A measure of words

Maureen Smith

Editor’s corner
By Maureen Smith
How do you measure a whole chapter of your life? In liturgical events, memories, miles on a two-lane road through the Delta? I am not sure, but I can say I am full to the brim with gratitude for my time in Mississippi. By the time this column is printed, my family and I will be packing for our move back to my hometown of Atlanta to be closer to family. As I cycled through a series of “lasts” (last day of school, last parish supper, last Mississippi Catholic) I began to wonder how I could possibly put into context our time in the Magnolia state.
I have attended probably hundreds of Masses, liturgies and devotions here — each with its own character and cultural overtones. I have a new appreciation for the catholic nature of the Catholic Church thanks to colorful Choctaw dresses, soulful and overpowering gospel music, flower-strewn Guadalupe processions and regal traditional services. All are Catholic and heart-felt and all come from such diverse and beautiful communities. At each Mass I received the same Body of Christ. At each celebration I had the opportunity to be touched by the same Holy Spirit.
Most gatherings included a post-liturgy reception. Perhaps I should measure my tenure in the number of homemade pimento cheese finger sandwiches or tamales I have enjoyed. I never went home hungry and was often offered a box to take to my family. Mississippians are generous with their food. If, as they say, food is love, I am much loved.
Maybe I should account for my days in photographs. I must have taken thousands upon thousands of frames here. I am, by nature, an introvert. Walking into any event – even a liturgy — by myself takes energy and courage. I am grateful I had a camera I could use as a conversation piece. I keep in my heart some truly spectacular images of the people of God celebrating their faith and one another.
Surely I should factor into my accounting the people. Not only am I blessed to work in the chancery with a bishop I admire, but an entire staff of passionate, lovely people. Add to that a plethora of amazing pastors, parish administrators, educators, catechists and volunteers.
I was spoiled in our last home where we could go to any number of Masses from Saturday afternoon into Sunday evening. Not ready for Mass yet? Just hit the next one. Here in Mississippi, I am inspired by the communities where the people keep their faith alive week after week in the face of many obstacles. Some of you don’t even have Mass every week, but you still keep the Real Presence alive in your communities. I believe I have met true disciples. One of the things I have tried to do faithfully is tell your stories.
At the end of this adventure, I suppose I leave with a treasure of stories. We are all connected to the story of salvation so every time you share some story of your faith, joy or loss, I feel as if we are all connected a little more.
Some of your stories lifted me up and renewed my faith. Others brought me to tears. I witnessed the story of how the family of a murdered religious sister forgave her killer and embraced his family. As I left the memorial Mass for Sisters Paula Merrill and Margaret Held, I ran smack dab into a rainbow stretched across the sky in downtown Jackson. A reminder of God’s steadfast love. A powerful message on a dark day.
I heard the story of a man who tried to race a tornado across Tupelo to get back to his family in their store. They were locked in their walk-in freezer, safe from the winds that literally ripped his car apart with him in it, but he survived.
I spoke with the mother of a baby who was rescued from a freezing creek. That child was trapped in a crashed car under water for ten minutes, but suffered no long-term damage thanks to bystanders who pulled her out and prayed over her while they did CPR. Even her doctors called it a miracle.
I heard some less extraordinary stories as well. Roof repairs and picnics; weddings, funerals and passion plays – the day-to-day work of the local church. All still miracles, all still stories worth telling.
If you ever told me your story and let me share it with the rest of the diocese, thank you. If you ever welcomed me to an event at your parish or school, thank you. I always felt loved and affirmed while I was on the road.
If I ever offended you, please forgive me. I can truly say I wish you the peace of Christ.
I will never be able to adequately measure the last seven years. All I can do is pour out my gratitude in a measure of words. I am, in my heart and in my soul, truly grateful for all the blessings and lessons of Mississippi.

(Maureen Smith was the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Jackson and a member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Christus Vivit at center of Faith Formation Day

Fran Lavelle

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I remember a Civil Engineer I once worked with had a large plaque on the wall that read, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” Over the years I have come to truly appreciate this little alliterative statement.
In the past several years, we have heard a lot about intentional discipleship. Part of being an intentional disciple is being well formed in the faith. Good formation requires proper preparation. I firmly believe we cannot give what we do not have. If we do not equip our formational leaders with the tools and knowledge to best prepare them for ministry, we can expect poor results. We have an obligation to be well prepared for our religious education classes, youth ministry gatherings, RCIA sessions, adult faith formation classes, and all other outlets where intentional disciples are formed.
The Department of Faith Formation offers an opportunity for people in ministry, lay and ordained, to come together for a day to share best practices, find inspiration, participate in faith sharing before we begin another year of faith formation in our parishes and Catholic schools.
This year, Fall Faith Formation Day will be held on Saturday, August 3 at Madison St. Francis Parish. The theme is “Christ is Alive.” We will look at ways that Christ is Alive in our teaching, accompanying, and living the Gospel. Workshop sessions will be offered on scripture, RCIA, youth ministry, Confirmation preparation, religious education, intercultural ministry, and adult faith formation. Everyone is invited to attend.
I mentioned in my column last month Pope Francis’ Papal Apostolic Exhortation to the young people of the world, Christus Vivit. Chancery staff from the Office of Catholic Education, the Office of Youth Ministry and I have been meeting with Bishop Joseph Kopacz to process and “unpack” the wisdom of the Pope’s timely and important work. It has been a beneficial exercise to share, not only the insights we have gained, but identifying the opportunities we have in ministering to God’s young people.
It became quite clear after our last gathering of chancery staff that Christus Vivit needed to be featured at our Fall Faith Formation this year. Bishop Kopacz will offer our morning session gleaning from the wisdom of Christus Vivit. Abbey Schuhmann, Coordinator for the Office of Youth Ministry and I will present the closing session with practical wisdom that we have gained from our study of the document.
In addition to the morning and afternoon plenary sessions we will offer breakout topical sessions before and after lunch.
The pope opens the Christus Vivit with the words, “Christ is alive!” It is the living Christ that we seek in living out the Gospel. It is the Living Christ, who is Our Mission.
For more information, contact me at fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org. Registration materials will be sent out to parish and school leaders soon. The cost is $10 per person. Lunch is provided.

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

Rachel Held Evans, 1981-2019

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
No community should botch its deaths. Mircea Eliade wrote those words and they’re a warning: If we do not properly celebrate the life of someone who has left us we do an injustice to that person and cheat ourselves of some of the gift that he or she left behind.
With this in mind, I want to underscore the loss that we, the Christian community, irrespective of denomination, suffered with the death of Rachel Held Evans who died, at age 37, on May the 4th.
Who was Rachel Held Evans? She defies simple definition, beyond saying that she was a young religious writer who wrote with a depth and balance beyond her years as she chronicled her struggles to move from the deep, sincere, childlike faith she was raised in to eventually arrive at a questioning, but more mature, faith that was now willing to face all the hard questions within faith, religion and church. And in this journey, she was beset with opposition from within (it’s hard to courageously scrutinize your own roots) and from without (churches generally don’t like being pressed by hard questions, especially from their own young). But the journey she made and articulates (with rare honesty and wit) is a journey that, in some way, all of us, young and old, have to make to come to a faith that can stand up to the hard questions coming from our world and the even harder ones coming from inside of us.
Carl Rogers once famously said: “What is most personal is also most universal.” The journey Rachel Held Evans traces out from her own life is, I submit, by and large, the universal one today, that is, the naïve faith of our childhood inevitably meets challenges, questions and ridicule in adulthood and that demands of us a response beyond the Sunday School and catechism of our youth. Not least among these questions and challenges is the one of church, of justifying belonging to one, given the propensity within our churches for infidelity, narrowness, judgmental attitudes, reluctance to face doubt and the perennial temptation to wed the Gospels to their favored political ideology.
Rachel Held Evans struggled to make the journey from the naiveté of childhood, with all its innocence and magic, where one can believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny and take biblical stories literally, to what Paul Ricouer calls “second naiveté,” where, through a painful interplay between doubt and faith, one has been able to work through the conscriptive sophistication that comes with adulthood so as to reground the innocence and magic (and faith) of childhood on a foundation that has already taken seriously the doubt and disillusionment that beset us in the face of adulthood.
The Irish philosopher, John Moriarty, whose religious story plays out along similar lines as Rachel’s, coins an interesting expression to describe what happened to him. At one point in his religious journey, he tells us, “I fell out of my story.” The Roman Catholicism he had been raised into was no longer the story out of which he could live his life. Eventually, after sorting through some hard questions and realizing that the faith of his youth was, in the end, his “mother tongue,” he found his way back into his religious story.
Rachel Held Evans’ story is similar. Raised in the Southern U.S. Bible Belt inside a robust Evangelical Christianity she too, as she faced the questions of her own adulthood, fell out of her story and, like Moriarty, eventually found her way back into it, at least in essence.
In the end, she found her way back to a mature faith (which now can handle doubt), found a church (Episcopalian) within which she could worship and, in effect, found her way back to her mother tongue. The church and faith of her youth, she writes, remain in her life like an old boyfriend. … Where, while not together anymore in the old way, you still end up checking Facebook each day to see what’s happening in his life.
Many Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, I suspect, may not be very familiar with Rachel Held Evans or have read her works. She wrote four best-selling books, Inspired, Searching for Sunday, A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Faith Unraveled. The purpose of this column is therefore pretty straightforward: Read her! Even more important, plant her books in the path of anyone struggling with faith or church: loved ones, children, spouses, family members, friends, colleagues.
Rachel Held Evans arose out of an Evangelical ecclesial tradition and out of the particular approach to Christian discipleship that generally flows from there. She and I come from very different ecclesial worlds. But, as Roman Catholic priest, solidly committed to the tradition I was raised in and as a theologian and spiritual writer for more than 40 years, reading this young woman, I haven’t found a single line with which to disagree. She’s trusted food for the soul.
She’s also a special person that we lost far too soon.

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

This summer let young and old climb aboard the same canoe

Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p

By Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p.
My fondest memories of summer are the times spent with my favorite aunt at her cottage nestled in the Adirondack Mountains. As a middle school teacher, she had a gift for relating to kids in a way very different from parents, like a wise friend or a trusted confidante. My aunt patiently taught us how to knit and sew; she listened to our stories and nurtured our dreams as if each niece or nephew were the only one.
She took us on long walks in the woods, pointing out her favorite wildflowers and teaching us to recognize fresh bear tracks and other potential dangers. She also taught us how to paddle her antique canoe around the nearby lake. As we got older, my aunt would sit on the dock reading a book as we took the canoe out to explore the lily pads along the shoreline or ride the waves created by the speeding motorboats. But she always kept one eye on us in case we got into trouble.
Although she never had children of her own, my aunt took a lively interest in all her nieces and nephews until the very end of her life. She never gave us lectures, expressed disapproval or told us how things should be done, but she always kept an eye on us. She remained creative and curious long after retiring and unassumingly shared her time, her talents and herself with others.
As I read Pope Francis’ recent post-synodal letter, Christus Vivit, in which he encourages the young and the old to form strong bonds, I realized what a blessing my aunt was to our family, for she personified the ideal of elders as wisdom figures and memory keepers.
“What do I ask of the elders among whom I count myself?” our Holy Father wrote. “I call us to be memory keepers … I envision elders as a permanent choir of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life. It is a beautiful thing when “young men and maidens together, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord” (Ps 148:12- 13).
When her life was coming to an end my aunt felt she had very little to leave us, but as my siblings and cousins came from all over the country to bid her farewell, it was obvious that because she had given us so much of herself, she would live on and even blossom in us.
“What can we elderly persons give to the young?” Pope Francis asked in Christus Vivit. “We can remind today’s young people, who have their own blend of heroic ambitions and insecurities, that a life without love is an arid life…. We can tell fearful young people that anxiety about the future can be overcome…. We can teach those young people, sometimes so focused on themselves, that there is more joy in giving than in receiving, and that love is not only shown in words, but also in actions.”
This is what my aunt taught us!
The following words of our Holy Father brought her memory to life in a special way:
“During the Synod, one of the young auditors from the Samoan Islands spoke of the Church as a canoe, in which the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead.” He concluded, “Let us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit.”
So, this summer, be intentional about bringing the generations in your family or neighborhood together. Take time for long walks and slow canoe rides, and for sharing memories and dreams. You won’t be disappointed!
(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Honoring Jean Vanier’s radical call to love

Sister therese alies

By Sister therese alies
“I had no plan, I just met people and people with disabilities awoke my heart.” So spoke Jean Vanier one day when being asked how L’Arche communities began and how they had grown.
Sometimes our lives are blessed with meeting or being near special persons. One of the things that makes someone special is that they reveal to us something of the truth about ourselves, maybe our inner beauty, some gift or even our struggles to live an authentic life. I was blesed to have had this experience. Sometimes even fleeting moments or short-extended stays, or a retreat venue is just enough to turn one’s life ever more deeply into a more loving discipleship.
On Wednesday, May 7, Jean Vanier, died. He was 90 years old and for the last 50 or so years devoted himself to the handicapped, disabled and those with intellectual disabilities all around the world. Often people with various handicaps are not welcome in their own homes, the parents feeling it is their fault or not having the proper support to raise a special needs child.
Jean was a young naval officer who left the Canadian navy to ‘follow Jesus.’ He did academic work and was a college professor. One summer he went to a small village in France and studied with a Dominican priest and a few other fellows like himself. They spent the summer visiting the local ‘asylums’ and God spoke deeply to his heart. He went out and bought a small cottage and invited the first two men into his home. Neither could speak and both had severe disabilities. Jean had never been trained how to help the handicapped. He just felt called to live with them. This was the founding of L’Arche Communities in 1964.
Now there are more than 154 communities in 39 countries where folks with a variety of disabilities are welcomed for life, living with those whose handicaps (don’t we all have them?) are less visible or debilitating. Some assistants who come as sort of ‘midwives’ to help others grow to maturity will live with core members for a year or two. Some much longer. Folks living in L’Arche communities are welcomed into a rich life of relationships, the very thing Jean writes, in his more than 30 books, are at the heart of our deepest need. This includes a deep faith life for those who wish. Though Catholic, communities are made up of folks from every culture and religion. Closest to us in the South are the communities in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Mobile and St. Louis.
Jean made sure to quote Dorothy Day when told he was a ‘living saint.’ She quipped near the end of her life “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily!” Of course, she is indeed now a Servant of God. I suspect he will be too.
Jean and Dorothy were both people of the Way – those who took seriously the many messages of Jesus, especially those calling us to service of the most vulnerable. Pope Francis has reminded us of the ‘peripheries’ more than once. Perhaps as the Canadian writer and former L’Arche member Carolyn Whitney-Brown reminds us ”he is an icon, not an idol.”
Some 40 years ago I was pleased to be a small part of the Tahoma Hope L’Arche community in Tacoma, Washington. David Rothrock, one of the founders, reminds us, “There are not many people who become internationally acclaimed because they treasure weakness and vulnerability”
Probably Jean’s best international bestseller is Becoming Human. The book is actually five talks he gave for the Massey Lectures commissioned by Massey College of the University of Toronto and broadcast on the Canadian Broadcast show, Ideas.
The first of Jean’s seven aspects of love is reveal. “To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention … this revelation heals … the belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is at the heart of L’Arche … as so as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are — with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses — we are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.” Thank you, Jean, for sharing the gift God entrusted to you for the good of us all. Rest in peace.

(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

Where is home?


Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
During the years that I served as a Religious Superior for a province of Oblate Priests and Brothers in Western Canada, I tried to keep my foot inside the academic world by doing some adjunct teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. It was always a once-a-week, night course, advertised as a primer on Christian theology and drew a variety of students.
One of the assigned readings for that course was Christopher de Vinck’s book, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them: Precious Memories for a Faithless Time. The book is a series of autobiographical essays, most of which focus on his home life and his relationship to his wife and children. The essays describing his relationship to his wife don’t overplay the romantic, but are wonderfully heart-warming and set sex into a context of marriage, safety and fidelity.
At the end of the semester a young woman, 30 years old, said this to me as she handed in her term paper, a reflection on de Vinck’s book: “This is the best book I’ve ever read. I didn’t have a lot of moral guidance growing up and so I wasn’t always careful with my heart and was pretty free and existential about sex. I’ve basically slept my way through two Canadian provinces; but now I know that what I really want is what this man (de Vinck) has. I’m looking for the marriage bed!” Her eyes teared as she shared this.
I’m looking for the marriage bed! That’s a great image for what the heart calls home.
At the end of the day, what is home? Is it an ethnic identity, a gender, a citizenship, a house somewhere, the place where we were born or is it a place in the heart?
It’s a place in the heart and the image of the marriage bed situates it well. Home is where you are comfortable, physically, psychologically and morally. Home is where you feel safe. Home is where your heart doesn’t feel out of place, compromised, violated, denigrated, trivialized or pushed aside (even if it is sometimes taken for granted). Home is a place which you don’t have go away from to be yourself. Home is where you can be fully yourself without the need to posture that you are anything other than who you are. Home is where you are at ease.
There are various lessons couched inside that concept of home, not least, as this young woman came to realize, some valuable insights apposite how we think about love and sex. Some of what’s at stake here is captured in the popular notion of longing for a soulmate. The trouble though is that generally we tend to think of a soulmate in very charged romantic terms. But, as de Vinck’s books illustrates, finding a soulmate has more to do with finding the moral comfort and psychological safety of a monogamous marriage bed than it has to do with the stuff of romantic novels. In terms of our sexuality, what lies deepest inside our erotic longings is the desire to find someone to take us home. Any sex from which you have to go home is still something which is not delivering what you most long for and is, at best, a temporary tonic which leaves you searching still for something further and more real.
The phrase, I’m looking for the marriage bed, also contains some insights vis-a-vis discerning among the various kinds of love, infatuation and attractions we fall into. Most people are by nature temperamentally promiscuous, meaning that we experience strong feelings of attraction, infatuation and love for all kinds of others, irrespective of the fact that often what we are attracted to in another is not something we could ever be at home with. We can fall in love with a lot of different kinds of people, but what kind of love makes for a marriage and a home? Marriage and home are predicated on the kind of love that takes you home, on the kind of love that gives you the sense that with this person you can be at home and can build a home.
And, obviously, this concept doesn’t just apply to a husband and wife in marriage. It’s an image for what constitutes home – for everyone, married and celibate alike. The marriage bed is a metaphor for what puts one’s psychological and moral center at ease.
T.S. Eliot once wrote: Home is where we start from. It’s also where we want to end up. At birth our parents bring us home. That’s where we start from and where we are at ease until puberty drives us out in search of another home. Lots of pitfalls potentially await us in that search, but if we listen to that deep counsel inside us, that irrepressible longing to get home again, then like the wise magi who followed a special star to the manger, we too will find the marriage bed – or, at least, we won’t be looking for it at all the wrong places.

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

La temporada de Pascua trae nueva vida a la Iglesia

Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
Apropiadamente, desde el domingo de Pascua hasta Pentecostés, yo experimento la vida abundante que Jesús prometió en su muerte, dadora de vida y en su resurrección. Sacramentalmente, el aceite del Crisma fluye abundantemente en la celebración del sacramento de la Confirmación en toda la diócesis.
De una manera distinta, el Crisma sagrado unge las manos de los sacerdotes recién ordenados, ahora dispuestos para Jesucristo a través de las Ordenes Sagradas. Alegremente, damos la bienvenida a los padres Mark Shoffner y Adolfo Suárez Pasillas como sacerdotes en la Diócesis de Jackson. ¡Ad multos annos!, para trabajar en la Viña del Señor Jesús, en la Iglesia por la salvación de todos, el gran desafío para todas las generaciones desde el momento de la resurrección.
Esta lucha se ha intensificado en el mundo que conocemos. El papa emérito Benedicto señaló esto, no por primera vez, hace diez años. “En nuestros días, cuando en vastas áreas del mundo la fe está en peligro de extinguirse como una llama que ya no tiene combustible, la prioridad primordial es hacer a Dios presente en este mundo y mostrarle a hombres y mujeres el camino a Dios, no de cualquier Dios, sino del Dios que habló en el Monte Sinaí, a ese Dios cuyo rostro reconocemos en un amor que influye hasta el final, en Jesucristo, crucificado y resucitado. Para contrarrestar el retroceso y desaparición de Dios del horizonte humano, llevar a los hombres y mujeres a Dios, el Dios que habla en la Biblia, es la prioridad suprema y fundamental de la Iglesia “. (Carta a los Obispos de la Iglesia Católica 2009)
Todos los bautizados están llamados a promover la misión de la Iglesia. Aquellos, a quienes el Señor llama a las Ordenes Sagradas, son separados de una manera única para abrazar la mente y el corazón de Jesucristo para avanzar en el Reino de Dios. La obra esencial de los ordenados es llevar hombres y mujeres a Dios. Las exigencias de esta forma de vida son muy claras en las promesas de los sacerdotes ordenados.
La siguiente es una descripción general de los votos de las Ordenes Sagradas, capturadas en la oración de ordenación.
“’Haga su parte en la obra de Cristo sacerdote con gozo y amor genuinos y atienda las preocupaciones de Cristo antes que las suyas’.

  1. Promete desempeñar el cargo de sacerdocio en el rango presbiteral como compañeros de trabajo dignos de la Orden de los Obispos.
  2. Promete ejercer el ministerio de la Palabra de manera digna y sabia, predicando el Evangelio y enseñando la fe católica.
  3. Promete celebrar con fidelidad y reverencia los misterios de Cristo transmitidos por la Iglesia, especialmente el sacrificio de la Eucaristía y el sacramento de la Reconciliación, para la gloria de Dios y la santificación del pueblo cristiano.
  4. Promete implorar la misericordia de Dios sobre las personas confiadas a su cuidado al observar el mandato de orar sin cesar.
  5. Promete unirse cada día más estrechamente con Cristo, el Sumo Sacerdote, quien se ofreció por nosotros al Padre como un sacrificio puro y el que se consagra a Dios para la salvación de todos.”
    Este fin de semana, la Diócesis de Jackson celebra la ordenación de transición al diaconado de Cesar Sánchez y Andrew Nguyen.
    Todos los que son ordenados como sacerdotes profundizan los votos de celibato y obediencia prometidos como diáconos. “Por su propia elección, usted busca ingresar el orden de los diáconos. Debes ejercer el ministerio en el estado de celibato, ya que el celibato es a la vez un signo y un motivo de caridad pastoral, y una fuente especial de fecundidad espiritual en el mundo.
    Al vivir en este estado con total dedicación, movido por el amor sincero por Cristo el Señor, usted está consagrado a él de una manera nueva y especial.” En la oración de consagración sobre el diácono se revela el alma y el propósito de la vocación. “Que sobresalga en todas las virtudes, en el amor que es sincero, en la preocupación por los enfermos y los pobres, en la autoridad sin pretensiones, en la autodisciplina y en la santidad de la vida … Que en esta vida imite a su Hijo, que vino, no a ser servido sino para servir, para así un día reine con Él en el cielo.”
    El Papa Francisco en su Misa Crismal de este año compartió su sabiduría con todos los sacerdotes, recién ordenados y con aquellos que soportaron el calor del día durante muchos años.
    “El Señor nunca perdió ese contacto directo con la gente. En medio de esas multitudes, él siempre mantuvo la gracia de la cercanía con toda la gente en general y a la vez con cada individuo. Vemos esto a lo largo de su vida pública, y así fue desde el principio: el resplandor del Niño Jesús atrajo gentilmente a pastores, reyes y ancianos, soñadores como Simeón y Ana. Así fue en la cruz: su corazón atrae a todas las personas: Verónicas, Cirineos, ladrones, centuriones … Las multitudes se reunieron para escucharlo y luego necesitaban ser alimentadas.
    En ese punto, la visión del Señor contrastaba con la escasa mentalidad de los discípulos, cuya actitud hacia las personas limitaba con la crueldad, cuando sugieren al Señor que los mande afuera, para que puedan comer algo. Aquí, creo, fue el comienzo del clericalismo: en este deseo de estar seguro de una comida y de un consuelo personal sin preocuparnos por la gente.
    El Señor acortó esa tentación: “¡Denles algo de comer”! Fue la respuesta de Jesús. “Cuiden a la gente”. O, simplemente, como la oración sacerdotal de consagración para los proclamados recién ordenados: “Haga su parte en la obra de Cristo Sacerdote con gozo y amor genuinos, y atienda las preocupaciones de Cristo antes de la suya propia.”
    Gracias a todos los fieles por su oración por nuestros sacerdotes y por las futuras vocaciones. Gracias a todos los que han respondido a la llamada, a todos los ordenados, ya lleven días o décadas.
    “Estoy seguro que Dios, que comenzó a hacer su buena obra en ustedes, la irá llevando a buen fin hasta el día en que Jesucristo regrese.”

Easter season brings new life to Church

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Fittingly, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, I experience the abundant life that Jesus promised in his life-giving death and resurrection. Sacramentally, the oil of Chrism flows in abundance in the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation throughout the diocese. In a distinct way the sacred Chrism anoints the hands of the newly ordained priests, now configured to Jesus Christ through Holy Orders. We joyfully welcome Father Mark Shoffner and Father Adolfo Suarez-Pasillas as priests in the Diocese of Jackson. Ad multos annos!
To work in the Vineyard of the Lord Jesus in the Church for the salvation of all has been a challenge for every generation since the moment of the resurrection. The struggle has intensified in the world that we know. Emeritus Pope Benedict noted this, not for the first time, ten years ago. “In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God, not just any god, but the God who spoke on Mount Sinai, to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses to the end, in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. To counter God’s receding and disappearance from the human horizon, leading men and women to God, who speaks in the Bible, is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church.” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church 2009)
All of the baptized are called to further the Church’s mission, and those whom the Lord calls into Holy Orders are set apart in a unique way to embrace the mind and heart of Jesus Christ to advance the Kingdom of God.
Leading men and women to God is the essential work of the ordained. The demands of this way of life are crystal clear in the promises of those ordained as priests. The following is an overview of the vows of Holy Orders, captured in the prayer of ordination. “Do your part in the work of Christ the priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.”

  1. Promise to discharge the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops.
  2. Promise to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.
  3. Promise to celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ handed down by the Church, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.
  4. Promise to implore God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to their care by observing the command to pray without ceasing. 5. Promise to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice and to consecrate themselves to God for the salvation of all.
    This weekend the Diocese of Jackson celebrates the ordination of Cesar Sanchez and Andrew Nguyen into the transitional diaconate. All who are ordained as priests deepen the vows of celibacy and obedience promised as deacons. “By your own free choice you seek to enter the order of deacons. You shall exercise the ministry in the celibate state for celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. By living in this state with total dedication, moved by sincere love for Christ the Lord, you are consecrated to him in a new and special way.”
    In the prayer of consecration over the deacon is revealed the soul and purpose of the vocation. “May he excel in every virtue, in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline, and in holiness of life…May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not be served but to serve, and one day reign with him in heaven.”
    Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass Homily this year shares his wisdom with all priests, newly ordained and for those who have borne the heat of the day for many years. “The Lord never lost that direct contact with people. Amid those crowds, he always kept the grace of closeness with the people as a whole, and with each individual. We see this throughout his public life, and so it was from the beginning: the radiance of the Child Jesus gently attracted shepherds, kings and elderly dreamers like Simeon and Anna.
    So it was on the Cross: His heart draws all people to himself: Veronicas, Cyreneans, thieves, centurions… The Crowds gathered to hear him, and then needed to be fed. At that point the Lord’s vision contrasted with the small mindedness of the disciples, whose attitude toward the people bordered on cruelty when they suggest to the Lord that they send them away, so that they could get something to eat. Here, I believe was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people. The Lord cut short that temptation: “You give them something to eat”! was Jesus response. “Take care of the people.”
    Or, put simply, as the priestly prayer of consecration for the newly ordained proclaims: “Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.” Thank you to all the faithful for your prayer for our priests and for future vocations. Thank you to all who have answered the call, those ordained for days or for decades. “May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.”

Language, symbols, self-understanding

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
A reporter once asked two men at the construction site where a church was being built what each did for a living. The first man replied: “I’m a bricklayer.” The second said: “I’m building a cathedral!” How we name an experience largely determines its meaning.
There are various languages within a language and some speak more deeply than others.
Thirty years ago, the American educator, Allan Bloom, wrote a book entitled, The Closing of the American Mind. This was his thesis: Our language today is becoming ever more empirical, one-dimensional and devoid of depth. This, he submits, is closing our minds by trivializing our experiences.
Twenty years earlier, in rather provocative essay, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Philip Rieff had already suggested the same thing. For Rieff, we live our lives under a certain “symbolic hedge,” that is, within a language and set of concepts by which we interpret our experience. And that hedge can be high or low. We can understand our experience within a language and set of concepts that has us believe that things are very meaningful or that they are quite shallow and not very meaningful at all. Experience is rich or shallow, depending upon the language within which we interpret it.
For example: Imagine a man with a backache who sees his doctor. The doctor tells him that he’s suffering from arthritis. This brings some calm. He now knows what ails him. But he isn’t satisfied and sees a psychologist. The psychologist tells him that his symptoms are not just physical but that he’s also suffering from mid-life crisis. This affords him a richer understanding of his pain. But he’s still dissatisfied and sees a spiritual director. The spiritual director, while not denying him arthritis and mid-life crisis, tells him that this pain is really his Gethsemane, his cross to bear. Notice all three diagnoses speak of the same pain but that each places it under a different symbolic hedge.
The work of persons such as Carl Jung, James Hillman and Thomas Moore have helped us understand more explicitly how there is a language which more deeply touches the soul.
For instance: We see the language of soul, among other places, in some of our great myths and fairy tales, many of them centuries old. Their seeming simplicity masks a disarming depth. To offer just one example, take the story of Cinderella: The first thing to notice is that the name, Cinderella, is not an actual name but a composite of two words: Cinder, meaning ashes; and Puella, meaning young girl. This is not a simple fairy tale about a lonely, beaten-down, young girl. It’s a myth that highlights a universal, paradoxical, paschal dynamic which we experience in our lives, where, before you are ready to wear the glass slipper, be the belle of the ball, marry the prince and live happily ever after, you must first spend some prerequisite time sitting in the ashes, suffering humiliation and being purified by that time in the dust.
Notice how this story speaks in its own way of what in Christian spirituality we call “lent,” a season of penance, wherein we mark ourselves with ashes in order to enter an ascetical space in order to prepare ourselves for the kind of joy which (for reasons we only know intuitively) can only be had after a time of renunciation and sublimation. Cinderella is a story that shines a certain light into the depth of our souls. Many of our famous myths do that.
However no myth shines a light into the soul more deeply than does scripture. Its language and symbols name our experience in a way that helps us grasp the genuine depth inside our own experiences.
Thus, there are two ways of understanding ourselves: We can be confused or we can be inside the belly of the whale. We can be helpless before an addiction or we can be possessed by a demon. We can vacillate between joy and depression or we can alternate between being with Jesus ‘in Galilee’ or with him ‘in Jerusalem’. We can be paralyzed as we stand before globalization or we can be standing with Jesus on the borders of Samaria in a new conversation with a pagan woman. We can be struggling with fidelity in keeping our commitments or we can be standing with Joshua before God, receiving instructions to kill off the Canaanites so as to sustain ourselves in the Promised Land. We can be suffering from arthritis or we can be sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane. The language we use to understand an experience defines what the experience means to us.
In the end, we can have a job or we can have a vocation; we can be lost or we can be spending our 40 days in the desert; we can be bitterly frustrated or we can be pondering with Mary; or we can be slaving away for a paycheck or we can be building a cathedral. Meaning depends a lot on language.

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

It doesn’t have to be awkward

Reba J. McMellon, M.S, LPC

By Reba J. McMellon, M.S, LPC
(Editor’s Note: An Ounce of Prevention is part of an ongoing series about child abuse prevention and response. The lessons mentioned in this article are included in the Child Protection curriculum schools and parishes throughout the Diocese of Jackson offer to both children and parents. To find out more about the Child Protection program and see sample lessons, visit the Office of Child Protection on the website: https://jacksondiocese.org/offices/child-protection/)
This article will address questions about how to keep your children safe from sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is not a pleasant subject. It doesn’t rank up there with pink and blue and baby reveal parties. But, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The following are tips about how to approach the topic of safety. It doesn’t have to be awkward.

  1. Start the conversation about boundaries when your child is too young to dress themselves. Make it an important teaching moment. Remind your child, their body is your own and they can say who touches it. For example, when dressing a child in a bathing suit, remind the child that the part a bathing suit covers are their private parts. Reinforce this in a light hearted manner by asking, “What are your private parts?” and listen to your child’s answer. As they get older, you can refer to the private parts of their body as sacred parts. The parts reserved for the giving of life.
  2. When reading to your children, include books that are about speaking up and saying no. Several children’s books about privacy and boundaries are available. Don’t read them exclusively, just have them as part of the repertoire of books you read aloud together.
  3. Teach children the polite way of saying no to adults. For example; “No, thank you. No, I need to call my parents. No means no.” Teach them they will not be in trouble for saying no to a bad or uncomfortable request from an adult, even if it’s an authority figure or member of the family.
  4. Teach your child the difference between good secrets and bad secrets. No one should ever ask them to keep a secret that makes them feel bad, sad or hurt. Period. Ever. For any reason. Slipping up and telling a good secret causes little damage. Not telling a bad secret can do a lot of harm. Explain to them, when in doubt, tell.
  5. Teach children what it means to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel safe to them, encourage them to talk about it. Honor their feeling so they can learn to honor them too.
    As your child gets older, keep the conversation open and light. Keep the door of communication open so that your child won’t hesitate to come to you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable. In doing this, you are also modeling the language of telling.
    If your child can attend a class or seminar through your church, school or other familiar organization, take advantage of it. Your child will be among peers, a larger group in which to support and be supportive of healthy peer boundaries. The importance of healthy peer boundaries is as important, if not more, than teaching stranger danger.
    If you, as a parent, are tempted to opt out when these classes are offered, make sure you know exactly what it is you’re opting out of. Age-appropriate conversations are an ongoing responsibility of parenting to ensure their safety. It cannot be emphasized enough, parents are responsible for the emotional, physical and psychosocial growth of their children.
    As we’ve seen in the recent #metoo movement, it is never too soon or too late to learn when and how to say no to inappropriate advances and when and how to tell someone. Sooner is always better than later.

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