Who’s listening to the women?

By Greg Erlandson (CNS)
The leaked draft Supreme Court document that laid out the case for overturning Roe v. Wade making abortion a constitutional right has provoked an uproar.

Abortion advocates are furious that the forthcoming ruling may toss abortion back to the legislatures. Abortion opponents are working furiously to have laws in place at the state level to ban abortions. In either case, the struggle won’t be ending. It will be punted to nearly level of government for the foreseeable future.

As we wait for the high court’s final decision in June, we might do well to listen to Getty Israel, the founder and CEO of Sisters in Birth, located in Mississippi.

Greg Erlandson, (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Sisters in Birth exists to help poor and underserved women in the poorest state in the union to give birth to healthy babies and to help mothers find the care they need. In a recent interview, Israel sounded fed up with the swirling national debate.

When interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Israel did not take the standard NPR line on abortion. She sounded ticked off at everybody.

“When we get calls from women – and we do – who are looking for an abortion, the first question I ask is, ‘What’s going on?’”
“Because, yes, I want to change her mind. Yes, I want to reduce the abortion rate. That’s a lot of Black lives lost in an era of Black Lives Matter,” she said.

“Pro-choice people are willing to wage a war … to protect (Roe v. Wade). But they’re not willing to help create any community-based interventions to address the various underlying risk factors that will lead a woman to look for an abortion,” Israel charged.

What’s missing from the national debate, she added, are the voices of women who are considering abortion. “No one ever says, What do you need? What can we do to help improve your life so that you don’t find that you need to have an abortion?”

“When a woman is seeking abortion, 9 times out of 10, she is alone,” she continued. “Pro-choice people aren’t walking down the path with her, and neither are the pro-life people, beyond beating her over the head with a Bible and Scripture.”

Almost 38% of Mississippians are Black, the highest in the nation. Yet they account for 68% of abortions. Women looking for abortion often work minimum-wage jobs without health insurance. They are beset by poverty and a torn social net.

Mississippi also has the highest rate of infant deaths in the first 12 months of life. Sixty percent of those babies are Black, many of whom were born premature. Yet state medical care for pregnant women and for new mothers in poverty is minimal and underfunded.

Banning abortion will not make Mississippi a pro-life state.

The racist murder of Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, has transfixed the nation, but Getty Israel is right: Hundreds of thousands of Black babies are being aborted or dying in their first year of life for lack of adequate health care and support.

Nationwide there are bold pro-life efforts like the Women’s Care Centers that help expectant mothers, but so much more is needed. Passage of a new child tax credit program is one place to start.

Catholic bishops are calling for all Catholic institutions to step up and support moms in need. In the words of the New York bishops, if “every Catholic parish, every Catholic Charities program, every Catholic health facility, every Catholic school, every Catholic college and university” were asking women how they could help, the impact could be culture changing. The challenge is, how do we make this more than just a slogan?

(Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at gerlandson@catholicnews.com.)

Called by Name

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

I am happy to report that we not only have a new priest, Father Andrew Bowden, but we also have a new seminarian, Mr. John Le. John was born in Vietnam but had to flee the country as a teenager after the communist takeover. He settled in Houston, Texas and attended high school there before enrolling at Texas A&M. John studied engineering and worked as a microelectronics engineer in Houston and Dallas before entering the Jesuits. After over a decade as a Jesuit brother, John began to discern diocesan priesthood. He has lived and worked with his brother in Brookhaven for the last year or so, and that’s when I started to get to know him. John will be enrolling at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin this August. Sacred Heart specializes in educating second-career seminarians, and recent graduates from Sacred Heart in our diocese include Father Lincoln Dall. Carlisle Beggerly enjoyed two years at Sacred Heart even more recently as he did his pre-theology studies at Hales Corners before coming to Notre Dame in New Orleans for theology.

John Le

I was heartened to hear Bishop Kopacz announce at Father Andrew’s ordination that he has now ordained 12 priests since being consecrated as Bishop of Jackson in February of 2014. That is a great blessing, and we are seeing great work done by our recently ordained men.

It is encouraging for me to see my classmates and former seminary brothers become pastors. Father Aaron Williams is now pastor at St. Mary Basilica and Assumption Parishes in Natchez, Father Mark Shoffner is now pastor at St. John in Oxford, and Father Adolfo Suarez is pastor in Forest.

Also, Father Andrew Nguyen will be pastor soon at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Greenwood, and I am excited to be rector at St. Peter Cathedral beginning this July. The good news is that this is not the end; it is only the beginning. God willing, we will have four new priests entering the fold in the next three years. Carlisle Beggerly’s diaconate ordination is coming up on June 4 at his home parish in West Point, and so next year we will get to see him ordained a priest, followed the next year by Ryan Stoer and Tristan Stovall.

Our prayers for a “Homegrown Harvest” continue to be answered, and I ask that you continue to ask the Lord for more laborers for His harvest. I would like to thank our current seminarians for their dedication to their formation. And remember — we are about quality, not necessarily quantity! I’m so happy with our current group of men because I believe they are dedicated to being formed well, and so even if they do not ultimately present themselves for ordination, they will be great husbands and fathers in our parishes. Please pray for our men in formation, and continue your great work of praying for vocations, and encouraging more young men to consider whether the Lord is calling them to shepherd his people as a priest of Jesus Christ.

Rally around the call to accompany expectant mothers

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
As Catholics we are in the midst of a nine-day Novena undertaken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in preparation for the great feast of the Visitation on May 31. This second joyful mystery of the rosary recalls that tender scene when Mary and Elizabeth, two of the most well-known pregnant women in world history, encountered one another with unbounded joy in God their Savior. Even the “baby stirred in my womb for joy” Elizabeth exclaimed to her younger cousin who had arrived at Zachariah and Elizabeth’s doorstep to assist her who was in her sixth month with the unborn John the Baptist. Women helping women in preparation for birth and in the months following the emergence of new life from the womb into the light of day, is fundamental for family life, community, and civilization.

The need for caring support around a pregnancy and the earliest stage of life is fundamental for mothers and their infants, for family life, communities, and ultimately civilization. There are many in our churches and in our communities in Mississippi who rally around the call to accompany expectant mothers, and in the time following the birth of their children. We can only rejoice to see such loving support. For the Catholic Church, as the whole world knows, the right to life is fundamental because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Imago Dei). The dignity of the human person is rooted in this fundamental belief.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

What the whole world may not know, or chooses to ignore, is that the church commits herself, in season and out of season, to the well-being of the human person at every stage of life. This is evident in our social teachings that foster the common good, serve the poor, marginalized and vulnerable, champion health care, sponsor education, and support life’s basic needs: food, shelter and clothing and gainful employment. Moreover, in recent years, care for our common home, the earth, has become more urgent.

Pope Francis’ masterpiece, Laudato Si, rejoices in God the creator, and addresses this God-given obligation. When we add it all up it is all about what St. Paul eloquently states in his letter to the Romans. “The Kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but about justice and peace, and the joy of the Holy Spirit. (14:17)

Now back to the Visitation and the gift of unborn life that opened this column. The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States over the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is imminent and the prospect of overturning of Roe v. Wade is sending shock waves across the land from the White House to all points on the compass.

There is no doubt that this is an historic moment for our nation. The passion surrounding this life issue burns no less intensely than nearly 50 years ago when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973. There has been a creeping shadow ever since because at the core of our collective consciousness is a tortured conscience that is unable to reconcile a self-image of inherent goodness with the blood of the innocents. But whether Roe v Wade is overturned or rolled back, abortions will not cease, as we know. The political onus will return to the legislatures of the 50 states to enact laws going forward, and as we have already experienced, these laws will vary greatly.

Like the fires engulfing our western states, there will be widespread conflagrations that burn at the fault lines of our fractured society. The personal onus is another dimension, the terrain of conscience and conversion, challenging every individual to safeguard the gift of sexuality knowing there is freedom through boundaries, to cherish the gift of life, one’ own and the vulnerable in our midst, and to realize that violence against the unborn is at the root of the violence that roils our nation and world.

What can one person or one church do? “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1:5) is the promise that our labors with God will always matter. Praying, serving, empowering and advocating are always relevant.

Pope Francis encourages encounter with the other and accompaniment, and a recent project worthy of praise in every Catholic diocese is “Walking with Moms in Need.” Whatever the ruling on Roe v Wade, the church in league with other networks is redoubling its efforts to accompany mothers, their preborn and children in the early stages of development so that they and we, like Mary and Elisabeth, can rejoice in the gift of life and in God our Savior.

Managing an ascension

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
A friend of mine, somewhat cynical about the church, recently remarked: “What the institutional church today is trying to do is to put its best face on the fact that it’s dying. Basically, it’s trying to manage a death.”

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

What he’s suggesting is that the church today, like a person struggling to accept a terminal diagnosis, is trying to reshape its imagination to eventually accommodate itself to the unthinkable, its own dying.

He’s right in suggesting that the church today is trying to reshape its imagination, but he’s wrong about what it’s trying to manage. What the church is trying to manage today is not a death, but an ascension. What needs reshaping in our imagination today is the same thing that needed reshaping in the imagination of the first disciples in the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension. We need to understand again how to let go of one body of Christ so that it can ascend and we can again experience Pentecost. What’s at stake here?

Among the elements within the paschal mystery, the ascension is the least understood. We are clearer about the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. We have less understanding of the ascension.

The forty days between the resurrection and the ascension were not a time of unadulterated joy for the first disciples. It was a time of some joy, but also of considerable confusion, despondency and loss of faith. In the days before the ascension, the disciples were overjoyed whenever they recognized again their risen Lord, but most of the time they were confused, despondent, and full of doubt because they were unable to recognize the new presence of Christ in what was happening around them. At one point, they gave up completely and as John put it, went back to their former way of life, fishing and the sea.

However, during that time Jesus slowly reshaped their imaginations. Eventually they grasped the fact that something had died but that something else, far richer, had been born and that now they needed to give up clinging to the way Jesus had formerly been present to them so that he could be present to them in a new way. The theology and spirituality of the ascension is essentially contained in these words: Refuse to cling to what once was, let it go so that you can now recognize the new life you are already living and receive its spirit. The synoptic gospels teach this to us in their pictorial rendering of the ascension, where a bodily Jesus blesses everyone and then rises physically out of their sight. John gives us the same theology but in a different picture. He does this in his description of the encounter on Easter morning between Jesus and Mary Magdala when Jesus says, “Mary don’t cling to me!”

Today, the church is trying to manage an ascension, not a death. I can easily see where my friend can be confused because every ascension presupposes a death and a birth, and that can be confusing. So where, really, is the church today?

Edward Schillebeeckx once suggested that we are living in that same despondency that was felt by the early disciples between Jesus’ death and their realization of his resurrection. We are feeling what they felt, doubt and confusion on the road to Emmaus. The Christ we once knew has been crucified and we cannot yet recognize the Christ who is walking with us, more alive than before, though in a new way. Hence, just as those first disciples on the road to Emmaus, we also frequently walk with faces downcast, in a confused faith, needing Christ to appear in a new guise to reshape our imaginations so that we can recognize him as he is now present to us.

I think Schillebeeckx is right about this, except that I would put it in another way. The church today is in that time between the resurrection and the ascension, feeling considerable despondency, with its imagination attuned to a former understanding of Christ, unable to recognize Christ clearly in the present moment. For many of us who grew up in a particular understanding of the faith, our former understanding of Christ has been crucified. But Christ is not dead. The church is not dead. Both Jesus and the church are very much alive, walking with us, slowly reshaping our imaginations, reinterpreting the scriptures for us, telling us again: Wasn’t it necessary that the Christ (and the church) should so suffer. …
For many of us today, to live in faith is to be in that time between the death of Christ and the ascension, vacillating between joy and despondency, trying to manage an ascension.

On the road of faith, there’s always bad news and good news. The bad news is that invariably our understanding of Christ gets crucified. The good news is that Christ is always very much alive, present to us still, and in a deeper way.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

Crucifix finds home, Natchez archives attempt to solve mystery of blessed nail

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – In the last article we visited with some statues that had found new homes after being displaced. This week I would like to introduce you to a couple of crucifixes that are connected with two churches dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

First, we have the crucifix that adorned St. Mary Church in West Jackson. The parish was merged with St. Therese Parish in 2015. St. Mary Church was completed in the mid-1950s and stood regally on Claiborne Avenue for 60 years, but early on Yazoo Clay began to take a toll on the foundation of the structure. The rise of suburbia took a toll on the size of the congregation and ultimately the difficult decision was made to close St. Mary’s and merge it with St. Therese.

NATCHEZ – A crucifix was discovered by St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee in the original crypt area in the lower level of the church in early 2012. The committee attempted to locate a “blessed nail” thought to be “preserved in the Sacred Feet,” according to note from Bishop Elder dated May 3, 1869. (Photo by Mike Murphy)

We featured St. Mary’s statues previously as mentioned, but the actual dismantling of the high altar and finding a home for the crucifix that graced it was a daunting challenge. Eventually, we made contact with Father Tommy Conway of the Diocese of Biloxi, who was tasked with establishing a new parish ironically in a suburb outside of Hattiesburg.

The corpus was wooden with a long crack down the torso. It was attached to one-inch-thick green now very brittle marble. Therefore, the corpus was removed separately and mounted to a wooden frame for transport to the new parish which was dedicated to St. Fabian.

It was the last item loaded into the 18-wheeler full of crated marble, tabernacle, and candlesticks. As in Caravaggio’s Deposition, the salvage crew reverently carried the Crucified Christ to the bed of the trailer and gently laid him down on a padded cloth. The door slid down like the stone rolled before the tomb.
I have to say it was a very powerful moment for all of us working there that morning. Watching the truck pull away knowing the Lord was entombed in it brought a silence upon us and tears trickled out of the corner of eyes down cheeks.

Our second featured crucifix now hangs on the wall in the St. Mary Basilica family life center in Natchez. In early 2012, the crucifix was discovered by Basilica Archives Committee members in the original crypt area in the lower level of the church. It was mounted on a wall and showed the signs of its age and a few botched repair efforts.

One of the wonderful aspects of archives life is the people one encounters. St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee is a group of extremely dedicated individuals who have taken the reins of creating an amazing local archive, which is a shining example of love for our faith and our traditions.

Immediately the committee, led at that time by Chairman Jimmy Guercio, resolved to have the sacred object researched and restored. According to an article by Guercio on the Basilica Archives web page, there was no real documentation on the crucifix anywhere. The only mention of a large crucifix being in the church was from Bishop William Henry Elder’s note dated May 3, 1869, that a “blessed nail” was “preserved in the Sacred Feet of the large crucifix…in the Cathedral…”

Coincidentally, the Conrad Schmitt design and restoration company, which had restored the Basilica in 2001, was wrapping up its renovations of the Cathedral in Jackson. Wil Kolstad, the lead artisan for the Cathedral project, was sent to Natchez to restore the crucifix.

Prior to completing the process, the mystery of the blessed nail needed to be solved. Therefore, Guercio, Kolstad and other committee members accompanied the corpus across the river to a diagnostic imaging center in Vidalia. The whole process of the patient Jesus being scanned was documented by committee photographer Mike Murphy.

Unfortunately, the scan did not reveal a nail in the feet, but it does reflect the fine dedication of the Basilica Archives Committee and its commitment to document the faith and tradition of the church of Natchez and our diocese. I hope these accounts of our sacred objects will inspire in you, the reader, a sense of Catholicity and a love for the deep and sacred spiritual traditions of our church. There is nothing else like it on this earth; it can only be heaven sent.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)

Motherhood, steward for life

Stewardship paths
By Julia Williams
JACKSON – The month of May is a special month because it is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year, we celebrate two important Marian feasts during this month: Our Lady of Fatima on May 13 and The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31.

May is also dedicated to recognizing moms, grandmothers, stepmoms, mothers-to-be and all women who, in and through their lives, encompass the qualities of motherhood.

When we talk about Christian stewardship, we talk about sacrificially returning to God what we have been given. What can more clearly be a demonstration of complete sacrifice than the relationship between mother and child during the nine months of growth in the womb?

All mothers should look to Mary as their model for motherhood and ask her intercession as they strive to fulfill their God-given role in their children’s lives.

During the month of May, let us all take some time to express our appreciation to our mothers for allowing us to come into this world, for loving us, and for serving as an example of what it means to be a steward for life.

(To subscribe to the monthly Stewardship PATHS newsletter, scan the QR code or email julia.williams@jacksondiocese.org. Excerpts: bigcatholics.blogspot.com)

Virgin Mary, Jan van Eyck, 1426-1429 (Public Domain)

Ardent longing

From the Hermitage
By sister alies therese
In Madeleine L’Engle’s marvelous Wrinkle in Time, Meg learns what to long for in darkness and foreboding. When she discovered Mrs. Whatsit loved her, Meg could use it. Only hatred and deception filled It, yet by love, Meg would make all things well again, despite her fears. The more she insisted she loved her brother Charles Wallace, the more he was freed from It’s powerful falsehoods to become himself again; freedom reigned, and they escaped. I wonder if Julian saw something like this in her shewings, her wrinkle in time; the passion being full of hatred and darkness yet ultimately exposing great love?

“In a world that is in danger of losing sight of the fact that ‘all shall be well,’ Julian’s soteriology has something to contribute to hope…unity between all things: God, creation and humanity…it generates hope that our present experience of divine love will come to eschatological fruition for all creation, all things, in the fulness of God’s time.” (Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfillment: The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich, Kerrie Hide)

Consider some similarities: Julian (1342-1416) was surrounded by plague…the Black Death killed over 55,000 in Norfolk when she was six. The Hundreds’ Year war, peasant revolts, the troubled reign of Richard II, prosecution of heresy, and the Great Schism splitting the Latin and Eastern rites were among top news items. Today’s issues are sadly familiar. Many languish looking for hope, wondering what to desire.

To discover the hope and joy that Julian will finally tell us about, this ‘all shall be well,’ invites us into the search to discover the demon of deception who tries to overcome God’s kindness. We find Julian disclosing her encounters with Jesus in her book.

Sister alies therese

What did the revelations on May 8, 1373, unveil? God’s love for all He had created. The first fifteen came three days after pain left her during a near-death experience; the sixteenth came after a gap where she was confronted by the devil in frightening darkness. God’s love keeps and sustains all and though there is sin, God looks on all God has made with pity, does not blame, and assures us that ‘all will be well.’

Julian was in her 30’s when she picked up her cat, moved with her maid, and set off to pray in an anchorhold, rooms attached to the church. The local Bishop sealed her in with a liturgy of the dead and consecration, and she never left, speaking only to her maid, the priest and those who came to her window for consolation facing the busy streets of Norwich, then England’s second-largest city.

“Concerning my third petition, I conceived a very great desire to receive three wounds: the wound of true contrition, the wound of natural compassion, and the wound of fullhearted longing for God.” (Revelations of Divine Love, Intro)

God answered her plea.

What do I ardently long for? Julian’s three gifts are stark in our world of opposites. The wounds are central to her life, and she says: “…in grief and sorrow, I said this to my Lord, in fear and trembling: ‘Oh good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin?’” (chapter 29)

In chapter 31, the good Lord answered with this: “I am able to make all things well, and I shall make all things well. And you will see for yourself that all manner of thing shall be well.”

Consider this: “Find delight in the Lord, who will give you your heart’s desires.” (Psalms 37:4) Jesus will quote from this psalm when teaching the beatitudes: “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and will delight in great prosperity.” (37:11) These ‘meek’ are those ‘overwhelmed by want,’ the anawim, and ‘denotes those who are aware of their dependence upon God.’ (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 532). Those deceived are sure they are in control. Julian, however, like these anawim, banked on Jesus whose: “Hidden dynamism was at work by which all manner of thing would be well. This ‘secret,’ this act which the Lord keeps hidden is the full fruit of the Parousia. It is not just that ‘Jesus comes,’ but Jesus comes to reveal with God’s final answer to all the world’s anguish…the ‘great deed’ the Lord will do on that day, not of destruction and revenge, but of mercy and life…all will be made right in spite of all its sorrow. The ‘wise heart’ remains in hope and contradiction…fixed on the secret.” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton)

Finally, Julian wants to reveal this love, this joy, this ‘secret’ Merton speaks of. In chapter 14 she shares: “I saw in my imagination heaven, and our Lord as the head of the house, who had invited all dear servants and friends to a great feast. The Lord occupied no one place in particular in the house, but presided regally over it all, suffusing it with joy and cheer. Utterly at home, and with perfect courtesy, Jesus was the eternal happiness and comfort of friends, the marvelous music of unending love showing in the beauty of His blessed face full of joy and delight.”

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)

Lady Julian of Norwich, lesson of hope

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
The acclaimed English mystic known to us as Lady or Dame Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich (c. 1342-1416) was, in all likelihood, a Benedictine nun whose birth name has been lost to history. Lady Julian lived during the 14th century, an age that historian Barbara Tuchman in her study A Distant Mirror characterized as “calamitous.” Those were indeed dark and perilous times besieged by plague, wars, pogroms, famines and schism. Yet, despite all the societal upheavals and her own personal tribulations, Julian remained surprisingly upbeat and hopeful.

In 1373 she became deathly ill, a condition she had actually prayed for in an effort to become united with Christ in suffering. On May 8 of that year, while near death, Julian received 16 visions (or “showings”) of Our Lord, beginning with the Crown of Thorns. Although claiming to be a “simple unlettered creature” (probably a reference to not knowing Latin), she wrote, not long after her recovery, a volume of meditations based on these visions. This work, Revelations of Divine Love, now considered a classic of Western spirituality, is also noteworthy for being the first book in English authored by a woman.

Julian produced two versions of the Revelations, both written in Middle English: the “short text,” containing 25 chapters, composed shortly after receiving the “showings,” and the “long text,” consisting of 86 chapters, written over a period of twenty years. The latter offered a more detailed account as a way of explaining and clarifying the meaning of the visions.

Following her brush with death, she withdrew from the world and lived the remainder of her life as an anchorite or, to use the feminine form, anchoress, an urban recluse, confined to a small, cell-like room attached or “anchored” to the outer wall of the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England – the same church by whose name we know her today. She spent those last years meditating on the 16 revelations and offering spiritual advice to all who came to seek her council.

I first became interested in the life and writings of this holy woman last fall while recovering from a life-threatening illness. Unlike Julian’s infirmity, which she had asked God for, mine was thrust upon me. I remember the emergency room physician telling me, “Well, it looks like you’re going to survive.” What? Wait a minute! Survive? My situation couldn’t be that grave! But it was, and as I soon learned, I was facing several months of medication therapy and recovery time. Later in that conversation the doctor remarked that he couldn’t figure out how I had made it to the hospital alive. Here’s my explanation: God must have intervened on my behalf and performed a miracle because He had something more for me to do. Miracles do happen, and when they occur, it’s for a reason.

To the modern-day observer the fact that Julian would pray for an illness that would cause terrible suffering and bring her to the door of death is beyond perplexing. Was this unusual petition made in an effort to purge some mortal sin? We don’t know. But clearly, she believed that through her agony she could draw nearer to Jesus. As for me, my ordeal brought me closer to Our Lord in a way I had never known before and gave me a renewed sense of hope. He can truly bring forth good from a bad situation. (Romans 8:28)

According to the Catechism, by the theological virtue of hope “we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (1817) Furthermore, this virtue “keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.” (1818) The Catechism adds that hope “affords us joy even under trial.” (1820) During Julian’s close encounter with death she could claim this joy because of the reassuring words Our Lord had spoken to her, the same words we remember her by today: “I am able to make all things well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Although sometimes referred to with the title “Saint” or “Blessed,” this remarkable English mystic was never officially canonized or beatified. Nevertheless, the church commemorates her on May 13; in addition, the Catechism (313) cites her as an authority. The important lessons she can teach us may be summarized as follows: we all have a cross we must bear, and no matter the weight of that cross, no matter the trials and tribulations we face, the severity of the affliction or the intensity of the pain we have to endure – in short, no matter how bad it gets – “All shall be well.” As Archbishop Sheen says, “We need never fear the outcome of the battle of life; we need never ask whether we will win or lose. Why, we have already won, only the news has not yet leaked out!”

Lady Julian of Norwich was able to proclaim “all shall be well” because she could see the big picture. Her hope was based not just on this life but also on a longing for union with God and a desire to spend all eternity with Him in the world to come. If we have this same hope, we can experience a similar joy and peace that no one can take away.

Fear of missing out

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
It’s hard for a child to have to go to bed in the middle of an evening when the rest of the family is still celebrating. Nobody wants to go to bed while everyone else is still up. No one wants to miss out on life.

Remember how as a child, tired and unable to keep your eyes open, you still struggled against anyone who would try to put you to bed. Exhausted or not, you didn’t want to miss anything. You didn’t want to leave and go to sleep while so much life was going on.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

We never really outgrow that. That resistance is congenital and still haunts us on our deathbeds.

One of our more painful anxieties is triggered by a sense that we are forever missing out on something. This is also one of our major fears about dying. For most people, the heaviness and darkness of dying come not so much from a fear of what they might meet in the next life, judgment and punishment, but from a fear of annihilation.

Moreover, the fear here is not so much that their personal identity will be snuffed out (though that is a real fear) but rather that they will be taken away from all the life of which they have been part. The sadness lies in the having to let go, in knowing that life will now go on without us, of being taken off to bed while the party continues. And, this is deep inside us, so deep, that we find it difficult to imagine how the world can even go on without us.

However, this is not a sign that there is something wrong with us, some neurosis that needs fixing or some moral or religious issue that needs attention. It’s the human condition, pure and simple, and God is the architect of that. In short, we’re built to be part of a fabric, not single threads content in their isolation.

I was twenty-three years old when I watched my dad die in a hospital room. He was still young, sixty-two years old, and ideally should have had a number of years still ahead of him. But he was dying, he knew it, and despite a faith that gave him some comfort, was deeply sad about it. What he struggled with in his dying was not with some fear of the afterlife or some amends he still needed to make in this life. None of that. There was no unfinished business with God, nor religious and moral issues still to mend. Nor were there unhealthy fears of the afterlife. His only unfinished business had to do with this life, and what he would now miss out on in terms of (figuratively) being put to bed early while the party was still going on. In addition, for him, the party was in full swing.

His adult children were just beginning to establish their lives and give him grandchildren, and the younger half of his family were actively preparing to enter into their adult lives. He wasn’t going to be around to see how all of this turned out and he wasn’t going to be around to see most of his grandchildren. More important still, he had a wife, a soulmate, whom he would be leaving. It wasn’t a good evening to be sent to bed early.

Beyond all this, he still had his own siblings, neighbors, friends, a parish, civic involvements, sports teams and countless other life-giving connections, and he was aware, not without huge heartache, that these were all about to end, at least on this side of eternity.

Why shouldn’t he have been sad? Indeed, why shouldn’t any of us be sad whenever we are facing a death of any kind, when we are being put to bed while the rest of life is still going on?

We are constitutively communitarian. As God himself said when he created the human family, it is not good for anyone to be alone. We are meant to be part of a family and a community, part of the fabric of life, and a fabric is made up of multiple threads. Thus, it’s understandably saddening whenever our single, fragile, lonely thread is being pulled away from the rest of the fabric. No wonder little children don’t want to be put to bed while everyone else is still carrying on with the evening.

Moreover, this isn’t just true for the sadness we experience when we face our deaths. The same dynamic is operative whenever we undergo the various mini deaths that beset us as we age, lose our health, retire, get fired from jobs, lose people we love, lose marriages, are geographically dislocated, or in any other way are pushed out of the mainstream of life towards the margins.
So, it can be helpful to know that nothing is wrong here. Dying is hard. Letting go is hard. Being pushed aside is hard. Disappearing from life is particularly hard. That’s why little children don’t like being put to bed.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)

Called by name

Mother’s Day snuck up on me I must admit, it feels like we are usually well into the double-digit days of May before we set aside a day to honor Mom. I’m sitting here at my desk remembering the many lessons my mom taught me, at home, at school and in the church. My mother was my elementary school principal. I attended St. Benedict School in Elberta, Alabama where Claudia Adam was the principal from 1995-2005. It’s not every kid who can say that his mom literally ‘taught him.’

Father Nick Adam remembers his mother, Claudia Adam (on right) on Mother’s Day. She was a huge impact on him and her courageous witness helped him to say yes to God’s call.

Because mom was a Catholic School teacher, she had plenty to do with the life of the parish. St. Bartholomew Parish sits right across the street from St. Benedict, and my mom cared deeply about enriching the faith of all the students under her care. With the help of handymen in the community she converted an old storage room into a very nice chapel on the school campus, and she never missed an opportunity to talk to us students about the importance of Mass and other devotions that we took part in like Stations of the Cross during Lent. I still remember that we would sing the parts of the Stabat Mater in Latin, we sounded like angels, except for being out of tune! My mother’s example was a huge reason that I became a priest. I saw her life of service, and it spoke to me.

So, this is my encouragement to all you moms out there who have sons that are the apple of your eye. Please encourage them if you see priestly gifts in them. I know it can be frightening and different for your child to choose a road less traveled but take Mary’s example to heart. Mary had one child, and that child was miraculously conceived. Mary had a choice, and she said yes. And that yes blessed not just her family, not just her people, not just her country, not just the world, but the universe. That ‘yes’ brought Jesus into the world. God could have done it another way, but he allowed a free choice to bring Jesus into the created order. Your ‘yes’ can bless the universe as well. Your ‘yes’ can help Jesus be made sacramentally present in a parish that doesn’t have a resident priest right now. And we don’t just need more priests, we need more good priests. We need good men from good families who could serve their community and the world doing anything because they are so talented, but they choose to serve the church because they were called to this vocation, and they were nurtured and encouraged by their family to be generous with their gifts for the salvation of souls.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

Moms have a lot to do with a good man choosing to serve the church as a diocesan priest, and they can also have a lot to do with steering a man away from that call. I know it is scary, but I promise to do my best to walk with you and your family on the journey. I am so grateful to the mothers of our current seminarians who, like Mary, said yes. And their yes will lead to Jesus being made present in the sacraments for decades to come. In your charity, please say a prayer for my mom, who died in 2014. I miss her, but her example of humble service still inspires me, and even though she died before I was ordained, her courageous witness helped me to say yes to the Lord when the time came. Blessings to all moms and mother figures!
– Father Nick Adam

If you are interested in learning more about religious orders or vocations to the priesthood and religious life, please email nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org.