A vocation test in “Diary of a Country Priest”

Theology at the movies
By James Tomek, Ph.D
Shortly after attending “An Hour of Prayer for Vocations” led by Father Nick Adam, I saw Robert Bresson’s acclaimed 1951 film, “Diary of a Country Priest,” (on the TMC Channel and based on a novel by George Bernanos) where a humble priest at a small parish keeps a journal of his experiences, which include hostility and a lack of compassion from members of the parish, a questioning of his vocation and prayer life, all while counseling a woman who years ago lost her infant son. He is also battling a serious stomach condition, reduced to digesting only small quantities of old bread and cheap wine with an occasional potato. After trying to get a colleague to return to the priesthood, he dies of a stomach cancer with a rosary on his chest and the words “What does that matter? All is grace.”

I joked with my wife that Father Nick should use this film in recruiting people to the religious life! But, on second thought, maybe this film should be a major part of the curriculum to confirm one’s sense of vocation. I will go through the film, discussing his particular challenges with the parishioners, then his thoughts on vocation from his mentor and doctor with a conclusion on the “success” of his life. It is a story about vocation in general. Did I choose the right one? Can I continue to have faith in a vocation where there is seemingly little compassion?

By James Tomek, Ph.D

The priest (in French they say Monsieur le curé or mon père where we would say “Father” only) is not referred to by name. He has trouble dealing with his lower bourgeois parishioners as they complain about him and are stingy in donations and goodwill. His catechism lessons to the young girls are met with derision, even from the one he thinks is the best student. His only attendee at daily Mass is Louise, the governess of the only nobility in the region. We learn that Louise is also the mistress of the Count whose home the priest visits to ask for financial assistance and to offer psychological help to his wife, the Countess, who still suffers from the loss of her child.

He has a mentor, a priest in another parish, Torcy, who is cynical and advises him to keep order and not let the people boss him around. The Torcy priest is resigned to accept his vocation as simply clerical. Doctor Delbende, another advisor, suffers from the same depression. He receives no compassion from his patients and will eventually take his own life.

Our priest is quite effective dealing with wounded souls. In a long central scene, he succeeds in helping the Countess to finally accept the death of her son. It is a complex confession reconciliation scene. The priest influences her to say the Lord’s Prayer in a manner that she resigns herself to her son’s death to the point that, even though still tormented by it, she arrives at a moment of peace. It is the priest’s honesty in this Sacrament of Reconciliation where she sees that he is truly afraid for the death of her soul.

The priest goes to Lille, a city, for a medical consultation. He receives a death sentence – stomach cancer, caused by his meager diet of cheap wine and stale bread. The very foods that he thinks he can only digest are bad for him. That these foods are also consecrated into the Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass may be a not so wise influencing factor.

At Lille, he does manage to see an old seminary friend who has left the priesthood, and has married, but who is sickly and poor. Before dying, he asks his friend to rethink his vocation and, also, to give him absolution. In this way, our priest helps the former priest to recover some of his first vocation. Is our priest a failure? There is a reoccurring image of him at a gate in front of his Rectory and the noble’s estate. Is it a sign of prison? He says that he cannot pray, but the diary that he keeps is an articulate and prayerful examination of conscience.

The film makes us aware that he is constantly writing down his thoughts. He is a very capable confessor with the two to three people that allow him to enter in extended conversation. We see that he really tries to help those who are broken. He suffers deceptions at first, but then seems to see through them. He refuses to take the advice of the elder priest as he will not resign himself from helping the Count’s daughter, who is filled with hate over her father’s actions. His resignation is not one of quitting, but that of letting go his ego and engaging.

When thinking about our vocation in life, we should see this film. Do we have this priest’s “faith” to continue in spite of all the physical and mental obstacles? When he says “What does it matter? All is grace,” what does he mean?

Grace is that gift that allows us to be charitable when all else tells us to think for ourselves. To me, this movie is really a positive statement about someone who accepts his vocation in the most trying circumstances. I hope that God will treat me the way this priest treats his flock. We need compassionate people to guide us, even when they are weary. Gate images? A prison? I say no. He is opening the gates of our prisons, like the narrator in Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” a song about desperate people who need help. At the end of the song the consoler is weary, but sings out to us – “ Right now I can’t read too good/Don’t send me no letters, no/Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row.”

(James Tomek is a Lay Ecclesial Minister at Sacred Heart in Rosedale and also active in RCIA at Our Lady of Victories in Cleveland.)

Eucarístico para sostenernos en el camino de la vida

Por Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
En el vigésimo quinto aniversario de su elección como Sucesor de Pedro, a principios del nuevo milenio, el 17 de abril de 2003, San Juan Pablo II, otorgó a la Iglesia la Encíclica Ecclesia de Eucharistia. En este día, la iglesia en todo el mundo estaba celebrando el Jueves Santo, el inicio del Triduo Pascual, la institución de la Eucaristía y la fundación del sacramento del Orden Sagrado. Instituida en la Última Cena y cumplida con la muerte y resurrección del Señor en la mañana de Pascua, “la Eucaristía está en el centro de la vida de la Iglesia” desde el principio.
En este documento, San Juan Pablo Segundo expresó ardientemente sus esperanzas y sueños para todos los discípulos del Señor en la Iglesia Católica en todo el mundo. “Quisiera reavivar este ‘asombro’ eucarístico con la presente Carta Encíclica, en continuidad con el Año Jubilar 2000. Contemplar el rostro de Cristo y contemplarlo con María, es el ‘programa’ que he puesto ante el Iglesia en los albores del nuevo milenio, convocándola a adentrarse en el mar de la historia con el entusiasmo de la nueva evangelización. Contemplar a Cristo implica poder reconocerlo dondequiera que se manifieste su presencia, en sus múltiples formas, pero sobre todo en el sacramento vivo de su cuerpo y sangre. La iglesia extrae su vida de Cristo en la Eucaristía; él la alimenta y él la ilumina. La Eucaristía es un misterio de fe y un misterio de luz.”
Recordamos que en el 2002 San Juan Pablo II instituyó los Misterios Luminosos del Rosario que comienzan con el Bautismo de Jesús en el Jordán continuando con las Bodas de Caná, la proclamación del Reino, la Transfiguración y culminan con la Eucaristía, “fuente y cumbre de la vida cristiana,” la icónica declaración de Lumen Gentium, el documento sobre la Iglesia del Concilio Vaticano II.

Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz

El Santo Sacrificio de la Misa es una fuente ilimitada de vida nueva donde cada generación de fieles está llamada a renovarse en el “asombro” eucarístico, desde el Sucesor de Pedro en Roma hasta las comunidades de fe en todos los puntos cardinales de la Iglesia universal. En los últimos meses, la retórica estridente que rodea el documento prospectivo sobre la Eucaristía de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos ha tergiversado el objetivo del plan estratégico de la Conferencia para la renovación de la iglesia en el espíritu de la Carta Apostólica de San Juan Pablo, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. La siguiente es una descripción general de un proceso deliberativo que estaba en marcha, independientemente de cualquier distorsión política.
“El Plan Estratégico 2021-24 de la USCCB guiará a la Conferencia durante los tiempos excepcionalmente desafiantes que enfrentamos como iglesia y nación. El tema elegido para el plan estratégico 2021-2024 de la USCCB, “Creado de nuevo por el Cuerpo y la Sangre de Cristo: Fuente de nuestra Sanación y Esperanza” (“Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope” por su nombre en inglés) surgió como resultado de las sesiones de escucha con los obispos, el Consejo Asesor Nacional y el personal superior de la USCCB a los que se les pidió reflexionar sobre los desafíos y oportunidades que enfrenta la iglesia en los próximos cuatro años. La necesidad de sanación y renovación a través de un enfoque renovado en el Santísimo Sacramento surgió como el tema más comúnmente discutido y aceptado entre los grupos; como tal, evolucionó naturalmente y fue adoptado como el tema del plan estratégico 2021-24 de la USCCB que guiará la Conferencia durante los próximos cuatro años.”
Además, la dispersión de los fieles provocada por la pandemia impulsa aún más la sabiduría del plan estratégico. El extenso diálogo entre los obispos en la reciente reunión de junio parece haber enderezado el barco y el próximo documento sobre la Eucaristía se alineará con el plan estratégico para 2021-2024.
La dignidad de recibir el Cuerpo y la Sangre del Señor, o estar en estado de gracia, ha sido parte de la tradición de la iglesia desde el principio, como leemos en las palabras de San Pablo. “Así pues, cualquiera que come del pan o bebe de la copa del Señor de manera indigna, comete un pecado contra el cuerpo y la sangre del Señor. Por tanto, cada uno debe examinar su propia conciencia antes de comer del pan y beber de la copa. Porque si come y bebe sin fijarse en que se trata del cuerpo del Señor, para su propio castigo come y bebe.”(1 Corintios 11:27-29)
Obviamente, la dignidad es un elemento crítico que no puede esquivarse porque el pecado y el escándalo debilitan el Cuerpo de Cristo y comprometen la misión de la iglesia en este mundo. La dignidad y el llamado esencial del Señor al arrepentimiento y conversión son siempre antiguos y siempre nuevos y serán parte integral del documento inminente. De seguro, hay un momento y un lugar adecuados para la acción disciplinaria en la vida de la iglesia en cada generación, pero esta publicación de la Conferencia Episcopal no tiene la autoridad para abordar situaciones personales. Esto compete al ámbito de un pastor u obispo en particular.
Próximamente en una iglesia cercana a usted, tendremos la oportunidad este verano de escuchar, contemplar y celebrar durante varias semanas el discurso del Pan de Vida de Jesús del sexto capítulo del Evangelio de Juan. En palabras de San Juan Pablo II, que la proclamación de estos pasajes evangélicos, las propias palabras de nuestro Señor sean fuente de alimento espiritual de “asombro” eucarístico para sostenernos en el camino de la vida y promesa de la vida eterna.

Called by Name

Through June 22-24 the Department of Vocations hosted our first ever Quo Vadis? Young Men’s retreat. As I’ve shared in previous columns this is a retreat that has been fruitful in other dioceses, and I was anxious to see how the participants responded. Well, they had a great time, and so did I!

The retreat was held at the new Our Lady of Hope Retreat Center, which is on the former site of Our Lady of the Pines in Chatawa. We first gathered for hamburgers and hotdogs grilled by Knights of Columbus Council #8054 (McComb) as men from high school up through young professionals got to visit with one another. Then I provided the opening talk, explaining our theme: Quo Vadis? or where are you going? I explained to each retreatant that the Lord was asking each of them this question, and I hoped they would respond generously to whatever call they received. Our seminarians each spoke to the group at points of the week, and they all did an excellent job. I was so proud to see each of them bring their gifts to the table throughout the retreat.

Father Nick Adam

The retreat was marked by fun. We didn’t spend the entire time just talking about vocations and our need for priests, we spent time building brotherhood among young men in our diocese who need to be supported as they live their faith. I would like to thank Bishop Kopacz for supporting this effort, as well as the parents, chaperones, and young adults who either took part or supported this retreat is some way. Also, a great thanks to the Knights of Columbus for that great kickoff to the event. It was especially great that the McComb Council got to meet Will Foggo, the seminarian that they have been supporting through the RSVP program. This was a great example of how this event doesn’t just bring together discerners, but supporters of vocations from various backgrounds and parts of the diocese.

This is just the beginning. I certainly believe that we can build off the momentum of this event and I look forward to offering more opportunities for community building soon. This summer is flying by as our seminarians will be finishing up their parish assignments at the end of the month. Deacon Andrew Bowden will continue his scheduled internship at St. Mary’s in Natchez until mid-October. Please continue to pray for our seminarians and for the young men and women who are seriously discerning whether the Lord is calling them to serve with an undivided heart.

Catechists vital to ministry of the church

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
The USCCB discerns a theme for the catechetical year which is kicked off the third week of September. Catechetical Sunday is significant as it marks the beginning of another academic year which most of our catechetical programs follow. It is also significant as it recognizes the men and women who serve the church in the single most important ministry of the church, the propagation of the faith. Without well formed, faithful Catholics we have no need for the other ministries of the church.
The theme this year is “Only Say the Word and My Soul Shall Be Healed.” The words are immediately recognizable to anyone who attends Mass. The importance of these poignant few words cannot be overstated. We all come up short in our daily effort to be present to and fully live the Gospel. The Sacramental life of the church, especially the Eucharist, provides the graces we need to stay on track. The bishops’ choice of such a Eucharist-centric theme is meaningful on so many levels. The Sacraments were instituted by Jesus and are signs of grace. As catechists one of our most difficult tasks is teaching about the Sacraments.

Further strengthening the role of the catechist, on May 10 Pope Francis promulgated an Apostolic Letter “Antiquum Ministerium” instituting the ministry of the catechist. In the letter, Pope Francis underscores the important role that the laity play in passing on the faith. Our work as lay catechetical leaders, in collaboration with the clergy and religious communities, is an essential and integral component in the evangelization and formation of Catholic Christians. Pope Francis put it this way, “To be sure, there has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the church. We can indeed count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 102) It follows that the reception of a lay ministry such as that of Catechist will emphasize even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully “secular” manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.”
Shortly after the document was made public, I had a cup of coffee with a long-time catechist in our diocese. She jokingly remarked, “Catechisis is now a ministry of the church? What have we been doing all of these years.”
Her humor spoke to the truth. While the official recognition of the catechist as a vocation is important, the role of the catechist has always been essential, and it has always been a ministry. I think Pope Francis recognized that fact too. The elevation of catechist as a vocation/ministry of the church adds needed emphasis on the importance of well trained, well formed catechists. It seems like over the past few decades the church has placed less emphasis on training catechists and more emphasis on making the job of catechesis less of a “burden.”
I understand that many of our directors and coordinators of religious education at our parishes are volunteers and nearly all of our catechists are volunteers. Not wanting to add to the already busy schedules of our volunteer catechists may seem like a pastoral response. However, competency and confidence go hand in hand. I recall several years ago driving by my volunteer fire department thinking that if my house were on fire the volunteer firemen were trained to put out the fire and administer first aid in the event it is needed. I am reminded of the hours of training it takes to be a volunteer fireman. Proper training for important work such as firefighting or catechesis is necessary no matter if the individual is a paid professional or a volunteer.
Pope Francis went on to say:
Beginning with the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the church has come to a renewed appreciation of the importance of lay involvement in the work of evangelization. The Council Fathers repeatedly emphasized the great need for the lay faithful to be engaged directly, in the various ways their charism can be expressed, in the “plantatio ecclesiae” and the development of the Christian community. “Worthy of praise too is that army of catechists, both men and women, to whom missionary work among the nations is so indebted, who imbued with an apostolic spirit make an outstanding and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith and the church by their great work. In our days, when there are so few clerics to evangelize such great multitudes and to carry out the pastoral ministry, the role of catechists is of the highest importance.” (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity Ad Gentes, 17)
As a diocese, we will be looking at ways to better equip catechists for their important ministry as well as look for opportunities to celebrate the many ways catechists add to the richness of our faith. We will keep you posted!

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

Why do they wear that? A look at vestments

By Ruth Powers
It is a common feature of our culture that we expect different forms of dress depending on the setting – one would expect to see different attire at a formal wedding than at a backyard barbeque. Catholics are certainly used to seeing our clergy and others who serve on the altar wear special clothing during the celebration of the Mass. The question then arises: Why do they wear that and what is the history behind that clothing?

Ruth Powers

One would think that the priestly vestments of today had their root in the vestments described in the Old Testament book of Exodus (28:2-4), but this is not the case. Those vestments were used in Jewish Temple worship, but not in the early Christian church. In fact, the beginning of our priestly vestments was the everyday clothing of the Greco-Roman world. Originally the clothing of the presider was no different from anyone else, as everyone wore their “Sunday best” for worship. The basic pieces worn in the first century were generally a tunic, which could be long or short, and a mantle or cloak worn over it. Secular fashions evolved gradually, but it took until the fourth century for priestly dress to become separated from the clothing of everyday life. It was at this time that the stole began to be used as an official symbol of the priesthood. By the ninth century, the plainer vestments of an earlier time came to be more richly ornamented; and as the church gained wealth and power, vestments became even more elaborate, sometimes reflecting the richness of the dress of the secular nobility. Today the form of the vestments used by the priests is meant to take him away as the center of the liturgical action and point us toward the true center of the liturgy – Jesus Christ.
Each part of the vestment has developed a symbolic meaning over time; and as the priest puts on each part, there is a vesting prayer to be said.
• The first vestment is the amice, which many people don’t ever see. It is a rectangular cloth with cords coming out of the sides. It developed out of a hood that covered the head outdoors and was lowered inside. It represents the “helmet of salvation.” (Ephesians 6:17) Its function now is to be worn around the shoulders and neck to protect the chasuble and stole, and to cover any ordinary clothing showing at the neck.
• Next is the alb, a long white garment which grew out of the tunic worn in the first century. It represents the white garment given at baptism. Any member of the baptized can wear an alb when performing a liturgical role, so altar servers, lay masters of ceremony, and sometimes lay people in other liturgical roles may wear an alb.
• A cincture is a cord that may be used as a belt to hold the alb and stole in place. It is no longer required but can be used. For the priest, the cincture is a symbol of chastity. If the priest is a member of a religious order, the cincture can have three knots in it, symbolizing the three evangelical counsels/vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
• The stole is a long narrow piece of cloth that matches the liturgical color of the chasuble. The priest wears it over his shoulders either with the ends hanging down on both sides or crossed over his chest. It is a symbol of his priestly authority and is meant to be a reminder of the cross Jesus bore over his shoulders.
• The final vestment is the chasuble. This developed out of the mantles worn as outer clothing. It represents the virtue of charity, since it is to be the primary virtue of the priest and the core of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. When the chasuble is worn over the stole, it symbolizes that the priest should cloak his authority with charity.
• The cope is another vestment that developed out of the cloak or mantle. It is a semicircular cape fastened at the neck. Earlier in history it also sometimes had an attached hood. The cope is used, for example, in processions, in the greater blessings and consecrations, at the solemnly celebrated Liturgy of the Hours, and in giving Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
A deacon also has some vestments particular to his role. Over the alb he wears a stole diagonally across his body and fastened at his hip. He may also wear a dalmatic, which is a wide sleeved knee length tunic. This garment was originally worn as a substitute for the toga by the Roman Senatorial class and was adapted as the vestment proper to deacons in the fourth century.
As you can see, vestments are about more than making the priest stand out as he celebrates the liturgy. Each vestment has its own meaning and reinforces the idea that in the Sacrifice of the Mass he acts, not as himself, but in the person of Christ.

(Ruth Powers is the Program Coordinator for St. Mary Basilica in Natchez.)

Called by Name

Kathleen McMullin first began thinking about religious life while she was a student at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison, but she wanted to go to college and pursue a career in medicine. She graduated from Mississippi State and became a certified Occupational Therapist, but she says that Jesus kept calling for something more: “He is patient, but he is persistent.”

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

McMullin says that as a professional she had begun to struggle with her faith, “it reached a point where I realized that my relationship with the Lord was not where it had been, my faith was not growing, and that I was lost.”

That’s when I met Kathleen. She told me while recording an interview for The Discerning Catholic Podcast that her mother encouraged her to set a meeting with me. At that point I was the parochial vicar at St. Richard in Jackson. Kathleen says that at that point in her life she had seen her brothers get married and start families, and she says, “I wanted [marriage] as well…really religious life was off the table.”

We spoke over Zoom about how I encouraged her to pray and invited her to come on a “nun run” with some parish youth group members as a chaperone. Kathleen says that after these events she “started getting up earlier in the morning and praying with scripture and got to the point where I was craving that time in the morning.”

“Slowly over time the Lord revealed how he made my heart and made me pursue him and the fact that he was pursuing my heart as well. I became more open to at least going down that road of religious life.”

Kathleen started to look at different orders. She enjoyed a visit to the Nashville Dominicans, a rapidly growing order whose primary apostolate is teaching, and she says she benefitted greatly from going on a visit during a designated weekend at their mother house.

“A big thing is just interacting with sisters and getting to see their joy and what drew them to this life.”

But she says that through prayer she was drawn to share her professional gifts with the church, she explains, “I knew I wanted to explore an order that had a medical apostolate — that’s the word for their work.”

Through a friend she met in Nashville, Kathleen was pointed toward The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, a Franciscan order with a house in Alton, Illinois.

“Their charism — it’s kind of like their mission statement — is to make the merciful love of Christ visible…and there was a little flicker in my heart that was like, ooo, I like that.”

Kathleen contacted the vocation director for the order and says they had a great discussion. She made two separate visits over several months and made the decision to enter postulancy for the community.

Kathleen will enter the community this September, and I will have more from her interview later this summer. Her journey to this point has inspired me to be more confident in the Lord’s plan for myself and those that I serve. And she is not alone in seeking out the Lord’s will through religious life. Sister Kelly Moline, a Springfield Dominican working in our diocese at St. Dominic Hospital, will take her final vows with the community in Springfield, Illinois on the Feast of St. Dominic, Aug. 8. And elsewhere in this issue of Mississippi Catholic you can read about the priestly ordination of Father James Martin Nobles, O.P., a native of McComb and newly ordained for the Southern Province of Dominican Friars.

The church is one big family, and we rejoice that there are those in our midst who are giving themselves over to the Lord with vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. This gift speaks to all of us of the need to have greater confidence in the Lord’s power than our own abilities, and their joy tells us that it is worth it to give everything we have up to the Lord.

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

ALTON, Ill. – Kathleen McMullin visiting Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. She will enter postulancy for the community in September. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen McMullin)

Losing the song in the singer

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Often when listening to someone singing live or on television, I close my eyes to try to hear the song so as not to let the singer’s performance get in the way of the song. A song can be lost in its performance; indeed, the performance can take over so that the song is replaced by the singer.
When anyone is performing live, be it on a stage, in a classroom, at a podium, or in a pulpit, there will always be some combination of three things. The speaker will be trying to impress others with his talent; he will be trying to get a message across; and (consciously or unconsciously) he will be trying to channel something true, good, and beautiful for its own sake. Metaphorically, he will be making love to himself, making love to the audience, and making love to the song.
It is the third component, making love to the song, which makes for great art, great rhetoric, great teaching, and great preaching. Greatness sets itself apart here because what comes through is “the song” rather than the singer, the message rather than the messenger, and the performer’s empathy rather than his ego. The audience then is drawn to the song rather than to the singer. Good singers draw people to the music rather than to themselves; good teachers draw students to truth and learning rather than to themselves; good artists draw people to beauty rather than to adulation, and good preachers draw their congregations to God rather than to praise of themselves.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Admittedly, this isn’t easy to do. We are all human, so is our audience. No audience respects you unless you do show some talent, creativity, and intelligence. There’s always an unspoken pressure on the singer, the speaker, the teacher, and the preacher, both from within and from without. From within: I don’t want to disappoint! I don’t want to look bad! I need to stand out! I need to show them something special! From without, from the audience: What have you got? Show us something! Are you worth my attention? Are you bright? Are you boring? Only the most mature person can be free of these pressures. Thus, the song easily gets lost in the singer, the message in the messenger, the teaching in the teacher, and the message of God in the personality of the preacher.
As a teacher, preacher, and writer, I admit my own long struggle with this. When you first start teaching, you had better impress your students or you won’t have their attention or respect for long. The same with preaching. The congregation is always sizing you up, and you had better measure up or no one will be listening to you. Moreover, unless you have an exceptionally strong self-image, you will be a perennial prisoner of your own insecurities. Nobody wants to look bad, stupid, uninformed, or come across as talentless. Everyone wants to look good.
Moreover, not least, there is still your ego (and its power can never be underestimated). It wants to draw the attention and the admiration to itself rather than to what is true, good, and beautiful. There is always the temptation for the messenger to be more concerned about impressing others than about having the message come through in purity and truth. The subtle, but powerful, temptation inside every singer, teacher, speaker, preacher, or writer is to draw people to themselves rather than to the truth and beauty they are trying to channel.
I struggle with this in every class I teach, every article or book I write, and every time I preside at liturgy. Nevertheless, I make no apologies for this. It is the innate struggle in all creative effort. Are we trying to draw people to ourselves, or are we trying to draw them to truth, to beauty, to God?
When I teach a class, how much of my preparation and energy is motivated by a genuine concern for the students and how much is motivated by my need to look good, to impress, to have a reputation as a good teacher? When I write an article or a book, am I really trying to bring insight and understanding to others or am I thinking of my status as a writer? When I preside at Mass and preach is my real motivation to channel a sacred ritual in a manner that my own personality doesn’t get in the way? Is it to lead people into community with each other and to decrease myself so Christ can increase?
There is no simple answer to those questions because there can’t be. Our motivation is always less than fully pure. Moreover, we are not meant to be univocal robots without personalities. Our unique personalities and talents were given by God precisely as gifts to be used for others. Still, there’s a clear warning sign. When the focus of the audience is more on our personalities than on the song, we are probably making love more to ourselves and our admirers than to the song.

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

The Mass of Easter Day

By Father Aaron Williams
The last segment of our study of the liturgies of Holy Week is the Mass of Easter Day. As I mentioned in an earlier column, historically there was no special Mass for Easter Day, per se. The Vigil was originally envisioned as lasting all-night and then ending shortly before dawn, making the Vigil Mass the Mass of the day as well. However, as time went on and the Vigil grew more and more complicated, it became more common to celebrate a separate Mass on Easter morning with its own proper prayer texts and readings.
This is why apart from the presence of the sequence (Victimæ Paschale Laudes), the Easter Mass is no different from any normal Sunday Mass — having no special rites or particular rubrics as we see in the liturgies during the week. As a side-effect, this serves to underscore the Paschal character of every Sunday celebration. Each Sunday, we revisit the mystery of Our Lord’s Resurrection. It is fitting that when we arrive for Mass on Easter Morning that we feel as if everything is once again as it should be. The Resurrection, after all, is a divine recapitulation — Christ restores creation to its state before the fall, which is why the Resurrection happened in a garden. Humanity fell from grace within a garden, so it is fitting that our restoration to grace would likewise occur in a garden.
If we compared the celebration of Easter Day from the traditional rite of Mass to our modern celebration, we would find very little textual differences. The prayers and readings are virtually unchanged. The modern rite, however, does give the interesting option to use the Gospel of the Road to Emmaus at Easter Masses which occur in the evening, which gives this well-loved passage its own proper place in the lectionary.

Father Aaron Williams

The sequence of Easter Day is a beautiful work of Christian poetry. The text contains a curious passage where the singer asks Mary Magdalene to retell us the story of the Resurrection, making this the only time in any liturgical text where we address someone other than God. Even on feast days of the Blessed Mother, liturgical texts never address Mary directly, but always speak to God regarding the mystery being celebrated. The Easter sequence is the one exception. This, perhaps, can underscore the unique role Mary Magdalene played in the early church as the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ — announcing to all of the Apostles the news of the Resurrection.
Though our modern celebration of Easter is not particularly unique from any other Mass, there are a few examples from history of some local churches having their own customary rites associated with Easter Day. Perhaps the most significant of these comes from the Medieval English liturgy. The missals of Salisbury and York explain a rite which preceded the Easter Sunday Mass where the priest and ministers first process to the altar which served as the Altar of Repose during the Paschal Triduum. Unlike our modern celebration where the Blessed Sacrament is restored to the normal tabernacle after communion at the Easter Vigil, in the English custom the Blessed Sacrament remained secure at the Altar of Repose until the Mass of Easter Day.
Once the priest reaches the altar, the choir would begin singing the traditional hymn of thanksgiving (Te Deum) while the priest slowly raised the ciborium up from the altar and over his head, as if Christ was literally rising up from the tomb. For this reason, the English traditionally called this altar the ‘sepulcher’ instead of the ‘altar of repose.’
After the elevation of the ciborium, the priest would carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession back to the normal tabernacle — traditionally with the procession proceeded by a banner or image depicting the Risen Christ. We find a similar custom in Medieval Spain, except there it was more common for a single Host to be used rather than a full ciborium.
Some medieval parishes were even equipped with a special tabernacle or pyx which was suspended over the altar by a pulley system. In this case, the ‘elevation’ rite occurred by placing the Blessed Sacrament inside this tabernacle and then slowly winding the pulley until the tabernacle reached its normal height. An example of a tabernacle of this sort can be found in the oratory chapel of the Dominican parish in New York City: St. Vincent Ferrer. This was such a common ritual in European tradition that by the time of the renaissance it became common for churches to have a golden dove suspended over the altar with a small opening to serve as a pyx.
Suffice it to say by the time of the 19th century Enlightenment, this rite was no longer seen as effective as it was on Medieval Christians and most local churches began to drop it from their liturgical texts until by the dawn of the 20th century it essentially disappeared.

(Father Aaron Williams is the administrator at St. Joseph Parish in Greenville.)

My father’s shirt

By Reba J. McMellon, M.S., LPC
Matthew 11:30 – For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I have a photograph of me taken several years ago on Memorial Day. I am wearing my father’s army shirt from the Korean War. The medal around my neck has the emblem commemorating 50 years since the Korean War. I know I’m supposed to call it a conflict, but it deserves the word war, in my book.
I don’t even know how to describe all that in a way that it makes sense to non-veterans. That is because I tuned out most of my dad’s war stories while he was still living. Since his death, I feel like a custodian for what he stood for. The good that he stood for.
Korea is in the news again. I find it fascinating now. I feel proud of what those young men did. How many even know the dates of the Korean war? Was it North Korea or South Korea? What was the conflict about? Now, I know. Now, it matters to me.

Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

That’s just an example of how my father’s death has affected me. He was a man’s man, to say the least. He was a gruff, take no prisoners man and was the head of a family of women.
He wasn’t the peace maker but the policy holder. I find myself in that role. I’m not trying to fill his shoes, but I am wearing his army shirt.
Can you believe it fits me? My Dad was always a large man, in my eyes. Now I realize, at the age of 18, he was my size. For those of you who don’t know me, that’s 120 pounds soaking wet. If I exaggerate.
Much of my father’s agitation and gruff demeanor was attributed to being a war veteran. That may or may not have been true. The point is, as he began needing more care due to his health, he showed a side to him that I will admire for the rest of my life.
Talk about a hero. He went out of this world with the dignity of a war hero for sure.
It was a five-year stretch, after his last by-pass surgery. When he couldn’t walk far enough to get to a doctor’s office, he let me push him in a wheelchair. That took dignity on his part. He remained cheerful and complimented me constantly. Sometimes he liked to call me Charlie, for reasons I never understood.
Managing him, his chair, myself and sometimes my mom wasn’t for the faint hearted. It really did take skill. I’d push the door open, swing him around and catch the door with my foot or backside, in time to pull him in backward-all while managing to keep my purse from falling off my shoulder. I wasn’t always successful. Asking my dad to hold my purse was never an option, in my mind. I would not compromise his dignity in that way. Thank goodness cross-body purses became popular. I never had to stoop to a fanny pack … Besides, a fanny pack is too small for the inevitable mound of medical paperwork.
My father went into hospice care in November 2010. He remained in his house of 46 years. He had congestive heart failure and COPD. Many diseases linger. This one is certainly no exception.
We went through many stages. The day we came home from the emergency room with a hospital bed in his living room was big. But that did not stop his dignity.
He always welcomed visitors. He moved the two feet from the bed to his place at the table every day, even when we cautioned him not to. If the noise from his oxygen machine got on his nerves, he attempted to get out of bed and turn the thing off himself. That was not always a successful decision, but he did not let that keep him from what independence and say-so he had left.
The last few months were winter. It was a very cold winter for our region. Many after midnight calls came. It was always a fall (or slide) to the floor. It never failed that he greeted us with a strong and welcoming voice. See what I mean about dignity. A war hero. A vet. We would greet each other like two soldiers.
The next day he would brag on us a lot. He’d say, “I don’t know how you get me up off the floor so easily.” To which I would reply, “I’ve had training, Daddy.”
Maybe that is one reason why it was so hard to see him go. How do you close the chapter on someone like that? How does anybody watch as they close the casket on a loved one-much less your Daddy?
My father’s legacy did not end when they closed the lid. As a matter of fact, that’s when it really began.
This will be the tenth Father’s Day without my father. It hasn’t been ten years since he left. It has been ten years and three months.
On Father’s Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, I wear my father’s Korean War shirt. Much of his role in the family passed to me. I thank him for showing me how to soldier on with dignity.
My father’s last words to me were, “If you can get me comfortable, I’m going to go on out of here.”
He did. I thank him for trusting me and letting me love him in ways that were not possible before his health declined.
Caregiving does not have to be a burden. If you will go with it, it can be quite healing.

(Reba J. McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for over 25 years. She continues to work as a mental health consultant, public speaker and freelance writer in Jackson, Mississippi. Reba can be reached at rebaj@bellsouth.net.)

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

By Father Clement “Clem” Olukunle Oyafemi
JACKSON – Early in the year 2002, a few months after the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York (9/11), I was invited to officiate at a wedding in Detroit. It was a time of extreme fear and uncertainty throughout the entire country. No one was willing to trust anyone.
So, I flew from New York to Detroit, landing around 6 p.m., early enough for the wedding rehearsal. Dressed fully in my clerical wear, I made it easier for anyone to identify me, and I was also expecting my designated driver to stand at the airport with my name on card as was usual.
Unfortunately, there was no sign with my name, nor was there anyone to ask who I was. I waited and waited at the airport but there was no one to get me. By midnight I made up my mind I was going to stay the night in the nearest hotel and then take a cab to the church the next day to witness the wedding.
As I was approaching the front desk, two young men moved toward my direction, and one of them intentionally brushed his elbow against me and quickly said, “Am sorry sir.” I looked at him and smiled. Then he began a conversation. “By the way, are you Father Clem from New York? Then I said, “Yes, why are you asking?” And the man responded, “Well, I am your designated driver. We have been waiting here for six hours and we couldn’t find you.”
I told the two young men, “I have been here for six hours also, and I have been looking for my name on a sign, but couldn’t find it.” The man responded, “Dr. Cochabamba made a sign with your name on it and gave it to us when we were leaving for the airport. But we threw it away telling him, ‘We know what a priest looks like.’”
I asked him, “So why didn’t you find me? As you can see, I’m wearing my clerical suit.” The other man responded, “Because, we were told that your name is Father Clement, and you were coming from New York. We pictured a tall, white man with a beard, and in his early sixties. So, when we saw you, we did not pay attention, because you did not match the image of the ‘Father Clem’ we had in our heads.”

Father Clement Olukunle Oyafemi

Just like the two designated drivers in the story, who had me pictured incorrectly in their minds, the majority of the people, in the time of Jesus, had a different image of the Messiah in their minds. Jesus didn’t “fit the mold” of their expected image of the savior. And that is why they did not accept him.
By asking the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus was questioning his disciples about his identity. (cf Mt 16:15) This question is very essential to the Christian faith. It is very important for us to know the identity of Jesus so that we may relate correctly with him. And trust me, Jesus will never entrust his church to those who do not know him.
Peter’s confession, as we see in the gospel passage, represents the apostles, and all people who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and the Son of God. The response given by the apostles to the question, “Who do people say that I am?” shows, clearly, that many people, in the time of Jesus, did not really know him. And if you do not know a person’s identity, you may not know how to relate to him/her. Some thought he was Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. They were very much mistaken. They did not know him, even after three years of his mission among them.
Notably those two men who came to the airport had a different image of me in their heads. Similarly, there are so many Christians today who do not really know Christ. They neither know his person nor his teaching. So how can they truly follow him? Someone can go to church for one hundred years without knowing Christ. The knowledge we are talking about is not book knowledge. It is experiential knowledge. If I may ask rhetorically; how can we love who we do not know? How can we serve who we do not love? Leadership in the church is based on loving service. And that is a big challenge for us today.
The universal church celebrates two great personalities in the history of Christianity – Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. These great apostles knew the true identity of Christ. Peter was chosen by Christ to be his first vicar on Earth (pope). He was endowed with the powers of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. (cf Mt 16:13-19) He was charged with the role of shepherd of Christ’s flock after having affirmed his love for Christ, three times. (cf Jn 21:15-17) St. Peter led the church and suffered martyrdom in the year 64 AD. Buried at the hill of the Vatican, recent excavations revealed his tomb on the very site of St. Peters Basilica. The head of the universal church is called “pope”, which means “father.” Pope Francis is the 266th pope after St. Peter.
Although Paul did not meet Christ in person, he met him in a miraculous way. Christ chose him after his conversion on the road to Damascus. (cf Acts 9:1-16)
Paul is regarded as the greatest missionary of all time. He was advocate of pagans and called the apostle of the Gentiles. Paul testified to Christ, not only in words, but in action. He traveled, worked and taught more than any of the apostles who were called before him. Only Pope John Paul II has surpassed him in terms of missionary journeys. Like Peter, Paul also suffered martyrdom. He was beheaded and buried on the site where the Basilica, bearing his name, now stands.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, let us pray that God may continue to raise courageous and fearless leaders to lead his church from generation to generation. Through the intersession of Sts. Peter and Paul, may the Lord sustain the church and keep us true to his teachings. Amen.

(Father Clement Olukunle Oyafemi – Father “Clem” is the Coordinator of the Intercultural Ministry of the Diocese since 2020. He has two master’s degrees, one in theology and one in religious education and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He shares with Sister Thea his passion for the Lord and music. Father Clem founded the Rejoice Ministry of African Worship Songs –AFRAWOS– in 2002.)