Celibacy – a personal apologia

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
As a vowed, religious celibate I’m very conscious that today celibacy, whether lived out in a religious commitment or in other circumstances, is suspect, under siege, and is offering too little by way of a helpful apologia to its critics.
Do I believe in the value of consecrated celibacy? The only real answer I can give must come from my own life. What’s my response to a culture that, for the most part, believes celibacy is both a naiveté and a dualism that stands against the goodness of sexuality, renders its adherents less than fully human, and lies at the root of the clerical sexual abuse crisis within the Roman Catholic Church? What might I say in its defense?
First, that celibacy isn’t a basis for pedophilia. Virtually all empirical studies indicate that pedophilia is a diagnosis not linked to celibacy. But then let me acknowledge its downside: Celibacy is not the normal state for anyone. When God made the first man and woman, God said: “It is not good for the human being to be alone.” That isn’t just a statement about the constitutive place of community within our lives (though it is that); it’s a clear reference to sexuality, its fundamental goodness, and its God-intended place in our lives. From that it flows that to be a celibate, particularly to choose to be one, comes fraught with real dangers. Celibacy can, and sometimes does, lead to an unhealthy sense of one’s sexual and relational self and to a coldness that’s often judgmental. It can too, understandably, lead to an unhealthy sexual preoccupation within the celibate and it provides access to certain forms of intimacy within which a dangerous betrayal of trust can occur. Less recognized, but a huge danger, is that it can be a vehicle for selfishness. Simply put, without the conscription demands that come with marriage and child-raising there’s the ever-present danger that a celibate can, unconsciously, arrange his life too much to suit his own needs.
Thus celibacy is not for everyone; indeed it’s not for the many. It contains an inherent abnormality. Consecrated celibacy is not simply a different lifestyle. It’s anomalous, in terms of the unique sacrifice it asks of you, where, like Abraham going up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac, you’re asked to sacrifice what’s most precious to you. As Thomas Merton, speaking of his own celibacy, once said: The absence of woman is a fault in my chastity. But, for the celibate as for Abraham, that can have a rich purpose and contain its own potential for generativity.
As well, I believe that consecrated celibacy, like music or religion, needs to be judged by its best expressions and not by its aberrations. Celibacy should not be judged by those who have not given it a wholesome expression but by the many wonderful women and men, saints of the past and present, who have given it a wholesome and generative expression. One could name numerous saints of the past or wonderfully healthy and generative persons from our own generation as examples where vowed celibacy has made for a wholesome, happy life that inspires others: Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier, Oscar Romero, Raymond E. Brown, and Helen Prejean, to name just a few. Personally, I know many very generative, vowed celibates whose wholesomeness I envy and who make celibacy credible – and attractive.
Like marriage, though in a different way, celibacy offers a rich potential for intimacy and generativity. As a vowed celibate I am grateful for a vocation which has brought me intimately into the world of so many people. When I left home at a young age to enter the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, I confess, I didn’t want celibacy. Nobody should. I wanted to be a missionary and a priest and celibacy presented itself as the stumbling block. But once inside religious life, almost immediately, I loved the life, though not the celibacy part. Twice I delayed taking final vows, unsure about celibacy. Eventually I made the decision, a hard leap of trust, and took the vow for life. Full disclosure, celibacy has been for me singularly the hardest part of my more than fifty years in religious life … but, but, at the same time, it has helped create a special kind of entry into the world and into others’ lives that has wonderfully enriched my ministry.
The natural God-given desire for sexual intimacy, for exclusivity in affection, for the marriage bed, for children, for grandchildren, doesn’t leave you, and it shouldn’t. But celibacy has helped bring into my life a rich, consistent, deep intimacy. Reflecting on my celibate vocation, all I may legitimately feel is gratitude.
Celibacy isn’t for everyone. It excludes you from the normal; it seems brutally unfair at times; it’s fraught with dangers ranging from serious betrayal of trust to living a selfish life; and it’s a fault in your very chastity – but, if lived out in fidelity, it can be wonderfully generative and does not exclude you from either real intimacy or real happiness.

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

“When I was in prison did you visit me?” (Mt.25: 37)

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O. Praem
Mark your calendars. Catholic Day at the Capitol will be Wednesday, February 27. This will be a time to further develop Catholic Social Teaching in the broad area of Criminal Justice, in several areas: prison reform, re-entry, ending the death penalty, and how to practice restorative justice in families, parishes, and communities. Sue Allen, coordinator for the office of parish social ministries, wrote a piece that already appeared in Mississippi Catholic, and pointed out that restorative justice “follows the model presented in the Gospels.”
Restorative justice is not new. It has been around for some time. On November of 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration, A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.” The idea goes back further. “Defining it can be elusive because it is a philosophical way of thinking about crime and conflict, rather than a distinct model or system of law.”
This view holds that “criminal behavior is primarily a violation of one individual to another. When a crime is committed it is the victim who is harmed, not the state. Instead of the offender owing a ‘debt to society’ which must be expunged by experiencing some form of state-imposed punishment, the offender owes a specific debt to the victim which can only be repaid by making good the damage caused.” (Zehr 1990)
The focus is on the victim, the community and all impacted by the offense. In places where this is used, in conjunction with ordinary methods, a sharp decrease in recidivism has occurred. Further evidence of substantial healing among all parties has been recorded.
Last year the day concentrated on mental health. Angela Ladner, Executive Director of the Mississippi Psychiatric Association and Joy Hogge, Executive Director of Mississippi Families as Allies presented the situation of the state’s mental health plan and its shortcomings. The state still struggles with this. They made a good case that mental health is at the bottom of many other social ills, not the least among those is the criminal justice system.
I worked I in that system and still do, providing church services to inmates at the Federal Corrections Complex in Yazoo City, two other priests of our community serve inmates in the Federal Prison near Natchez, a privately-run prison.
Money impacts all of these systems in turn – the state mental health system, state prisons, the whole criminal justice system. Already I have been to joint senate and house judicial A and B committees over the budget for the state’s system. The meeting was well attended by advocates and others. Advocacy groups such as the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and others offered strong presentations on budget priorities. Budgeting is always an issue, but more so when those behind bars are so stigmatized.
As church we fight to abolish the death penalty. Undergirding our views around criminal justice, mental health, and related issues is the Gospel principle of healing and restoring people’s lives.
The climate in the country is so harsh and punitive, split along every line. I wrote here before about the racial impact on criminal justice commenting on Michelle Alexander’s seminal word on mass incarceration.
All of this advocacy is part of Church. As Church we are to be the healing hand of Jesus. We are to be peacemakers not war-makers.
So talking about restorative justice is about healing of victims, of communities of families and, yes, perpetrators. Why? All are human beings.
We have some terrific people this year who will open your minds and even your hearts. We have John Koufos, National Director of Reentry Initiatives for Right on Crime, and Haley M Brown, Oktibbeha Country prosecutor and law professor at Mississippi State University in Starkville. Read more about their presentations on page 1 of this issue of Mississippi Catholic.
I hope to see many of you there.

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

I heard Jesus saying to me …

Sister Constance Veit

Guest Column
By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
Have you ever received an unexpected message from a friend, maybe a text message or a voice mail that made your day, or even led you to change your outlook on life? This happened to me last month, in the middle of SEEK 2019, the annual conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
In his homily at Mass that day, Archbishop Samuel Aquila spoke about bringing the light of Christ into the world’s darkness. He encouraged us to recapture the “sense of eternity,” which, he said, society has lost.
These words echoed in my heart – “sense of eternity” – and then just as I was about to receive Communion, I heard Jesus saying to me, “The elderly … let them teach you.”
As I made my thanksgiving after Communion, I was overcome with joy and gratitude for my vocation, which puts me in daily contact with the elderly. But at the same time I realized how often I take them for granted.
I returned home more aware of all the wisdom and experience our Residents have to share, and more intent on learning from them.
I began to ask our Residents questions – “What does heaven mean to you?” … “What’s the secret to a good life?” … “How have you faced life’s inevitable difficulties?” Their answers left me in admiration.
Mary told me that for her, heaven is everything – her true home and her reason to go on living. “If I didn’t believe in heaven,” she said, “I would be tempted to end my life because there would be no reason to go on living in my condition if it weren’t for the hope of seeing God and my family in heaven.”
Maude, a retired social worker, told me “Heaven is God’s work in us.” When I asked her what that looks like, she smiled and responded, “I just told you! It looks like us!”
Carl, who has dealt with a physical disability his whole life, gave me a pep talk about perseverance and told me that the secret to a good life is to be resolutely joyful, no matter what happens, because “God is always with us!”
It seems to me that these seniors live what Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., the Pope’s own preacher, teaches about the sense of eternity.
“For the believer, eternity is not only a hope, it is also a presence. We have this experience every time that we make a real act of faith in Christ, because ‘you have eternal life, you believe in the name of the Son of God;’ every time we receive Communion, in which ‘we are given the pledge of future glory;’ every time we hear the words of the Gospel which are ‘words of eternal life.’ … Between the life of faith in time and eternal life there is a relationship similar to that which exists between the life of an embryo in the maternal womb and that of the baby, once he has come to the light.”
The elderly in our homes have battled through dark times – both personal and historical – and they have persevered. They really do live on the Bread and the Word of Life as their pledge of future glory.
But they don’t only hope for eternity as a future reality; I believe they experience it as a presence brightening their days and lightening the burdens of old age in a mysterious, but very real way.
They personify the words of St. Paul, “We are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.”
In the midst of our frenetic, polarized and materialistic world the elderly remind me of eternal values which are often unseen, but which alone give life beauty and true meaning.
This month in the liturgy we encounter the elderly prophets Simeon and Anna, who greet Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the Temple and confirm Jesus’ identity as the long – awaited Messiah.
As we celebrate the Presentation in the Temple, perhaps we could all make an effort to reach out to the seniors we know so that they will feel like a living part of the community – and so that we may be enriched by their unique gifts and their “sense of eternity!”

(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Snake-bitten …

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Everything is of one piece. Whenever we don’t take that seriously, we pay a price.
The renowned theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar gives an example of this. Beauty, he submits, is not some little “extra” that we can value or denigrate according to personal taste and temperament, like some luxury that we say we cannot afford. Like truth and goodness, it’s one of the properties of God and thus demands to be taken seriously as goodness and truth. If we neglect or denigrate beauty, he says, we will soon enough begin to neglect other areas of our lives. Here are his words:
“Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking then along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name, as if she were an ornament of a bourgeois past, whether he admits it or not, can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
Here’s a simpler expression of that. There’s a delightful little African tale that highlights the interconnectedness of everything and illustrates how, if we separate a thing from its sisters, we soon pay a price. The tale goes this way:
Once upon a time, when animals still talked, the mice on a farm called a summit of all the other animals. They were worried, they lamented, because they had seen the mistress of the house buy a mousetrap. They were now in danger. But the other animals scoffed at their anxiety. The cow said that she had nothing to worry about. A tiny little contraption couldn’t harm her. She could crush it with her foot. The pig reacted in a similar way. What did he have to worry about in the face of a tiny trap? The chicken also announced that it had no fear of this gadget. “It’s your concern. No worry for me!” it told the mice.
But all things are interconnected and that soon became evident. The mistress set the mousetrap and, on the very first night, heard it snap. Getting out of her bed to look what it had caught and she saw that it had trapped a snake by its tail. In trying to free the snake she was bitten and the poison soon had her feeling sick and running a fever. She went to the doctor who gave her medicines to combat the poison and advised her: “What you need now to get better is chicken broth.” (You can guess where the rest of this is going.) They slaughtered the chicken, but her fever lingered. Relatives and neighbors came to visit. More food was needed. They slaughtered the pig. Eventually the poison killed her. A huge funeral ensued. A lot of food was needed. The slaughtered the cow.
The moral of the story is clear. Everything is interconnected and our failure to see that leaves us in peril. Blindness to our interdependence, willful or not, is dangerous. We are inextricably tied to each other and to everything in the world. We can protest to the contrary but reality will hold its ground. And so, we cannot truly value one thing while we disdain something else. We cannot really love one person while we hate someone else. And we cannot give ourselves an exemption in one moral area and hope to be morally healthy as a whole. Everything is of one piece. There are no exceptions. When we ignore that truth we are eventually be snake-bitten by it.
I emphasize this because today, virtually everywhere, a dangerous tribalism is setting in. Everywhere, not unlike the animals in that African tale, we see families, communities, churches and whole countries focusing more or less exclusively on their own needs without concern for other families, communities, churches and countries. Other people’s problems, we believe, are not our concern. From the narrowness in our churches, to identity politics, to whole nations setting their own needs first, we hear echoes of the cow, pig and chicken saying: “Not my concern! I’ll take care of myself. You take care of yourself!” This will come back to snake-bite us.
We will eventually pay the price for our blindness and non-concern and we will pay that price politically, socially and economically. But we will even pay a higher price personally. What that snake-bite will do is captured in Von Balthasar’s warning: Whoever ignores or denigrates beauty will, he asserts, eventually be unable to pray or to love. That’s true too in all cases when we ignore our interconnectedness with others. By ignoring the needs of others we eventually corrupt our own wholeness so that we are no longer be able to treat ourselves with respect and empathy and, when that happens, we lose respect and empathy for life itself – and for God – because whenever reality isn’t respected it bites back with a mysterious vengeance.

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

Remembering Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, pastor, preacher, writer

By Bobby Ardoin (Opelousas Daily World)
OPELOUSAS, Louisiana – Father Jerome Ledoux, SVD, will be remembered as a man of faith, whose prolific religious writings, words of spiritual guidance and affable personality uplifted numerous African American Catholic church congregations across the South for more than six decades.
Father Ledoux, 88, who spent his final three years as a priest at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, was buried Wednesday at the St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where he began his religious training at age 13.
A large gathering filled the pews at Holy Ghost on Monday, January 14, for an afternoon visitation that included ceremonial prayers by the Knights of St. Peter Claver, followed by a Mass.
Many of those in attendance provided testimony about Father Ledoux, who died Jan. 7 at Lafayette General Hospital following a nearly month-long treatment for a heart ailment.
Father Ledoux’s ministry, which began in 1957 after his ordination, was often colorful and poignant, according to those who knew him during his various services at St. Augustine Catholic Church in New Orleans, Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and at Holy Ghost, whose estimated 2,500 congregation members comprise one of the nation’s largest African American Catholic churches in the U.S.
Until the time of his death, Father Ledoux was also a weekly contributor to publications across the U.S., including Mississippi Catholic.
Father Ledoux’s spiritual guidance and his availability to his parishioners was always legendary, said Robert Carmouche of Opelousas.
“He has been my inspiration. Despite his age, he was still working and that showed that if he could do that, I can too.
“I have kept all of his articles on religion and the e-mails that he would send to me and others in the church. They were wonderful and they addressed how to deal with life and death,” said Carmouche, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette faculty member and Holy Ghost parishioner.
Brenda Curtis, a cook and housekeeper at the Holy Ghost rectory across the street from the church, said Ledoux maintained a dedicated vegan diet. She described Father Ledoux as a “very religious man, an awesome preacher and a wonderful person who lived his faith.”
Curtis said that Father Ledoux’s meals normally consisted of beans, salads, vegetables and fruit. “Oh yes, all of the meals he ate were very healthy and all along he tried to teach us how to do that too,” she said.
Hazel Sias, a two-term St. Landry Parish school board members and Holy Ghost parishioner, said she originally met Father Ledoux years ago while she was visiting in New Orleans.
“He related to people so well. He lived a life of faith and always talked about God. He had the ability to draw people in to what he was saying to them. He could also sing. Sometimes when he’d want to start a song, then hold off, he would ask the pianist to hit a note and (Ledoux) wouldn’t start until the person got the note right.
“From talking with people I know that wherever he went, Father Ledoux’s church parishes loved him. For someone as old as he was, he was able to give advice that touched everyone, all generations,” said Sias.
Carmouche said that what made Ledoux’s communicative skills so effective was his overall demeanor.
“When you met him, you connected immediately because he was such a down-to-earth person. He came across as this normal person, who was also very religious, passionate about his faith.
“Father Ledoux had this unique way of preaching. He wouldn’t just stand in front of his people at church. He sometimes would move through the aisles and mix that presentation with psalms, some of which you could find in scripture and others that I think he must have made up on his own.
“He had this beautiful voice when he sang. It caught your attention and you wanted to join in,” Carmouche said.
Lena Charles, chairman of the Opelousas Downtown Development Authority, said despite his age, Father Ledoux never turned down a chance to speak with someone who needed his advice.
“He just loved people, loved his ministry. His words were always encouraging. The man also loved to write. He’s already written two published books with another that he was completing at the time of death.
“In one of (the books) he talked about his experiences in New Orleans with the church there and about (Hurricane) Katrina. They were all very interesting. When he got ready to write a column, he would send some of us a preview. We all knew how dedicated he was to his writing,” Charles said.
Carlton Jordan of Opelousas said he will never forget how Father Ledoux helped a family member with the death of a relative.
“I got to meet him when he was in Texas. It was then I really got to know him well and my first impression was he had the ability to lead people in the right direction,” Mouton said.
Carmouche said Father Ledoux’s inspiration throughout the church was evident, even despite the health issues.
“He always talked about the need to do something good for someone. What was impressive was how he was able to fight until the end. (Father Ledoux) was not afraid of death,” said Carmouche.

(Reprinted with permission from the Opelousas Daily World.)

The three pillars: reason, religion, loving kindness

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
I often say that we stand on the shoulders of jerks and giants. From the jerks we learn important lessons of who we do not want to become. Without naming names, I had several bosses in my adolescence and post-college years who fit into this category. They were less than gracious when it came out to dealing with conflict and non-existent when it came to offering praise. These bosses gave me insight as to who I did not want to be.
Thankfully we also stand on the shoulders of giants. These are the people who, by their example, teach us how to treat others with respect, care for those in need, and provide a loving environment for those around them. I imagine you can quickly identify in your own life one or two jerks as well as several giants that have helped shape and form you for the better. My list of giants is quite large. My dad certainly tops the list. I still reflect on the lessons he taught me and find myself reaching for the phone even though he has been gone for many years.
So too in the Church we have examples of both. The stories of those who violate the trust of the faithful go back to the beginning of Church. Unfortunately, those stories have impacted far too many people over time. Thankfully the Church in her wisdom preserves the canon of Saints as a litany of giants to inspire us to live holy lives.
I was recently thumbing through book of saints and stumbled upon a saint whose feast we will celebrate at the end of January. Happily, for me, I rediscovered St. John Bosco! He is the patron saint of magicians, but more importantly he is known as the patron of school children.
John Bosco was two when his father died. He had limited opportunities for education. Eventually he did receive and education and made it a priority to educate others who had challenging backgrounds. My rediscovery of John Bosco reminded me of his role in founding a religious community dedicated to educating young people. In 1859, Bosco formed the “Society of St. Francis de Sales.” This was the beginning of the Salesians, the religious order that to this day continues his work.
John Bosco and the Salesians developed a pedagogy for educating children known as the Preventative System. The basis for the system is three-fold: Reason, Religion and Loving-Kindness. The practice of this system is based on the words of St. Paul, who says: Love is patient, love is kind it bears all things … hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4.7) This was paradigm-shifting as the norm at the time included intensive corporal punishment, little reasoning and no notion of love or kindness. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
I look around the Church today and see so many areas where we need a paradigm shift. For one, we need serious catechesis on the Role of the Assembly but that’s a topic for another time. Apathy is a comfortable response. We can become overwhelmed in our thinking that the jerks are winning and simply give up. The thing is, they are not. There are so many people who work tirelessly to educate, form and empower the faithful. They are from all vocations, backgrounds and cultures. We have all heard that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The giants in our lives remind us that being part of the solution is not always easy, but it is worthwhile.
As our focus turns to Catholic Schools Week, may we celebrate the saints that went before who established Catholic schools and for those who carry on the legacy of Catholic education today. Catholic schools make a difference. Ask an administrator, faculty member, staff, parent, grandparent, student, or clergy why they support Catholic education. It’s because they recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants. They recognize the importance of the mission. They gladly make great sacrifices to pass on the light of faith, the gift of knowledge, and an opportunity to plant seeds for generations to come.
Thanks to all the unnamed people in our schools and parishes who are the St. John Bosco’s of our time. He saw a system of education that used fear and punishment to motivate young learners. He saw a way to captivate their hearts and minds and create a positive learning environment. Every bit of formational ministry is important. Thank you all for making a difference in every day in big and little ways. You have the shoulders of giants.

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

Lessons from a president’s funeral

Father Aaron Williams

By Father Aaron Williams
Last month, the nation paid witness to the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush. It was a solemn occasion, especially the funeral service itself, held in the Episcopalian National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But, watching this funeral service, I was reminded of a funeral of another president that happened a several years before I was born — yet one I have been able to watch online (more than once).
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, an event occurred in this nation that has never occurred before nor occurred since: the state funeral of a Catholic president. But, that funeral Mass in comparison to many of the more recent funerals of non-Catholic presidents, is actually pretty disappointing. It was a Pontifical Low Mass. We don’t really have those distinctions anymore, but before the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council there was a classification of different types of Masses which most people just called “Low” or “High” Mass.
In a high Mass, everything is sung. Sometimes you even have a solemn high Mass when the priest is assisted by a full gambit of ministers — a deacon and a subdeacon. But, in a low Mass nothing is sung — or at least, nothing of the texts of the Mass itself are sung. They are all spoken by the priest: the readings, the dialogues, the chants. All spoken. Exceptions were made in the early 1900s to allow vernacular hymns to be sung over the Mass itself while the priest spoke the actual texts of the Mass simultaneously.
And, this is the state funeral that was given to President John F. Kennedy. A low Mass, celebrated by a bishop (and therefore a ‘pontifical’ low Mass). One can go online and look up the video and hear Cardinal Cushing rattle off the Latin of the Mass in his Bostonian accent while various operatic voices sing settings of “Ave Maria” over and over again. The most comedic moment, in my opinion, is when the organ plays a light interlude during the procession as Cardinal Cushing walks down the aisle holding a piece of letter paper and mumbling the words of Psalm 51 to himself in pace so fast that it is entirely unintelligible.
The Second Vatican Council, in promoting the renewal and restoration of the Sacred Liturgy desired that elements of the liturgy be simplified, not so that the liturgy may become lackluster but so that the solemn liturgy would be more readily available to the faithful in the average parish. But, has this been the result?
Despite my harsh critique of President Kennedy’s funeral Mass, most Catholics alive today have never experienced anything more than a low Mass — or at least its equivalent. At best, they have experienced some elements of the solemn liturgy using sparingly on really important feast days. But the true solemn liturgy, the liturgy which was so earnestly promoted by the Second Vatican Council, has all but disappeared in the world today. Instead, most parishes always speak all the texts of the Mass, and then the choir tosses a few choice hymn over the Mass for good measure. Its really just a low Mass.
But, one remarkable thing that is being seen today is that, especially amongst young people, a trend is developing of a desire to restore the solemnity to the Sacred Liturgy. And, people are quick to try to make this into a political argument. They say that young people today are “romantic” over an “ideal” liturgical time that really didn’t exist. They want to “return” to something that they don’t really know about.
But, the reality that I have experienced in young people today is really quite different. Young people want a higher bar. They are not looking to turn back the clock. In fact, they are looking to go even further — and to see the vision of the Second Vatican Council fully realized. But that vision, when you actually look at the documents of Vatican II, is far different than what we have today or what we might imagine. It is certainly not a Pontifical Low Mass.
The solemn liturgy of the Church makes use of the greatest meeting of tradition and culture imaginable. Tradition, because the liturgy employs elements from ancient Christianity, yet hands them on to us polished and ready to be used again; and, culture, because the liturgy takes the best of modern talent and efforts and makes them fitting for sacred worship as well.
Over the next few articles, I would like to delve into the elements which the Second Vatican Council itself proposed as necessary to the solemn liturgy — why they are necessary, why we should seek to promote them, and how that can be done.

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

Wendy Beckett – RIP

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
No community should botch its deaths. The renowned anthropologist, Mircea Eliade, suggested this and its truth applies to communities at every level. No family should send off a member without proper reflection, ritual and blessings.
On December 26th, 2018, the family of art and the family of faith lost a cherished member. Sister Wendy Beckett, aged 88, famed art critic, committed woman of faith and nurturing friend to many, died. Since 1970, Sister Wendy had been living as a consecrated virgin and hermit on the grounds of a Carmelite convent in England, praying for several hours a day, translating religious tracts and going to daily Eucharist.
Early on, after choosing this way of life, she began to study art history, started writing articles for magazines and published the first of more than 30 books on art. In 1991, she did a short BBC documentary on television and was an immediate hit with a wide audience. She soon began to host her own BBC show, Sister Wendy’s Odyssey, which was so popular it sometimes attracted one quarter of the British television audience.
Anyone who watched her programs was soon taken by three things: The absolute joy that was present in her as she discussed a piece of art; her capacity to articulate in a simple and clear language the meaning of a particular work of art; and her earthy appreciation of sensuality and the nude human body which she, as a consecrated virgin, could describe with a disarming appreciation.
All of those qualities (her joy, her simplicity of language and her capacity to give the pure gaze of admiration to the nude human body) were what endeared her to her audience but also brought scorn from a number of critics. They mocked her simplicity of language, criticized her for not being more critical of the art she presented and were put off by that fact that she, a consecrated virgin, could so comfortably discuss sensuality and the nude human body. They found it difficult to digest that this pious woman, a consecrated virgin, clad in a traditional religious habit, sporting thick glasses and buck-teeth, could be so much at ease with sensuality. Robert Hughes, of Time magazine, once mocked her as a “relentlessly chatty pseudo-hermit with her signature teeth” whose observations were “pitched to a 15-year-old” audience. Germaine Greer challenged her competence to describe erotic art given the fact that she was a consecrated virgin.
Sister Wendy mostly smiled at these criticisms and countered them this way: “I’m not a critic,” she would say, “I am an appreciator.” As to her comfort with sensuality and the nude body, she would answer that just because she was committed to celibacy did not mean that she was not fully appreciative of human sensuality, sexuality and the beauty of the human body – all of it.
There are of course different ways in which the unclothed human body can be perceived and Sister Wendy was a smiling, unapologetic appreciator of one of them. An unclothed human body can be shown as “nude” or as “naked.” Good art uses nudity to honor the human body (surely one of God’s great masterpieces) while pornography uses nakedness to exploit the human body.
Sister Wendy was also unapologetic about the fact that her consecrated virginity did not disprivilege her from appreciating the erotic. She was right. Somewhere we have developed the false, debilitating notion that consecrated celibates must, like little children, be protected from the erotic so that even while they’re supposed to be doctors of the soul they should be shielded from the deep impulses and secrets of the soul. Sister Wendy didn’t buy that. Neither should we. Chastity is not intended to be that kind of naiveté.
Full disclosure: I had a personal link to Sister Wendy. Many years ago, when I was young and still searching for my own voice as a spiritual writer, she sent me a large, beautifully-framed, print of Paul Klee’s, famous 1923 painting, Eros. For the past 29 years it has hung on a wall behind my computer screen so that I see it every time I write and it has helped me understand that it’s God’s color, God’s light and God’s energy that inform erotic longing.
In 1993, while visiting the monastery where Sister Wendy lived, I had the opportunity to go out to a restaurant with her. Our waiter was initially taken aback by her traditional religious habit. With some trepidation he timidly asked her: “Sister, might I bring you some water?” She flashed her trademark smile and said: “No, water’s for washing. Bring me some wine!” The waiter relaxed and much enjoyed bantering with her for the rest of the meal.
And that was Sister Wendy, an anomaly to many: a consecrated virgin discoursing on eros, a hermit but famous art critic and an intellectually brilliant woman who befuddled critics with her simplicity. But, like all great minds, there was a remarkable consistency at a deeper level, at that place where the critic and the appreciator are one.

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

Mary shows us the way

Melvin Arrington, Jr

By Melvin Arrington
We can learn much from what Mary says and does in the Gospels. Her act of faith and trust at the Annunciation, her beautiful Magnificat prayer, and her steadfast presence at the foot of the Cross are just some of the instances in which she demonstrates the meaning of holiness. Most importantly, in all things she points the way to her Son and compels us to turn our eyes toward Him, as when she instructs the servers at the wedding feast at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
One of Mary’s traits that sometimes gets overlooked amidst her humility, charity, piety, devotion and other great virtues is her gentleness. I first discovered Mary’s gentle ways through the mild, non-abrasive manner of speech my wife would employ when telling me she needed help with household chores. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience when I finally became aware of the close parallels between her approach and Mary’s.
Many times in the past when my wife would say to me something like, “The dishwasher is full of clean dishes,” I would offer some inane response such as, “Oh, okay.” My interpretation was, “If you’re looking for your favorite iced tea glass and it’s not in the cabinet, it’s probably clean in the dishwasher.”
This pattern would show up in all kinds of situations. For example, she might say, “The grass is looking pretty tall in the front yard,” which meant: “Please mow the lawn before the grass gets any taller.” Or she might tell me, “The trash can is overflowing,” meaning that I should get up and take out the trash. Other times she would say, “I think the flag is down on the mailbox,” when she wanted me to go outside and bring in the mail. One final example is particularly embarrassing, now that I look back on it: “The basket in the laundry room is full of your clean clothes.” There’s really no excuse for not understanding that one.
Years went by before I learned how to translate what she was saying. I would hear her words without really listening for the subtext. What sounded like a mere statement of fact was actually a softened way of trying to get me to help out.
Somewhere deep inside it must have registered that she wanted me to empty the dishwasher, mow the lawn, takes out the trash, bring in the mail or put away my clean clothes because usually an hour or so later, I would get up and perform the task. For instance, I would go to the kitchen and, after searching in vain for a particular glass, remember to look in the dishwasher and, in the process, empty it, and put up all the clean dishes. Why couldn’t I have acted on this sooner?
One day, while reading the account of Jesus turning the water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-12), the true meaning of my wife’s soft and tender method of pointing out chores that needed to be done was suddenly revealed to me with great clarity. I had read this passage many times before and thought I had a solid understanding of it but, as the saying goes, each time you read Scripture you find meanings you didn’t see there before. Well, that was truly the case with me.
Verse 3 says, “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” Mary was aware of the wine shortage even before the headwaiter learned of it. When she told Jesus about it He immediately understood that she wanted Him to do something to save her friends and relatives from embarrassment. After informing her of the consequences of performing a miracle, He proceeded to do it. Needless to say, my response time to requests is somewhat slower.
Is taking an indirect approach and using non-confrontational language a form of “woman speak,” as opposed to more direct “man speak”? Most men probably respond best when given direct commands, albeit softened ones, such as “Please do this for me,” or “Could you do that for me?” Some of us are not very good at reading between the lines.
When she talked about dishes, laundry, and all those other chores, my wife was simply incorporating Mary’s indirect method and using “Mary speak.” In essence, she was acting like Mary, while I was just, well, being me. As a result, the real miracle occurred whenever I would actually get up and do something useful. A person listening with a servant’s heart would have understood instantly what she was asking.
Mary’s manner of speech in verse 3 is noteworthy because it tells us a lot about her gentleness. She can teach us a kinder, gentler lifestyle, and she can show us the way to happiness. Jesus is the Way, and Mary will point us to Him, if we only let her.

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

Research key in improving abuse response

Reba McMellon

Part of the Solution
By Reba J. McMellon, M.S.,LPC

(Editor’s note: This is the first installment in an ongoing series to address the questions parishioners and clergy have regarding response to and healing from sexual abuse in the church. To submit a question, email editor@mississippicatholic.com. Names will be kept in confidence.)


Research key in improving abuse response
Addressing child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church raises many questions and concerns. Answering questions and concerns directly and clearly is the hallmark of preventing these crimes from happening again.
Some have asked why Catholic bishops should trust the advice of psychologists when psychologists have mislead them in the past. I think this concern dates back to a time when we, in the field of professional psychology, were going on the assumption that pedophilia was a mental illness, one that could be treated. Those guilty of child sexual abuse were sent to treatment programs and in some cases, put back into service.
While research began in the late 1970’s on pedophile subtypes and treatment outcomes, it wasn’t until the mid to late 1980’s that the widespread rule of thumb was to have the criminal justice system deal with those who commit crimes against children. The research consistently shows the rate of recidivism is very high and the risk is great.
One of the largest studies done on child sexual abuse was done by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in May of 2011. The 130-page comprehensive report includes populations such as youth service organizations, religious institutions, seminary formation teams and more. The study was requested and paid for by the Catholic Church. It is accessible here: https://bit.ly/1Tp2UdH and through the Diocese of Jackson’s website in the section on Child Protection. This study and many others show that mental health treatment alone is not effective and the offenders of sexual crimes against children should be dealt with through the criminal justice system.
Another issue that is important is the crime of aiding and abetting physical, sexual and emotional abuse of a child. In some states, it is referred to as contributing to the harm of a minor. This includes those who know of the offense and knowingly ignore it, choosing to protect the criminal rather than protect the child. It cannot be overstated that this too is a crime, punishable by law.
In summary, psychology is a relatively new science, and like all other sciences, improves with ongoing research. Rest assured, criminal justice professionals and psychologists have worked together resulting in sound knowledge on the subject of sexual abuse of children.
The effect of sexual abuse on the victim can be not knowing the difference between love and abuse. Sexual abuse halts the development of the victim. It interferes with trust, spiritual development and shatters the psyche. While it can be mended, the victim will forever be effected. Abuse causes the innocence of the childhood to falter and sometimes disappear altogether. It shatters the soul, mind and body. The effects can be healed but the scars remain throughput the survivor’s life.

(Reba McMellon, M.S. is a licensed professional counselor with 35 years of experience. She worked in the field of child sexual abuse and adult survivors of sexual abuse for more than 25 years. While living in the Atlanta area, Reba was a member of the first child sexual abuse treatment team in the state of Georgia. She later became director of the team which included mental health, social services, juvenile court, district attorneys and detectives in the sexual victims unit of Cobb County, Georgia. Reba went into private practice in 1987 and continued to serve as an expert witness in child sexual abuse cases. She moved back to Mississippi in 2001 and works part-time as a mental health consultant and freelance writer.)