director Karen Nolkemper. “We have to realize that prayer united to sacrifice is the most powerful force on earth. We have to stay focused on the truth. We don’t always see the fruits of our prayers, but stories of hope keep us going.”

(This unsigned editorial was published online Jan. 24 on the website of the St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It is reprinted courtesy of Catholic News Service)

What makes for wisdom?

Sister alies therese

FROM THE HERMITAGE
By Sister alies therese
“It has been said that ‘a person is enlightened,’ not ‘when they get an idea’, but ‘when someone looks at them.’ For God, to gaze is to love, and to work favors.’ These eyes are effective: ‘God’s gaze works four blessings in the soul: it cleanses the person, makes her beautiful, enriches and enlightens her.’” (The Impact of God, Father Iain Matthew, OCD)
If anyone has ever looked at you with eyes of love you know how disarming and how beautiful it is. Others have scorned you or ‘looked right through you’ and somehow you have been demeaned or rejected. Sometimes, though, it gets all mixed up!
“On their golden wedding a couple were busy all day with celebrations. They were grateful when evening came and they were alone on the porch watching the sunset. The old man gazed fondly at his wife and said, ‘Agatha, I’m proud of you!’ ‘What did you say? asked the old woman. ‘You know I’m hard of hearing,.. say it louder.’ ‘I said, I’m proud of you.’ ‘That’s all right,’ she replied a bit dejected, ‘I’m tired of you too!’ (deMello,1997)
Oops…
If we have learned to love, to share that love with others, and have learned to receive what others offer us, we have moved deeply into the mystery of the universe: unconditional love. Sometimes we jump at what we know or what we think we know, very conditional. Sometimes we offer ourselves to a kind of quick wisdom that lasts but a moment and then flits away. Clearly, whatever it is we need to learn to gaze at takes a lifetime. Perhaps it will be through art or writing, reading or hugging, trusting or praying that we will discover this gaze. It is this gaze that we want to desire to share with others.
“Some people will never learn anything because they grasp everything too soon. Wisdom, after all, is not a station you arrive at but a manner of traveling. If you travel too fast, you will miss the scenery. To know exactly where you’re headed may be the best way to go astray. Not all those who loiter are lost.” (deMello,1997)
Wisdom comes from various places. Like this five-year-old who, when asked, reported: “Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.” Really? Things can get very mixed up. Another child, a six-year-old, reported: “The first Book of the Bible is Guinessis in which Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.” OK? Really? Where do we get our wisdom information? We know when we stare blankly at the 24-hour news cycles we will get information or alternate facts, but will we be any the wiser?
The gaze of love is a theme frequented in mystical literature. In the 14th Century, Julian of Norwich explored this notion in her book Revelations of Divine Love. There are many examples in her writings but let’s consider this one in Chapter 50:
“But I still marveled … Good Lord, I see You, who are truth itself, and I know that we sin grievously all the time, yet You show us no blame … between these two contraries my reason was greatly belabored by my blindness … my longing endured as I continued to gaze at Him.”
In her book of 1993, Sister Wendy (d.2018) The Gaze of Love, Meditations on Art, she asks us to learn to look with love, not only at things, but at art, one another, and certainly in prayer. She says this: “Prayer is God’s taking possession of us. We expose to Him what we are, and He gazes on us with the creative eye of Holy Love. His gaze is transforming: He does not leave us in our poverty but draws into being all we are meant to become. How God gazes is not our business. We are only asked to let Him take possession. If we want God to be our all, then we shall want to do whatever pleases Him … holiness means seeing the world through God’s eyes.” This would be true wisdom, not just information or facts. These, as we’ve seen, can easily get us confused.
On the announcement board outside the Church we find: Morning Sermon: Jesus Walks on Water. Evening Sermon: Searching for Jesus. Oops. Gaze upon someone with love and as Valentine’s Day is just a day, make it when you can risk coming out from behind your barriers. Let yourself be loved into freedom!
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 columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)