Francis’ prophetic call for life

Will Jemison

Keeping our faith
By Will Jemison
Support of and a disproportionate use of the death penalty is a sad reality of the legacy of our regions’ history of struggle with human rights and living the values of the United States Constitution, let alone the demands of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chattel slavery, lynching, Jim Crow and segregation were the ultimate denial of the sanctity of all human life. Unfortunately, state sanctioned executions evolved into a legal way of oppression of those accused of capital crimes, guilty or not, and of African Americans and poor whites as well. The criminal justice systems of the states of the Old Confederacy have continued to use capital punishment in ways that still disproportionately affect those groups. It has been said that it is better to be rich and guilty in these states than poor and innocent especially in regards to capital offenses.
In light of the current vitriolic climate for political and social debates in our country Pope Francis’ recent exhortation concerning the inadmissibility of the death penalty comes at a most critical time. In Catechism Number 2267 the Church states, “Consequently the church teaches in light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person. Further the church is exhorted to work with determination to see the death penalty abolished worldwide.”
Rather than seeing this as a new teaching the accompanying letter says this is in reality a refinement and evolution of the church’s enduring advocacy for life. From the apostolic period to this very day our Catholic community’s best teaching has been rooted in a biblical and social sensitivity which demands of all our human institutions and systems a dedication to advancing the common good.
In our country we have witnessed the theological and philosophical inconsistency of supporting prohibitions against abortion and promotion of the death penalty among several other social and political positions which do not advance the common good. One cannot be pro-life and not be concerned about the health of the planet we call home. One can not be pro-life and seek ever more vindictive ways to punish the poor. The consistent ethic of life demands that the unborn and those marginalized by state executions, poverty and prejudices in all its forms are equally valued as those we so blithely determine as “innocent and worthy of protection.”
A recent post by a Facebook colleague, Dr. Dave Barnhart, who is also an ordained United Methodist minister, poignantly points out why Pope Francis teaching on the death penalty is so necessary if Christians are truly to be advocates for human life, literally from womb to tomb.
“The unborn are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you cannot forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born they have died to you… prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.”
The Holy Father’s exhortation demands that Catholic Christians must be advocates for a gospel rooted, consistent ethic of life, even for those our society deems undeserving and unworthy.

(Will Jemison is coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson)

Daddy’s letter

George Evans

By George Evans
Nine years ago, with the approval and support of our pastor, Father Michael O’Brien, I went with five other parishioners of Jackson St. Richard Parish to Phoenix to learn how to start a new St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP)conference. Phoenix had been recommended to us as the best place in the country to learn about SVDP and how to start a new conference. Our first contact occurred around a conference table where our hosts asked each of us why we wanted to start a SVDP conference in Jackson. We each responded, in so many words, that we wanted to help the poor in some form or fashion. We were told that is not what SVDP is about.
Rather, the purpose is to grow in holiness by serving the poor. We are not a social service agency. We are a spiritual development group growing spiritually in serving the poor. After recovering from this first attention getter, we gradually were formed, in the Vincentian Way, the rest of our visit.
We spent two days learning the history of SVDP and being exposed to all that Phoenix was doing. It was mind blowing. They have various feeding programs, feeding more than a thousand people a day, AA and dental and medical services, with a constant stream of patients. Reading and other educational programs relating particularly to seeking jobs, computer training, stores for clothing and furniture and numerous other services too many to enumerate. The scale of their metro operation is huge. They do have approximately a hundred conferences as their base. We were as impressed with the concern and compassion of the Vincentians, and how they related to the poor, as we were with the size of their operation.
We came home raring to go; ready to grow in holiness by serving the poor.
It took three to four years of organization and growth to stabilize our Conference with officers, community contacts to meet the needs of those who sought our aid, such as utilities and landlords. It also took time to build and earn the trust of our parishioners, who, as time has progressed, have become an incredibly generous source of support both financially and as new members of our Conference. By 2013/14 we were able to invite other parishes to start new SVDP Conferences if they were interested and ready. We were willing to help as needed for them to get started.
The first parish to act was Jackson Christ the King. They chose the name, St. Martin de Porres, for their Conference. We helped with an initial financial contribution and by bringing experienced trainers from Huntsville, Alabama, to assist with the start up along with our own members. During the last two years we also worked with St. Therese Parish in forming a conference with an initial financial contribution and other assistance in getting officers, organization details and training in the SVDP way of growing personal holiness by service to the poor.
Once we had three Conferences in metro Jackson, we were encouraged by regional and national SVDP to form a Council in the Diocese of Jackson. For many years, SVDP already existed in Columbus and Greenville. Our new council includes all five conferences in the new Jackson Diocesan Council of SVDP. Any parish interested in starting a conference is most welcome to contact me and I will get you in contact with the people who will help you take the next step.
As part of ongoing training, our new council has been blessed and honored by visits from Ralph Middlecamp, who is the recently elected national president of SVDP. Ralph discussed his vision for SVDP during his three year term and again stressed the spiritual development of members by (1) taking Jesus to the poor, (2) seeing Jesus in the poor, and (3) serving the needs of the poor, all as discovered in home visits. Through these home visits we grow in our own personal holiness and relationship with Jesus.
Additionally, earlier this summer members of all five Conferences met in Jackson with our recently elected Regional Vice President, Morgan Jellot, and long time member and trainer, Patty Schuessler for what is known as Ozanam Training. Frederick Ozanam was the leading founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1833 and the training session is named after him. The half day session was well received on a Saturday with all receiving additional information for future home visits.
It was great having our trainers, both from Huntsville, Alabama, and our national president from Madison, Wisconsin, with us and assisting us to deepen our understanding of what SVDP means and what it can bring to our lives. Growing in personal holiness by serving the poor is a wonderful and fulfilling reality, and a goal never completely satisfied until our journey is completed. Jesus would certainly approve.

(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

To friends I’ve known

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Recently, reading Commonweal magazine, I was struck by this line by Jerry Ryan, a Little Brother of Jesus: “I have lost contact with so many people who meant a lot to me at different stages of my life, people I loved dearly and really cared for and who had given me so much and made me what I am.”
That’s so true for me and, I suspect, for most of us. People enter our lives, friendships develop, and then some of those friends disappear from our lives. Sometimes we move away, sometimes they move away, sometimes things change and we drift apart or sometimes the affective bonds that held us together disintegrate and they, and we, move on. To the degree that we’re sensitive, there’s always some pain and guilt in this. It’s not an unhealthy thing to feel the loneliness of that loss, nor is it unhealthy to feel that somehow we’ve failed and been less than attentive.
Indeed sometimes we have been less than faithful, but mostly the blame for that (to the extent that some applies) lies inside our inculpable inadequacy. Only God is adequate. Only God has a heart big enough to be attentive to everyone personally and intimately at the same time. Only God never moves away or grows tired. And only God has the strength to forever be faithful. We cannot not be inadequate.
I struggle mightily with that inadequacy. Being a missionary, given the work I do, and given the quirks of my personality, I find myself perennially overwhelmed by my inadequacy in the area of staying close to family and friends, including very dear friends. The task isn’t easy.
First, I come from a very large family which through the generations has expanded into a virtual tribe. It could be a fulltime job just staying in touch with family. Next, I’ve been ministering for more than 40 years and during that time have lived inside various Oblate houses with almost 200 different people. Community is family and, again, it would be a fulltime task just staying in meaningful touch with them all. Then, during my years of doing graduate work, I had the privileged opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships with a number of classmates from different parts of the world. Finally, during all those years of ministry, I’ve met hundreds of students in classrooms and thousands of people doing workshops and retreats. Most of those encounters were temporary and casual, but through the years a good number of meaningful friendships developed there as well. And, while all this was happening, I’ve lived and worked in four different countries and made friends in each of those places.
Then today there’s the further struggle to stay in touch with all the contacts that one necessarily has to deal with on social media.
How does one keep meaningful contact with everyone? How does one not betray friends by simple neglect?
Even as I’m deeply thankful to have so rich a treasury of family and friends, not infrequently I’m overwhelmed with the task of staying in meaningful contact with them and at those times I feel some guilt about forever being out of touch with so many people I was once close to. Sometimes friends whom I have been out of touch with remind me, and not always delicately, of my neglect of our friendship. But as the years go by and the problem grows larger rather than smaller, I am making more peace with my inadequacy and guilt – if not always with some of my neglected friends.
What helps is to remind myself constantly of what a great grace it is to have so large a family and to have such a large number of friends. There are few things for which to be more grateful. Next, I do try to stay in meaningful touch with them to the extent that time, energy, and distance allow. Most importantly, though, given my inadequacy, I try to meet my family and friends at a place where time, energy, and distance are eclipsed by an immediate, intimate presence. There’s one place where we’re not inadequate, where we can be at more places than one at the same time and where we can love countless people individually and intimately, namely, inside the Body of Christ.
Scripture tells us that, as believers, we form together a body that, as much as any living body, is a true living organism, with all parts affecting all other parts. Inside that body we’re present to each other, not fully consciously of course, but deeply, truly, actually. And to the extent that we’re living our lives faithfully and sharing honest friendship and fellowship with those who are immediately around us, we’re not only healthy enzymes helping bring health to the body, we’re also present to each other, affectively, in a way that touches us at the deepest level of our souls There is a place where we are not neglecting each other.

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

Unwrapping God’s supreme gift: Eucharist

Father Aaron Williams

Spirit and truth
By Father Aaron Williams
The Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist is our Lord’s supreme gift to us. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council rightly called it the “source and summit of the Christian life.” Pope Francis calls the Eucharist the “Living Memorial of [God’s] love.” It is both the promise and the means of friendship with the Lord.
It is the most precious treasure of the Church — even martyrdom pales in comparison to its glory. And, therefore, it is rightly the heart and center of our lives. Our Lord himself declares that, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” In the Holy Eucharist, our Lord unites us to Himself in a spiritual and physical manner, such that it is a true communion: He in us, and we in Him.
It is truly regrettable that so many people — indeed, so many Catholics — do not have faith in this supreme Sacrament of our Lord. God has chosen to communicate His love for humanity in such a simple and human sign, but just as His Son was rejected and spurned, so too the Sacrament of His Son’s Body is not accepted by some Catholics. Of course, this is not often a vicious act. There are not a good number of Christians who would willingly and viciously reject something that is an apparent gift from God. They doubt this sign most often because they simply do not understand it.
And, in some small way, this is unsurprising. Surely, we might ask, if our Lord truly willed that all people be united to Him in this Sacrament, He would have given us something more conspicuous — something akin to the few extraordinary Eucharistic miracles in the Church’s long history. Surely, then all would come to believe — would they not? Why does the Lord desire to reveal Himself to us in signs? Why not with extraordinary displays?
In the words of Saint Josemaria, “Jesus hides in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar because He wants us to dare to approach Him.” God tells Moses, “You cannot see My Face; for no man shall see me and live.” And, Moses too, after approaching the Lord in the Tent of Meeting, hid his face, for the glory of the Lord upon him was too radiant for others to see. Even our Lord’s human Body is a veil of the radiant glory of God. The one moment when His human Body is visibly glorified — the Transfiguration — the Apostles fall down in terror and hide their faces.
But, in this Sacrament of our Lord’s Body, Christ desires not that we cower, but that we gaze upon Him in wonder — that we should look upon Him, and He upon us. Our Lord yearns that we should approach Him, receive Him into our very bodies, and become one with Him, just as He and the Father are One. And, therefore, Saint Thomas declares in the sequence he composed for the feast of Corpus Christi:
Here beneath these signs are hidden
priceless things, to sense forbidden;
signs, not things, are all we see.
Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine,
yet is Christ in either sin,
all entire confessed to be.
The Sacrament we experience in the Mass is truly a veil. Our own frailty might desire that Christ should make Himself known in perhaps a grander sign, or with a vivid display; but, what we may not grasp is the sheer love of God present for us in this sign.
And so, perhaps not totally comprehending this great Sacrament, but out of love for God, we approach the altar. We gaze upon the Lord with bended knee. We quietly contemplate His love for us as we see Him held aloft. And, we receive Him fully and truly into our bodies in this Sacrament, so that we may become one with Him. Christ hides behind this simple bread, not so that we may have trouble finding Him there, but that we should not be afraid to look for Him.
That is how great God’s love is for all of us. God has so humbled Himself to appear to us to be simple — to appear to us to be something we can hold, something we can receive into our mouth. The God who created the universe, contains Himself in this tiny Host, just so that we can contain Him. Receive Him like a child — like you received your own first Holy Communion. Receive this gift with awe and in wonder. Prepare yourself by confession and penance. And, never fail to give thanks to Almighty God. (Adapted from a homily given on June 3.)
(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at St. Joseph in Greenville.)

Immigration nightmare calls for reunification

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
I still hear that little girl standing alone watching her mother being led away. Her cries were not like little children cry. Her cries were primal, from her depths. Her feeling of abandonment made me feel uneasy. One o’clock in the morning I would be dreaming, hearing that wail, seeing babies ripped from mothers arms. All on the Mexican border. All being done by agents of the government. The outrage I still feel overcomes the powerlessness to change this.
What has become of the United States government? What is going on?
No, I am not writing a “Dump Trump” piece. No, I am not going political. I am focusing on one of the most vulnerable populations in the country: immigrants from Central America and Mexico. We know them. They are our neighbors. We shop with them. We see and hear them. Most of all, we pray with them. They are the fastest growing Catholic population in the country. Seminary and formation programs are requiring candidates to become fluent in Spanish. As a Catholic Christian I stand with them regardless of their status. The sign I see often, “no somos illegals,” (no one is illegal) is a clarion call to pass fair and just immigration reform.
Most of you know my involvement with immigrant rights. I participate in rallies and deliver speeches. As a church we stand for the sanctity of the family. Our churches have always been safe places for families. What is going on is immoral, obscene and flies in the face of what we believe as Americans. It must end, and all families must be reunited.
I am proud of our record as Catholics in advocating for migrants and others fleeing persecution. From Pope Francis down to all the bishops, from documents and statements supporting migration, protecting and giving safe harbor to refugees, our position is crystal clear.
We get awash in propaganda playing games with status and labels. We do have a policy to admit people seeking asylum. What we have seen is deliberate violations by ICE and border patrol preventing people accessing proper points of entry.
This is wrong.
To better focus this as Catholics I quote from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to ‘welcome the stranger among us’, for this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ.” (Mt.25)
Let us open this up a little bit. The end of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century Catholic immigrants poured into the country. Laws were lax so they poured in by the thousands. They put their mark on the Church. We had “national parishes.’ These cut through territorial parishes and reached out to members of specific nationality. Religious orders were recruited to better serve their own nationalities. There was a feeling of being an embattled minority in this Protestant country.
Granted, not all was perfect. They, like the rest of the country, were infected by the racism that underlies so much of our national character. In the 19th century Bishop England famously said in response to aggressive outreach to many unchurched African Americans, I paraphrase: “If we take them in we would be persecuted as being both foreign and black.” It took nearly a century to change that, but we did it.
Now we focus on these immigrants who contribute mightily to make America work, but are exploited in so many ways, living in the shadows. The bishops wrote a great pastoral letter “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.” It really develops Matthew 25, zeroing in on human dignity and being made in God’s image. Reading this again makes what I see happening even more abhorrent.
Our bishops and leaders “offer a comprehensive set of recommendations of changing U.S. laws and policies to bring about a more humane and just immigration system in the United States.” It is time to act on these recommendations.

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

Apologia : consecrated celibacy

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Huston Smith, the renowned commentator on world religions, submits that you should not judge a religion by its worst expressions, but by its best, its saints. That’s also true in terms of judging the merits of vowed, consecrated celibacy. It should be judged by its best, not perverse, examples, as is true too for the institution of marriage.
I write this apologia because today consecrated celibacy is under siege from critics in almost every circle. Celibacy is no longer understood or deemed realistic by a culture which basically refuses to accept any restrictions in the area of sexuality and in effect sees all celibacy, lived for whatever reason, as frigidity, naiveté or a misfortune of circumstance. Our culture constitutes a virtual conspiracy against celibacy.
More critical still is how consecrated celibacy is being judged in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandal. More and more, there’s a popular conception both within society and within church circles that sexual abuse in general and pedophilia in particular is more prevalent among priests and religious than in the population at large and that there’s something inherent in consecrated celibacy itself that makes priests and vowed religious more prone to sexual misconduct and emotional ill health.
How true is this? Are celibates more prone to sexual misconduct than their non-celibate contemporaries? Are celibates more likely to be less healthy and happy in general than those who are married or who are sexually active outside of marriage?
This must be adjudicated, I believe, by looking at the deepest intentions of sex itself and, from there, assessing where both married persons and celibates for the most part tend to end up. What’s the ultimate intention of sex? What is this powerful archetypal energy meant to do in us? Generically, the answer is clear: Sex is meant to lead us out of ourselves, out of aloneness, out of selfishness, into altruism, into family, into community, into generativity, into mellowness of heart, into delight, into happiness and ultimately (perhaps not always this side of eternity) into ecstasy.
Viewed through the prism of this criterion how do marriage and vowed celibacy compare? Mostly we see parallels: Some people get married, become healthily generous and generative, remain faithful to their spouses and age into wholesome, happy, forgiving persons. Others write a different chronicle. They get married (or are sexually active outside of marriage) but do not become more generous and generative, do not remain faithful to their commitments in love and age instead in sullenness, bitterness and unhappiness.
The same is true for vowed celibates: Some make the vow and become healthily generous and generative, remain faithful to the vow and age into wholesome, happy, forgiving persons. For some others, most everything in their lives belies the transparency and fruitfulness that should stem from their celibacy and they do not become more selfless, generative, mellow or happy. Instead, like some of their sexually active contemporaries, they also grow sullen, bitter and unhappy. Sometimes this is the result of breaking their vow and sometimes it’s the result of an unhealthily repressed sexuality. In either case, their vow isn’t fruitful and generally leads to unhealthy compensatory behaviors.
Celibacy, admittedly, comes fraught with some extra dangers because marriage and sex are the normal path that God intended for us. As Merton once put it, in celibacy we live inside a loneliness which God, himself, has condemned: It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone! Sex and marriage are the norm and celibacy deviates from that. But that doesn’t mean celibacy cannot be highly generative, meaningful and healthy and make for wholesomeness and happiness.
Some of the most generative and wholesome people that I know are vowed celibates, aging into an enviable mellowness and peace. Sadly, the reverse is also true for some celibates. Of course, all of this is equally true, both ways, for the married people that I know.
By their fruits you shall know them. Jesus offers us this as a criterion for judgment. But in judging celibacy and marriage (just in judging religions) we might add Huston Smith’s counsel that we should judge each by its best expressions, by its saints and not by its unhealthy expressions. Looking at marriage and celibacy, we see in each both healthy and unhealthy manifestations; and it doesn’t seem that either side trumps the other in terms of manifesting sanctity or dysfunction. That’s not surprising since, in the end, both choices demand the same thing, namely, a willingness to sacrifice and sweat blood for the sake of love and fidelity.
Some celibates are unfaithful and some are pedophiles, but some become Mother Teresa. It’s worth mentioning too that Jesus was a celibate. Some married persons are unfaithful, some are abusive and some murder their spouses, but some give tangible, embodied, holy expression to God’s unconditional love for the world and Christ’s unbreakable bond with his church.
Sexuality is a reality that can be lived out in different modalities and both marriage and celibacy are holy choices that can, sadly, go wrong.

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

Bishops ask for freedom to serve

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Recently, the United States Catholic of Bishops (USCCB) designated the week of June 22-29 as Religious Freedom Week. This has evolved from a Fortnight for Freedom, begun in 2008, a time frame that leads to the celebration of our nation’s founding on July 4th each year.
The slice of time of one is apropos for the matter, both in our society as we approach the celebration of liberty every year, and in our Church because it begins on the feast day of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, martyrs for religious freedom, and ends with the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, the prototypical martyrs of religious conscience and integrity of faith.
But, “it has been difficult,” says the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville “as we’re swimming upstream in this culture. Some people think religious freedom is the threat” but “Religious Liberty Week is about the Gospel, it is meant to inspire a culture.” Religious freedom is the cornerstone of our nation’s constitution. The first amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”
Speaking on behalf of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the archbishop has asked Americans to pray and “act in support of religious liberty at home and abroad.” The archbishop went on to explain, “Religious freedom allows the space for people of faith to serve others in God’s love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services. We encourage people of faith to reflect on the importance of religious freedom so that we might have the space to carry out our mission of service and mercy, and we invite everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters who face intense persecution in other parts of the world.”
The theme for this year’s observance’ “Serving Others in God’s Love” portrays the nature of the church for nearly two millennia. Beginning with the Lord Jesus, who came, not be served but to serve, it is self-evident, in the Bible and in our tradition, that the Church is most faithful to her Lord when she wears the mantle of service on the road to salvation.
Word, Worship, Community and Service are the standards for all Christian communities, and the free exercise thereof is the capacity to run on all cylinders, both within our church structures and as active citizens in society for the common good through our church’s ministries and services. The Lord’s mandate is to go and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them everything I have commanded you, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. (Matthew, Ch 28) Often, it is our ministries and services that attract people to the beauty, truth, and light of the crucified and risen Lord, breathing life into our evangelizing, teaching and preaching.
To serve others is central to our diocesan vision and at times it is a blessing to take a long, loving look at what is real, the panorama of ministries, works and services that thrive around our diocese. The vision is embodied in our parishes and in education, in health care and through Catholic Charities. It is the generosity of the faithful that makes it possible and this bountiful giving occurs on a daily basis, for special fund raising events, and through our annual Catholic Service Appeal.
On this note, I want to thank the thousands of people throughout the Diocese of Jackson who generously support our Catholic Service Appeal. It is a life-line for our mission, vision, and ministries within our diocesan structures on behalf of our Catholic people, as well as in many corners of our state as a visible sign of Christ’s love for all.
You can rest assured that your support is allowing the diocese to inspire the culture with the Gospel, to bring about the Kingdom of God, and to serve others in God’s love. This is the free exercise of our Catholic faith, in season and out or season, in our churches and in society. Let us never tire of being faithful disciples and citizens on behalf of life, justice and peace.

Humanae Vitae: challenge to love

Gerry Grey Lewis

Guest Column
By Gerry Gray-Lewis
Fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul IV wrote the controversial letter titled Humanae Vitae “Of Human Life.” Up until the 1930’s, all Christian denominations largely agreed that husbands and wives were not to interfere with the marital act of love, as “controlling birth” was not in keeping with a sacramental marriage.
In 1932 the Anglican Church broke with this tradition, the first small crack in the dyke. With the “pill” discovery in the 1960’s, questions soon rose. The pillno longer interrupted the human act of love (as barrier methods would), so perhaps it would be permitted?
Blanket approval was given, and couples began using the pillin anticipation of the magisterium’s approval. The outcry of dissent following the encyclical Humane Vitae’s release was deafening, a watershed moment for our Church. Within it, four predictions were made of our future.
1. “How easy it will be (for many) to justify behavior leading to marital infidelity or to a gradual weakening of morals.” One third of marriages fail before their 10th wedding anniversary, a climb which parallels the now common use of contraceptives. Despite the Pill, we see 1.4 million abortions each year, and the Pillitself has abortive actions. 40 percent of pregnancies are now to unwed parents.
2. “Especially the young who are susceptible to temptation that they may need encouragement to keep the moral law.” Flu shot, Tylenol from a public health nurse, and ear piercing require parental consent for minor children. Not so for contraception/sexual counseling. HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, infertility and of course the broken hearts and wounded souls pepper the sexual landscape, which our teens often navigate without a guide.
3. “Men will lose respect for their wife’s psychophysical equilibrium and use women as instruments to serve their own desires. No longer will they view their wives as companions who should be treated with attentiveness and love.” Sex has lost what once made it sacred, and the ripples of that failure can be seen across society today. Note the expansion of pornography/sex addiction, sex trafficking, date rape, partial-birth abortion, and co-habitation.
4. “Who will prevent public authorities (rulers, governments) from favoring effective contraceptive methods and from mandating that everyone must use them?” In 1985, PhD student Steve Mosher discovered draconian measures in the forced abortion/sterilization policy of China and its one child policy — one that caused the widespread practice of infanticide of baby girls and the country’s grossly disproportionate ratio of male to female. And up until the Mexico Policy of 1984, even U.S. foreign aid had been tied to mandatory contraceptive/abortion programs in poor countries.
Four simple predictions made in 1968 with no empirical data for its author to anticipate such outcomes. Yet, all have occurred across the globe in less than five decades.
But among the dire predictions is something else: hope. Humane Vitae also contains imaginative, magical, inspiring, edifying words that fortify marriage and chastity.
After our own early marriage, ignorant of this teaching and “forming our own conscience,” somewhere or somehow a copy of this booklet fell into our hands. It was an illuminating, exhilarating moment to be called to a radically different way of nuptial love. It gave us the why for such an outdated teaching, and we were joyful to be invited to live our vows in such a radical way.
And science itself offers hope, replacing Calendar Rhythm Methods with highly effective methods …Modern Natural Family Planning (NFP): the Billings Ovualtion Method, Sympto-Thermal and the Creighton model. Not surprisingly, only 3 percent of couples that utilize NFP suffer from divorce.
Saint John Paul II later developed the teaching of marital love in famous works entitled “Theology of the Body.” Our parish pastor Father John Bohn recently used the old dear phrase “Before you were a twinkle in your father’s eye!” We are that twinkle in God the Father’s eyes. How blessed is the family who cooperates with that divine twinkle and nine months later is called to give that twinkle a name. And how blessed is the family today that can use ethical science to delay twinkles for serious family reasons.
What an exciting time to be Catholic. Be wiser than we were, our sisters and brothers. Read, reflect, pray, take in a class on NFP…..then choose your path.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost

(Gerry Gray-Lewis is a wife, mom, nurse and a member of Jackson St. Richard Parish. NFP classes using the BOMA® method are offered in English on a regular basis in the Jackson Diocese. For more information, please contact the Office of Family Ministry at 601-960-8487 or email Charlene Bearden at

Will we see God face to face?

Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD,
A June 15, 2018 email from Art Magaldi ignited the following discussion.
Fr. L.,
Just read the two articles and the second one reminds me of a point I discussed with a couple of priests recently. It’s a small point, but it’s interesting to me. The question is whether the just will actually see the face of God. One of the two priests said that God was spirit and therefore there really wasn’t a face to see. I have a problem with that interpretation because the Scriptures mention seeing the face of God, e.g., I believe the psalmist asks, “When will I see the face of God?” I think Jesus is also quoted as saying that the Guardian Angels of little children look on the face of his Father in heaven (not sure of this exact wording, however). Non-scripturally, Dante in his “Divine Comedy” says that the greatest happiness of those who make it to heaven is to look on the face of God and see the great love God radiates for people. I’m quite sure you will know many more of the liturgical and scriptural references to God’s face.
So, although it’s a small point, what do you think about this? Maybe this would even fit in some small sense with Sister Dianne’s discussion of our gut feelings about who God is. Art
“Theologically,” I responded, “there is no doubt that God has no face, for God, as the angels, is a pure spirit with no physical parts attached. What we read in the Scriptures about God’s face indicates the intended readership of the Bible, most of whom had nothing beyond a few grades’ education, if even that. They would not have understood any cerebral presentation of God.
“For the same reason, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is written in an anthropomorphic way; meaning that God is described in human form and feelings. The readers knew nothing else. Imagine the untaught fishermen of the Old and New Testaments trying to wrestle with theological concepts such as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas offered us. Even with our supposed education, we wrestle.
“Interestingly, the Baltimore catechism states that God cannot be seen with bodily eyes. Will we have spiritual eyes? This implies that, somehow, we will know
God fully in a non-physical, spiritual way. We don’t grasp that either. Frankly, I’ll be more than content just to make it into heaven. God bless you, JL”
With all our so-called sophistication, we are little different from the people of the Old Testament who embraced all the anthropomorphic depictions of God.
One big confirmation of what Art is talking about is the huge attraction of so many folks to cloud formations that spur our imagination into seeing the face of God or Jesus or the angels in the sky. Several decades ago, I saw two rather sharp photos of cloud formations that made good depictions of the God of our imagination. There are also sunrise and sunset shots that fire our religious sensibilities. These are the same kind of phenomena that so inspired many of the Old Testament Psalms. This has birthed a singular YouTube genre featuring cloud formations and Godly texts.
God dreams are another great fascination that we humans experience. I have had only one God dream, and that occurred over sixty years ago. First, understand that I have been close to bees all my adult life. I even took care of six beehives in college in Epworth, Iowa. In the dream, I was walking among beehives when I came upon a pre-teen child. The bees were restless, almost threatening, around me. But, as the child approached them, they bumped gently into the forehead and face of the child with kisses and caresses. Sporting hazel eyes that seemed to be staring into eternity, the child said softly, “Before Abraham came to be, I am.” It was the only God
dream I ever had, but it was a doozy, making a profound impression on me.
When we meditate or contemplate, we struggle valiantly with various kinds of imagery, straining to accommodate ourselves to some image or sculpture. Thus, masters of the brush and chisel created masterpieces of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles, Michelangelo’s rendering of creation or the Last Judgment, Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pietà or Moses or David, and countless other magnificent pieces that hold us in meditation and awe. Unbeknown even to themselves, scarce religious people are thereby swept up into meditation.
All the above and numerous other people and things in our lives comprise our anthropomorphic connections with God that, say what we may, are our best means of communing with the Almighty. One obvious stab at communing with God are the scores of movies made about God and our human-divine relationships.

“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Real miracles

Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Ralph Waldo Emerson calls the stars in the night sky “envoys of beauty, lighting the universe with their astonishing smile” and submits that if they appeared for a single night only every thousand years, we’d be on our knees in worship and would cherish the memory for the rest of our lives. But since they come out every night, the miracle goes mostly unnoticed. We watch television instead.
But, their beauty notwithstanding, shining stars are not the most prominent miracle which goes unnoticed. The greatest miracles have to do with gratuity, with love, with unfreezing a soul, with forgiveness. Our great poverty is that these go mostly unnoticed. There are much more astonishing things than the stars for which to be down on our knees in gratitude and there are more profound things to cherish in memory than a starlit night.
The Belgium spirituality writer, Benoit Standaert, suggests that the greatest miracle is “that the freely given exists, that there is love that makes whole and that embraces what has been lost, that chooses what had been rejected, that forgives what has been found guilty beyond appeal, that unites what had seemingly been torn apart forever.”
The greatest miracle is that there’s redemption for all that’s wrong with us. There’s redemption from all we’ve failed to live up to because of our inadequacies. There’s redemption from our wounds, from all that’s left us physically, emotionally, and spiritually limping and cold. There’s redemption from injustice, from the unfairness we suffer ourselves and from the hurt which we inflict knowingly or unknowingly on others. There’s redemption from our mistakes, our moral failures, our infidelities, our sins. There’s redemption from relationships gone sour, from marriages, families, and friendships that have been torn apart by misunderstanding, hatred, selfishness, and violence. There’s redemption from suicide and murder. Nothing falls outside the scope of God’s power to forgive, to resurrect and make new, fresh, innocent, and joyful again.
Our lives, to a greater or lesser extent, all end up incomplete, broken, unfairly ripped away from us, and causing hurt to others because of our weaknesses, infidelities, sin, and malice; and still, ultimately, it can all wash clean again. There’s redemption, new life after all the ways we’ve gone wrong in this world. And that redemption comes through forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the greatest miracle, the pan-ultimate miracle, which, along with everlasting life, is the real meaning of the resurrection of Jesus. There’s nothing more godlike, or miraculous, than a moment of reconciliation, a moment of forgiveness.
It’s for this reason that when the Gospels write up the resurrection of Jesus their emphasis, again and again, is on forgiveness. Indeed, Luke’s Gospel does not distinguish the announcement of the resurrection from the announcement of the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness and resurrection are inextricably linked. Likewise, in the Gospel of John, in Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the assembled community (with them all hiding behind locked doors in fear) he gives them the power to forgive sins. The message of the resurrection is that a dead body can be raised again from its grave. But this isn’t just true for our physical bodies, which die, but it’s also true, especially, for hearts that are frozen and dead from disappointment, bitterness, anger, separation and hatred. The miracle of the resurrection is as much about raising deadened souls to new life as it is about raising dead bodies to new life.
Despite being nearly overwhelmed by new inventions today, machines and gadgets that do everything including talking to us, in truth, we see very little that’s genuinely new, that’s not the norm. Sure, we see new innovations every day coming at us so rapidly that we have trouble coping with the changes they are bringing about. But, in the end, these innovations don’t genuinely surprise us, at least not at a deep level, at the level of the soul, morally. They’re simply more of what we already have, extensions of ordinary life, nothing really surprising.
But when you see a woman forgive another person who has genuinely hurt her, you are seeing something that’s not normal, that’s surprising. You are seeing something that is not simply another instance of how things naturally unfold. Likewise, when you see warmth and love break through to a man who has long been captive of a bitter and angry heart, you are seeing something that’s not just another instance of normal life, of ordinary unfolding. You’re seeing newness, redemption, resurrection, forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only thing that’s new on our planet, everything else is just more of the same.
And so, in the words of Benoit Standaert: “Whenever we strive to bring a little more peace through justice here on earth and, in whatever form, change sadness into happiness, heal broken hearts, or assist the sick and the weak, we arrive directly at God, the God of the resurrection.”
Forgiveness is the most astonishing miracle we will ever see or experience this side of eternity. It, alone, makes for the possibility of heaven – and happiness.

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