Called by name

Father Nick Adam

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

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

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

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

Anchoring ourselves within God’s goodness

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

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

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

Reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2020 World Day of Peace message

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

Tony Magliano

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

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

It’s all about love

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

Melvin Arrington

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

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

Justice and charity

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

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

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

Called by name

Father Nick Adam

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

                                                           – Father Nick Adam

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

An Advent tradition: ‘Roráte’ Masses

Father Aaron Williams

SPIRIT AND TRUTH
By Father Aaron Williams
Early on the morning of Dec. 7, I offered Mass at St. Jude Pearl for a small group of people so we could take part in a old, but less well-known Advent tradition. On Saturdays in Advent, it has been customary in some places to offer a Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary early in the morning before dawn and entirely by candlelight. This has come to be known as a ‘Roráte’ Mass — taken from the words of the Entrance Antiphon: Roráte cæli desúper et nubes pluant justum (Drop down dew, you heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness).
The liturgical year often makes good use of the natural seasonal movements of the earth. The summer solstice occurs just before the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24), while the winter solstice falls right before Christmas day. On the summer solstice each year, the days begin to grow shorter as we receive less and less light until the winter solstice when the days begin to grow longer. If we compare this natural occurrence with the two feast days that fall near those days, a symbolic meaning comes forward.
After St. John baptized our Lord, his followers came to him and said, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” And John said to them, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 2:26,30). Jesus Christ revealed himself to be the Light of the World, and so it is only fitting that when we reach the feast day of his Birth, that the amount of sunlight we receive each day grows longer and longer.
By offering Mass in total darkness in these last days before Christmas, the interplay of light and darkness in the church building can further underscore this feeling of longing for the Messiah — especially when the Mass is timed just right so that the Sun rises toward the end of the Mass. Something special happens when you are standing in a dark church hearing all those readings which prophecy a Messiah and then right around the time for Holy Communion light is beginning to fill the church from outside through the windows. You no longer need to hold a candle, for instance, so you can read from the hymnal. Saint Augustine makes reference to this symbolism in one of his sermons, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.”
Though the custom in the United States was to offer these Masses on Saturdays of Advent when the Mass texts was taken from the votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, other similar customer exist elsewhere. In the Philippines there is a tradition, dating at least to the 16th century of offering “Misa de Aguinaldo” (‘Gift Mass’). Each day from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24 the daily Mass is traditionally offered before dawn and entirely by candlelight. The same custom exists in some Latin American cultures under the name of “Misa de Gallo” (‘Rooster Mass’). These daily masses occur each day until Christmas when it is called the “Misa de los Pastores” (Mass of the Shepherds).
The custom of offering these Advent and Christmas Masses during the night hours is recorded as early as the 4th century by Egeria — a Galician historian who traveled to the Holy Land particularly to record the way in which Christians celebrated the liturgical year in Jerusalem. She writes that on the night before Christmas, it was custom in Jerusalem for the people to process through the streets with torches and candles leading to a dark church where Mass was celebrated before dawn. Pope Sixtus III was inspired by this tradition and instituted the first celebration of the ‘midnight’ Christmas Mass at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.
Roráte masses may be offered with or without music, on any day when it would be acceptable for the people to gather at an early hour. If a parish wanted to preserve the tradition as it was kept in America, the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent as found in the Roman Missal could be used. Because there is little light, parishes could use commonly memorized songs such as ‘O Come, O come, Emmanuel’ — which can even be sung without instruments both for the ease of musicians who might have difficulty playing in the dark, but also to further underscore the anticipation of the season.

Silence is also another important element to these Masses. Silence denotes an expectation of sound, while darkness denotes the expectation for light. And, because enough light needs to be present on the altar for the priest to read the missal, those who decorate the sanctuary should make use of whatever candlesticks and candelabra the parish has available. These many lights add to the beauty of the celebration and help emphasize the altar as a common center for worship.

Discerning your yes

Reflections on Life
By Fran Lavelle
I was at Mass at the Cathedral on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. At the end of his homily, Father Anthony, in reference to Mary’s fiat, asked, “What ‘yes’ is Jesus asking of you?” I kicked that question around in my mind for the balance of the day. It spilled over into the next few days. Jesus is asking all of us for a “yes.” He is asking each one of us to say “yes” to loving and serving His people in our own unique way. With a heavy foot on the gas pedal of life, I realized this question needed to be seriously considered as the days of Advent were passing quickly.
It is my practice to be introspective at the end of the year. I took Father Anthony’s challenge as an opportunity to look back on where I’ve been spiritually and emotionally. It is always an affirming and challenging exercise. Without a doubt there are things on my personal to-do list that did not get done. I still need to Marie Kondo every closet in my house. There were also challenges for me spiritually. Some people refer to these challenges as periods of dryness. Maybe you too have experienced times when you felt like you were just going through the motions. I was able to identify when I felt an emptiness in my faith life, as well as identify the periods of great consolation when unexpected gifts and graces were received that were not anticipated like a colleague’s baby announcement or a visit from dear friends.
There was an ebb and flow to 2019 that at times felt like a bad plane ride with jarring turbulence and other times felt more like a gentle tail wind. This year’s evaluation was the foundation I needed to examine the question Father Anthony posed. My personal need for a decluttering specialist became apparent. When one is overwhelmed with stuff (figuratively or literally) one has two options, one can live with the stuff/chaos that clutters our lives or we can get rid of it. Physically getting rid of clutter (unless one is a true hoarder) is easy. It takes time, boxes and a trip to the nearest second-hand store to dispense with the physical stuff.
The emotional stuff/chaos is harder to get rid of. It is hard to lay down past hurts. It is hard to forget the times we have been dismissed by a colleague or family member. It is hard to make the tapes that recall the litany of hurts from our past to stop playing over and over in our heads. One can’t Marie Kondo those emotions, but one can overcome them. It became apparent to me that Jesus is calling me to let go of the chaos. It does not mean that it no longer exists, but that I have a choice to look like Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoon or I can claim my peace amid chaos. My “yes” is an affirmation of my desire to not let the chaos and clutter gobble up precious time. The love of Christ, His peace, forgiveness and understanding cannot be manifested if it is not lived. I realized it was time for a hard re-set. To align my desire to love and serve Christ I must clean up the emotional clutter that gets in the way of me being my best self.
I was reminded of the Cherokee story of the two wolves. “One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said ‘my son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. it is joy, peace love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘the one that you feed.’”
We are on the cusp of yet another year. It is the perfect time to seek and discern what “yes” Jesus is asking of you. We are assured in the gospel of Matthew to “… seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Take the time to seek Him.
Peace and blessings to you this Christmas and throughout the new year. May you discern His call and may your “yes” bring you abundant joy and much love. As I sit in the peace and quiet of my home in Starkville, I am looking at the newest ornament on my tree. Yes, it is a wolf. A very, very good wolf.

Called by name

Father Nick Adam

There is no quick fix to any big issue. Good solutions require good planning and execution. This means we must put a good plan in place for priestly formation in this diocese and then execute the plan. I may have mentioned in this space that this past summer, Director of Seminarians Father Aaron Williams and I attended the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. It was pretty overwhelming at first. We went to conference after conference where information was flying faster than a weekday homily. I was inspired and somewhat intimidated by what I learned. There are so many great ideas floating around out there, but which of the practices could be implemented in our diocese?
I left that conference with a goal. I want to dig a trench before trying to install a pipeline. A rise in priestly vocations does not happen overnight. But we have to start with the fundamentals. We have to build a strong foundation of accompaniment, collaboration and formation. I want to explore these three preparatory parts of the “pipeline” as 2020 nears.
Accompaniment is listed first because for a trench to form, we have to dig. We have to move raw material, change the lay of the land and make space for something greater. The raw material that I have the responsibility and joy to work with are young men who are seeking to follow God’s will and are open to the possibility that God may be calling them to serve as a priest. Young men first of all need priests and parish leaders to accompany them in their journey to the seminary. Pastors, parochial vicars and retirees alike must be willing to encourage, answer questions and show our priesthood to them. One of the ways to do this is by offering young men a place in the liturgy. I have trained several MCs who serve in liturgies at St. Richard. They may have never been an altar server, but MCs are seen as role models for the younger kids and they help to keep the liturgy running smoothly for the priest celebrant. Of course, not every parish in our diocese has a resident priest-pastor, and I encourage LEMs and other parish leaders to identify young men who seem to want to go deeper in their faith and walk with them. Ask them if they’ve ever considered being a priest, so often that’s all it takes to allow God to gain a foothold in a young man’s heart. And remember, seminary does not equal priesthood! The seminary is simply the place to best discern whether one is called to be a priest and entry into seminary does not mean that the candidate is now obligated to advance to ordination.
Accompaniment, however, stretches beyond the parish and into the family of a young man. Are parents willing to open a discussion with a child about the possibility of priesthood? Do they regularly make it clear that they would love to have a priest in the family? Families are the seedbed of vocations. If parents actively encourage their sons to consider priesthood, vocations can flourish. If, however, priesthood is never brought up, or indeed, if faith is rarely made manifest outside of Church on Sunday, then our efforts at accompaniment could fall short. Again, I can only share my experience. My time in the seminary was the best six years of my life. I learned more about myself and the world then I could have ever imagined. I am willing to accompany young men on the road to priesthood and I pray that priests, parish leaders and parents in our diocese are just as willing. There are no quick fixes, but accompaniment is the first step to building a pipeline that will provide priests in Mississippi for the next generation.

Vocations Events

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

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

Saints for a new situation

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Everywhere in church circles today you hear a lament: Our churches are emptying. We’ve lost our youth. This generation no longer knows or understands the classical theological language. We need to announce Jesus again, as if for the first time, but how? The church is becoming evermore marginalized.
That’s the situation pretty much everywhere within the secularized world today. Why is this happening? Faith as a spent project? Secularity’s adolescent grandiosity before the parent who gave it birth, Judeo-Christianity? The “buffered self” that Charles Taylor describes? Affluence? Or is the problem mainly with the churches themselves? Sexual abuse? Cover-up? Poor liturgies? Poor preaching? Churches too liberal? Churches too conservative?
I suspect it’s some combination of all of these, but I’ll single out one issue here to highlight, affluence. Jesus told us that it’s difficult (impossible, he says) for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. No doubt, that’s a huge part of our present struggle. We’re good at being Christians when we’re poor, less educated and on the margins of mainstream society. We’ve had centuries of practice at this. What we haven’t had any practice at, and aren’t any good at, is how to be Christians when we’re affluent, sophisticated and constitute the cultural mainstream.
So, I’m suggesting that what we need today is not so much a new pastoral approach as a new kind of saint, an individual man or woman who can model for us practically what it means to live out the Gospel in a context of affluence and secularity. Why this?
One of the lessons of history is that often genuine religious renewal, the type that actually reshapes the religious imagination, does not come from think-tanks, conferences and church synods, but from graced individuals – saints, wild men and women who, like Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Saint Clare, Saint Dominic, Saint Ignatius or other such religious figures can reshape our religious imagination. They show us that the new lies elsewhere, that what needs fixing in the church will not be mended simply by patching the old. What’s needed is a new religious and ecclesial imagination. Charles Taylor, in his highly-respected study of secularity, suggests that what we’re undergoing today is not so much a crisis of faith as a crisis of imagination. No Christians before us have ever lived within this kind of world.
What will this new kind of saint, this new St. Francis, look like? I honestly don’t know. Neither, it seems, does anyone else. We have no answer yet, at least not one that’s been able to bear much fruit in the mainstream culture. That’s not surprising. The type of imagination that reshapes history isn’t easily found. In the meantime we’ve come about as far as we can along the road that used to take us there, but which for many of our children no longer does.
Here’s our quandary: We’re better at knowing what to do once we get people into a church than we are at knowing how to get them there. Why? Our weakness, I believe, lies not in our theological imagination where we have rich theological and biblical insights aplenty. What we lack are saints on the ground, men and women who, in a passion and fidelity that’s at once radically faithful to God and fiercely empathic to our secular world, can incarnate their faith into a way of living that can show us, practically, how we can be poor and humble disciples of Jesus even as we walk in an affluent and highly secularized world.
And such new persons will appear. We’ve been at this spot before in history and have always found our way forward. Every time the world believes it has buried Christ, the stone rolls back from the tomb; every time the cultural ethos declares that the churches are on an irrevocable downward slide, the Spirit intervenes and there’s soon an about face; every time we despair, thinking that our age can now longer produce saints and prophets, some Augustine or Francis comes along and shows that our age, like times of old, can too produce its saints; and every time our imaginations run dry, as they have now, we find that our scriptures are still full of fresh insight. We may lack imagination, but we don’t lack hope.
Christ promised we will not be orphaned, and that promise is sure. God is still with us and our age will produce its own prophets and saints. What’s asked of us in the moment is biblical patience, to wait on God. Christianity may look tired, tried and spent to a culture within which affluence and sophistication are its current gods, but hope is already beginning to show its face. As secularization, with its affluence and sophistication, marches unswervingly forward we’re already beginning to see a number of men and women who have found ways to become post-affluent and post-sophisticated. These will be the new religious leaders who will teach us and our children, how to live as Christians in this new situation.

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