Called by Name

We finally won the Championship! If you know me, you know that I love basketball. I love watching basketball and talking about basketball, and I most especially love playing basketball. Much of my childhood was spent on a patch grass which had been pounded down into a patch of dirt as I shot baskets either with siblings, friends, or all by my lonesome. Even today I love to shoot baskets at the end of a long day just to decompress and get my thoughts together. So yes, I love basketball.

Father Nick Adam

I was filled with great joy, then, when I heard that the St. Joseph Seminary College basketball team won the national seminary basketball that they played in back in January on the campus of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. St. Joseph, or St. Ben’s, as it is more affectionately known (since it is on the campus of a Benedictine monastery), has been playing in that tournament since way back when I was there (2012-2014). We always were at somewhat of a disadvantage because basketball isn’t life down here in the South during the winter, since it’s usually warm enough to get outside! In the Midwest, however, and the Northeast, the basketball court is one of the only spaces during the long cold winter to get some good exercise in community, and so we would always travel up to the great white north in fear and trembling! We knew that these guys had been playing day in and day out in the gym while we were enjoying the great outdoors.

In my seminary career I think I was a part of one win in basketball outside the state of Louisiana, but the boys brought back the championship trophy this year, and our own Grayson Foley was a big part of the team. Grayson played basketball at St. Joe Madison and was the starting center for the Bruins before taking his talents to St. Ben’s in 2020. At 6’6, he provided much needed height to the seminary squad, and I am so happy that those guys were able to take part in the tournament.

Every time I played, even though we lost, I always enjoyed getting to know guys from other parts of the country. We would return with great stories and great memories. I know that many folks in the diocese supported the team as they raised money to travel to and from the tournament, and I want to thank those that gave to that cause. We want our guys to have a well-rounded experience, and even though seminary basketball is not March Madness or the NBA, it means a lot to be a part of a team, and I’m really proud of Grayson and the boys for bringing home the (Seminary) National Championship! And by the way, some of those guys, including Grayson, are great athletes, which goes to show that while sports is a great way to have fun together, it is not the end all be all. I’m grateful that those great athletes followed their call to the seminary, and that they still get to use their talents together on the court.
– Father Nick Adam

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Lesson from “the misfit”

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

More than a half century ago, Flannery O’Connor wrote a short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. One of the main characters in the story is an elderly woman who is a difficult, stubborn and not a particularly happy person. Traveling to Florida with her family, she is constantly whining and complaining. Then, thanks to some carelessness on her part, they get in a traffic accident and while their car is stalled, an escaped convict (the Misfit) chances on them and executes the whole family. Just before she is shot, the unhappy elderly woman, fearing for her life, reaches out and touches the Misfit and has a gentle moment with him. After killing her, he says, she would have been a good woman, if there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

I suspect we would all be better persons if there were someone there to shoot us every minute of our lives. At least I know that I would because I once had someone there to shoot me and it made me a better person at least during the time when the threat was there. Here’s my story.

Twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. The initial prognosis was good (surgery and chemotherapy and the cancer should be stopped). For a while it was. However, three years later it again made an unwelcome reappearance. This time the prognosis was not good. My oncologist, whom I trust, shared that situation was grave. Chemotherapy would be tried again; but he assured me, that barring the exceptional, this treatment would not be effective for long and would be more for palliative purposes than for any real hope of remission or cure. He felt it his duty to deliver that message clearly. I was facing the shooter. You have about thirty months to live!
As you can guess, this wasn’t easy to accept and process. I struggled mightily to make peace with it. Eventually, through prayer, I wrote a creed for myself as to how I would try to live out those two years. Here’s the creed:

I am going to strive to be as healthy as I can for as long as I can.
I am going to strive to be as productive for as long as I can.
I am going to make every day and every activity as precious and enjoyable as possible.
I am going to strive to be as gracious, warm, and charitable as possible.
I am going to strive to accept others’ love in a deeper way than I have up to now.
I am going to strive to live a more-fully “reconciled life.” No room for past hurts anymore.
I am going to strive to keep my sense of humor intact.
I am going to strive to be as courageous and brave as I can.
I am going to strive, always, to never look on what I am losing, but rather to look at how wonderful and full my life has been and is.
And, I am going to, daily, lay all of this at God’s feet through prayer.

For some months I prayed that creed intensely every day, trying to live out its every tenet. However, the chemotherapy treatments were, surprisingly, very effective. After five months of treatment, all the indications of cancer were gone, I was healthy again, and my oncologist was optimistic that, perhaps, his diagnosis had been too dire and that with some maintenance chemo, I might enjoy many more years of life. And, indeed I did for the next seven years.

However, during those seven years of remission, feeling healthy and optimistic, with no one there to shoot me every day, I now prayed my creed less frequently and with less intensity. And even though its challenges were now more ingrained in me, my old habits of taking life for granted, of praying St. Augustine’s prayer (Make me a better Christian, Lord, but not yet!), of losing perspective, of impatience, of self-pity, of nursing grievances, and of not appreciating fully the richness of life, began to seep back into my life.

The “shooter” reappeared two years ago with another reoccurrence of the cancer. Initially the prognosis was dire (thirty months and chemotherapy for the rest of my life) and the creed again took a central place in my life. However, a new treatment unexpectedly offered a much longer future and, with no one there to shoot me every day, the creed again began to lose its power and my old habits of impatience, ingratitude and self-pity began again to mark my days.

I am deeply grateful for all the post-cancer years that God and modern medicine have given me. Cancer has been a gift that has taught me a lot. Having my life parceled out in six months chunks has me appreciating life, others, health, nature, the simple joys of life and my work like never before. I’m a better person when there is someone there to shoot me every day!

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

Called by Name

God doesn’t call the qualified – He qualifies the called. In my four and half years as a priest I have learned to do countless things that I once thought had “nothing to do” with ministering to God’s people, but which I now realize are mandatory if I am going to be an effective parish priest. I have learned to create agendas and run meetings – not exactly the height of spiritual union with the Lord, but very important if you want your staff, finance council, pastoral council and other committees to be in a good mood. I have learned how to fundraise and create budgets and produce purchase orders and expense reports – not what I immediately thought about when I began to consider the priesthood, but very important when it comes to day-to-day stewardship of the goods that the People of God entrust priests within the church.

I have learned to do all kinds of things that at one stage or another I thought had “nothing to do” with ministering to God’s people, but now I realize that as a priest, especially a diocesan priest, everything that I do can be caught up in the mystery of God’s call to be a priest. When we entrust our lives to the Lord by following his will for us, we allow him to take our lives in whatever direction he sees fit. This is what we prepare men studying for the priesthood to do. They need to be generally prepared to be good leaders, good organizers and good business managers, but they won’t know exactly what will be asked of them until they are out with their flock. Getting ready to be a priest is probably something like getting ready to practice medicine – you get lots and lots of training in med school and then when you put the white coat on, you begin to be challenged by things you never expected.

Father Nick Adam

All this is to say: our seminarians may not take a ‘class’ for every possible situation they’ll be faced with, but they are trained to expect the unexpected and do their best, because God doesn’t call the qualified – he qualifies the called. This means that the most important thing that a man learns in seminary is how to pray and how to remain in relationship with the Lord who has called him to this task and this identity. If a man is deeply rooted in a life of prayer and a joy-filled relationship with the Lord, then he will be up to the task even when the task at hand is something he had never prepared for.

In the past week at my parish, I’ve done a wide scale edit of the website (didn’t learn how to do that in seminary), revamped our social media presence (didn’t learn how to do that either), issued purchase orders for seminarian education (same) and filed expense reports (same). It can be easy to see these tasks as “added burdens,” but that is not the message that the seminary sends to our men. For the diocesan priest, all of these administrative tasks are a part of a loving response to God’s call to the priesthood. These things are important to the life of the church and the life of our people, and so we are trained over 6-9 years to expect the unexpected, and to see every part of our day as an opportunity to minister to the People of God.

– Father Nick Adam

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The miracle of ordinary time

By Lucia A. Silecchia

Several weeks ago, I was visiting a parish not my own for Mass on a Sunday morning. I sat about a third of the way back – on the left had side as I usually do. When I came in, I noticed some young children sitting a few rows behind me. I did not pay too much attention to them during Mass because they were remarkably quiet.

But then … we reached the sacred moment of the Consecration. The bells rang and the Blessed Sacrament was elevated in that holy moment I so often take for granted. At that exact instant, there was a small voice from a young child who said, clearly and simply, “wow.”

Maybe he was reacting to the bells. Maybe he was impressed by something entirely unrelated to Mass. Maybe one of his siblings had done something that caught his attention. Maybe his parents were embarrassed by his exuberance. Maybe I should have been critical of the way he broke the sacred silence.
But I was grateful.

Lucia A. Silecchia

I was grateful for that tiny voice that said “wow.” He drew my attention to the fact that I had just witnessed something awesome for which “wow” seems to be the only right reaction. It was a reaction that recognized that what he, and I, and we had just seen was a miracle far beyond our comprehension, and yet within our grasp.

We had just seen the miracle that, through God’s lavish generosity, happens every moment of every day in grand cathedrals and silent chapels in every corner of the globe. It is the miracle that has happened for nearly two millennia.

As an adult, I know with my mind what happens at Mass. Sometimes, though, the heart and soul can lag behind. They can fail to see how glorious that miraculous, sacrificial gift is. Sometimes, the heart and soul need to hear “wow” to remember what awe really means.

The Catholic Church in the United States is in the first year of the National Eucharistic Revival. The Revival’s aim is “to restore understanding and devotion to this great mystery.” As the years of the Revival unfold, the invitation to delve more deeply into the heart of this “great mystery” will take many forms in our dioceses and in our parishes.

Certainly, the aim of restoring understanding is a critical first step in bringing about a fuller appreciation for the great gift of the Eucharist and the reality that it is, truly, Christ Himself. If this understanding leads to greater devotion, the Revival will have been a great gift to the church in our time.

Yet, my tiny friend’s “wow” leads me to think that understanding and devotion are but the first two steps on the journey to awe.

My tiny friend’s “wow” was the invitation to stop taking this daily miracle for granted and really notice what happens.

My tiny friend’s “wow” expressed the grateful reverence and reverent gratitude that should not belong solely to the young. It belongs to all who rejoice in this great miracle of ordinary time.

(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at

Living my Lenten discipline through the lessons of Black History Month

By Effie Caldarola

My friend Sister Mary Hogan told me that what she remembers most vividly about her experience in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 was the “hate stare.”

Sister Hogan was a young religious sister in Detroit when then Archbishop (later Cardinal) John Dearden permitted his priests to respond to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King’s request for clergy and religious leaders to come to Selma. The day before, peaceful marchers had been met by violence from police and bystanders on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Her community’s superior asked who wanted to go to Selma in response to Dr. King’s plea.
“I jumped up and said, ‘I do,’” Sister Hogan told me in an interview in 2015. “I thought she was kidding.”

But the next day, Sister Hogan found herself on a plane, and if you see pictures of sisters in long, traditional black serge habits sitting in the grass near that famous bridge, you may spot her.

Later, she recalled the eyes full of contempt watching her along the march and following her at the airport. Decades later, Sister Hogan said she had never again experienced the level of hatred conveyed in those eyes.

Much has changed for the better since 1965. But Black Americans still face powerful struggles and inequality in housing, employment, health care, incarceration and education.

And how about Black Catholics?

A recent Pew research study reveals 6% of Black Americans are Catholic. That translates into about 3 million people.

Do they sense the same commitment from their church and its leadership as evidenced by Archbishop Dearden in 1965? Or do they sometimes feel invisible?

Over the recent Martin Luther King weekend, I attended a local parish. I intentionally scanned the crowd and found not one Black face. The homily did not mention our national observance and the bulletin made no reference to the holiday or to the day of service it engendered.

King’s long-ago observation rang true: The 11 o’clock hour on Sunday is the most segregated in America.
But did not we, a church full of Catholics regardless of color, have a deep need to be reminded of the ongoing struggle for justice and the legacy of a great American?

Later, I went online and found that Sunday’s bulletin for Gesu Parish in Detroit, where my friend Jesuit Father Lorn Snow is pastor. His parish, in a neighborhood that used to be mostly Jewish and Irish, is predominantly Black. But that, too, is changing, as young and suburban white Catholics come seeking the parish’s diversity.

In pastoring a Black community, said Father Snow, who is white, “the most important thing is to listen.”
Enculturating people’s experience into the liturgy is also important, he said. Gesu’s music ministry incorporates a lively African-American vibe.

Gesu’s bulletin for MLK week contained a full page of events relative to social and racial justice – an archdiocesan Mass at the cathedral, a parish event, an invitation to the National Black Catholic Congress in July. There was a reminder that the Novena of Grace, a nine-day preached event in March which is a tradition in Jesuit parishes, will have racial justice as its theme. If the novena is live-streamed, I plan to attend as a good (hopefully fruitful) Lenten exercise.

But what else can I do for Lent?

One Lenten wake-up call for those who often sit in segregated pews is to read “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King’s stirring admonition to “moderate” whites and to Christian church leaders who often disappointed him.

Written in 1963 while King languished in jail for civil disobedience, the letter still holds relevance and challenge for our church today.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” wrote King.
As the church, how do we stand for justice?

(Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service.)

Canons, policies guide archives research

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Over the past several years programs such as Finding Your Roots have increased an awareness of the existence of records in Catholic archives that could help further family tree research by genealogists and others interested in discovering ancestors. DNA tests can reveal ethnic origins and miniscule percentages of faraway lands where one’s 15th great-grandfather would have roamed in the 1500s. I have two friends who did a 23andMe test and found out they were Neanderthals.

Our diocesan archives exist to maintain official diocesan records and documentation of official acts of the bishop. The Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 486 §1. All documents which regard the diocese or parishes must be protected with the greatest care.

Diocesan Chancellor and archivist, Mary Woodward searches for a parish sacramental record on microfilm in one of several archive storage rooms at the diocese chancery office in Jackson. (Photos courtesy of archives)

§2. In every curia there is to be erected in a safe place a diocesan archive, or record storage area, in which instruments and written documents which pertain to the spiritual and temporal affairs of the diocese are to be safeguarded after being properly filed and diligently secured.

§3. An inventory, or catalog, of the documents which are contained in the archive is to be kept with a brief synopsis of each written document.

In our archives’ office we often get genealogy requests for baptismal records of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Our archive collections contain microfilmed and digitized copies of parish sacramental registers. These copies exist to safeguard the official book registers kept in parishes.

In the past, hurricanes, fires and theft have damaged parish registers. Our copies are available when needed for those particular parishes that have lost registers. Every 10 years we make copies of all parish sacramental registers. The next scheduled round of copying is set for 2026.

Our diocesan policy is these baptismal records are accessible to our approved researcher only. Individuals must submit in writing the records they seek. The archive vault is not open for individuals to come in and look around.

Records must be 100 years or older to be released. Therefore, the only records we can allow to be searched for genealogical purposes as of today are those from 1923 and back.

What I have to explain to inquirers is that the diocesan archives do not exist to fulfill genealogy searches. We will try our best to help but it may take a few months and there is a fee to open the vault for these types of requests.

The latest craze in genealogical research is individuals seeking to establish Dual Italian Citizenship. Apparently, if you meet several criteria you can obtain an Italian passport. According to the Italian Dual Citizenship website Italian/American dual citizenship requirements include five basic guidelines:

  1. You are descended from someone who was alive in Italy after March 17, 1861.
  2. The ancestor did not naturalize in another country before June 14, 1912.
  3. The ancestor did not naturalize before the birth of descendants interested in getting Italian citizenship.
  4. If the direct-line Italian ancestor is a woman born before January 1, 1948, citizenship can only be claimed from her father’s line.
  5. No one in the family renounced their Italian citizenship.
    You may also qualify if you are a non-Italian who married an Italian citizen.

Because of the large Italian immigrant population along the river in our diocese, we have gotten several requests for sacramental records to help individuals qualify for this genealogical oddity. These requests require more paperwork than other requests. The local parish has to provide a baptismal or marriage record signed and sealed by the current pastor and witnessed by a public notary. It is then sent to the chancery for the diocesan seal to be attached.

Once again, these records must be older than 100 years for us to process them. Parishes are bound by the same policy of 100 years or older.

For more recent records as in the case of someone needing a baptismal certificate for marriage preparation files, the individual of record must request the certificate and present proof of identification if he or she is not known in the parish with the register.

Many times we have received a call from someone’s mother requesting the record so her child can get married and we have to tell the well-intentioned mom that her son or daughter will have to contact us directly. That does not go over too well sometimes, but in this day of identity theft, we cannot release private information to anyone other than the named person or his or her legal guardian in the case of a minor.

Therefore, if you are thinking about researching your family tree and want to use sacramental records, please note the policies above and be patient with us. We are a very small staff and although we enjoy talking with you, our main responsibilities do not include genealogy.

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

To fall in love

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

To fall in love! We use the expression to cover many things. You can fall in love with a baby, a sports team, a city, a job or another person. However, we reserve the prime analogate for this expression for one thing, emotional infatuation, that intoxicating feeling we first get when we meet someone who we sense as a soulmate.

Iris Murdoch once wrote that the world can change in fifteen seconds because that’s how quickly you can fall in love with someone. She’s right, and falling in love emotionally can literally paralyze us with a grip so strong that even death seems preferable to losing the one with whom we have fallen in love. Countless heartaches, broken hearts, depressions, clinical breakdowns, suicides, murders and murder-suicides testify to this. Emotional infatuation can be a deadly addiction, the most powerful cocaine on the planet. Where does it come from? Heaven or hell? And, what’s its meaning?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Ultimately, God and nature are its author and that tells us that it is a good thing. We are built for this to happen to us. Moreover, it is a healthy thing, if properly understood, both in its intoxicating power and in its innate failure to be a sustaining power in love.

What happens when we fall in love so powerfully with someone? Are we really in love with that person or are we more in love with being in love and the feelings this brings us? As well, are we really in love with that person or are we in love with an image of him or her we have created for ourselves, one that projects a certain godliness on to that other?

Let me risk some answers. Imagine a man falling deeply in love with a woman. Initially, the feelings can be overpowering and literally paralyze him emotionally. However, inside of all this, a certain question begs to be asked: with whom or with what is he really in love? His feelings? The archetype of femininity the woman is carrying? His image of her? She herself?

In reality, he is in love with all of these: his feelings, his image of her, she herself and the divine feminine she is carrying. All of that is of one piece inside of his experience. As well, all of this can be healthy at this stage of love.

God invented emotional infatuation, just as God invented honeymoons. We are not meant to be drawn to each other by cold analytics alone. But, this kind of falling in love is an initiatory stage in love (albeit a delightful one) that needs to be understood exactly for what it is, an initiatory stage, nothing more, one that invites us into something deeper. Emotional infatuation is not yet a mature stage in love.

Unless one dies in its grip, as did Romeo and Juliet, it will one day lose its hold on us and leave us disillusioned. When Iris Murdoch said that we can fall in love in fifteen seconds, she might also have added that, sadly, we can also fall out of love in fifteen seconds. Emotional infatuation can be that ephemeral, both in its birth and in its dying.

So falling in love (in this emotional way) comes fraught with certain dangers. First, there is the adolescent proclivity to identify this with deep love itself. Consequently, when the powerful emotional and psychosexual feelings let go, the person easily concludes that he or she is no longer in love and moves on. Next, more subtly, there is this danger. When we are in this initial gripping stage of love, our image of the other carries with it a certain godliness. What’s meant by that?

St. Augustine coined this timeless dictum: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Hence, nothing in life can ever really be enough for us. We are always restless, always yearning for something more. However, in this initial phase of love, when we have fallen into the grip of emotional infatuation, for a time the other is enough for us. That’s why Romeo and Juliet could die happy. At this stage of love, they were enough for each other.

However, the hard truth is that infatuation does not last. The other person, no matter how wonderful he or she might actually be, is not God and can never be enough (and we are unfair to him or her when we unconsciously expect them to be enough). For a while, they are able to carry that godliness for us, but that illusion of godliness will eventually break and we will realize that this is just a person, one person, wonderful perhaps, but finite, limited and not divine. That realization (which is ultimately meant to be the ground for mature love) can, if not understood, jeopardize or sour a relationship.

God invented falling in love! In it, we get a little foretaste of heaven, though, as experience tells us that is not without its dangers.

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

Called by Name

A priest or a seminarian, can slowly but surely be steered away from his call if he stops pondering the mystery of God’s love for him and starts to become, as one of my professors used to quip in seminary, ‘a sacramental Pez dispenser.’ (If you don’t know what Pez are, they are little sugar tablets that come in decorated dispensers, and you should try them.)

I hope I’m not scandalizing anyone by saying that celebrating Mass can become routine, and dispensing the sacraments can become routine. A priest can start to doubt his call and start to feel like he is a machine who exists to give out the sacraments while living a life that does not honor the reality of his whole person. Profound liturgies can become a dull routine if a priest does not understand, or does not prayerfully enter into the reality that his priesthood is a call to a mysterious and profound relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity.

Father Nick Adam

Priesthood is not a job, but if we are not formed to believe this and more deeply understand this, it can feel like a job. Priesthood is a change in a man’s being, at the level of his soul, and it is an invitation to become a vessel of God’s love for humanity in a specific way. It is also an invitation into a different type of relationship with God himself. The Lord desires His priests to speak God’s wisdom to a world that has forgotten it. He desires his priests to enter so deeply into the mystery of his love for them and for the world that they cannot help but proclaim it at Mass, and they delight in the dispensation of grace that comes from dispensing the sacraments.

The seminaries that are forming our men are seeking to highlight how to be a priest, not just how to act as a priest. One of the fruits of modern priestly formation that I’ve experienced is a dedication to silent prayer. I just returned from a five-day silent retreat. It was the first time I went on retreat since I became a pastor, and I quickly realized how tempted I would be to break silence in order to ‘check on things.’ But because I was taught in the seminary that my priesthood is not about what I do, but rather is about who I am, I knew that I needed all that time in silence so that Jesus and I could talk. We needed to talk about my triumphs and my shortcomings. We needed to talk about my fears and my brokenness. Most of all, I needed time to be reminded of God’s presence in my life and the call that he placed on my heart to be His priest.

In my last article I encouraged you to support and encourage our priests in their call to celibacy. This week, I ask that you encourage your priests to be men of prayer. When you see them in the Church sitting quietly, say a quick prayer that they take their time and reject any lies that they should ‘get to work.’ Encourage them after a moving homily by saying, ‘Father, you must have been praying this week because that was a spirit-filled homily.’ Encourage them to pray because none of us can give what we don’t have. If a priest is not assured of God’s love for him and the call that he has placed on his heart, he won’t be the bold witness that he has been called to be.

A season of fasting and prayer

By Ruth Powers

Although the weather may still be damp and chilly, as we move past Candlemas the lengthening of the days reminds us that we are moving ever closer to spring and to the season of Lent. Most Catholics are aware of the familiar progression of “seasons” of the church as the wheel of the liturgical year turns, but the history of this season may provide us with some food for meditation on ways to observe Lent more fruitfully today.

The word Lent in English is a shortened form of the Old English word lencten, meaning “spring season” and may possibly refer to the lengthening of days during this time. In the languages derived from Greek or Latin, however, the name of the season is derived from the word meaning “fortieth” and gives a hint to the ancient nature of the observance.

Ruth Powers

St. Irenaeus, writing toward the end of the second century, talked about the Lenten fast, saying it originated in the “time of our forefathers”– an expression for the days of the apostles – but varied in length and character from one or two days to a full 40 days before Easter. Often this fast was associated with the catechumens who were preparing for Baptism at Easter. By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Lent had become more regularized to a 40-day period meant to reflect the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. In the fourth century, several church fathers such as St. Athanasius and St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote of Lent as a forty-day period dedicated to fasting and prayer. Finally, in 461 A.D. Pope St. Leo preached that the whole church was to observe this “Apostolic institution of the 40 days” with fasting and prayer.

Initially the fasting of Lent lasted for the entire 40-day period and included giving up all meat, dairy, eggs and milk, and also eating only one meal a day in the evening. Over the centuries, this was modified to allow eating fish and dairy products, and an additional small meal was allowed for those who engaged in manual labor.

Further modifications were made as time went on until in 1966 Pope Paul VI reduced the obligatory fast days of Lent to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and days of abstinence to Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. Bishop’s Conferences were given the ability to replace the fast with other forms of penitence such as charity or piety, with the understanding that this was aimed particularly at parts of the world where poverty is widespread and food scarcity is already a problem. This was made part of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which made fasting obligatory for those aged 18 to 59 and made abstinence obligatory for those over the age of 14. If the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19) or the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) falls on Friday, the rule of abstinence does not apply.

However, fasting is only one of the three traditional “Pillars of Lent.” The other two pillars are focused more on positive acts. The second pillar is prayer, and includes extra acts of prayer, worship or study. Stations of the Cross and the rosary are just a couple of examples of extra acts of prayer. Lent may be an opportunity for someone to begin to pray one of more of the hours from the Liturgy of Hours each day. There are several free smartphone apps which make this very easy to do. Many parishes offer special Lenten study programs as well.

The third pillar is almsgiving, or charity. This does not simply refer to giving money, although donating to charity is certainly a good thing. It also refers to performing other acts of charity, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or helping an elderly neighbor. Sharing time and talent with those in need are also acts of charity.

It might be good to look back into our church’s history to find ways to enrich our Lenten observance, beginning with a period of preparation before Ash Wednesday. Most of us in this area are very familiar with Mardi Gras, a season of merrymaking beginning with the Epiphany and lasting until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. This season is also known as Carnival, which literally translates as “farewell to meat.”

Less well known now is the observance of Shrovetide, which begins 17 days before Ash Wednesday on what the traditional church calendar called Septuagesima Sunday. People used this time to begin preparing themselves for the austerities of Lent and deciding on the penitential practices they would choose. Going to Confession was always a part of this observance and gives the period its name: to be absolved of sin was to be “shriven,” hence Shrovetide.

In many English-speaking countries, such as England and Canada, the day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday. A traditional meal served on the day is pancakes! These were eaten to use up the butter, eggs and sugar which would not be used during the Lenten season. Those who want to do something more austere in the way of fasting might try a Black Fast, which echoes the early Christian practice of fasting all day until supper is eaten after sunset. They may also be interested in the Daniel fast, based on Daniel 10:3. In this fast one abstains from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, sweets and wine or any other alcoholic beverages.

Whatever extra penitential practices one chooses, Lent is a time meant to help us grow in self-discipline and spirituality so that we can come to the Easter celebration more closely conformed to Christ.

(Ruth Powers is the program coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez.)

Meeting and praying with Sister Thea Bowman

By Adrienne Curry

Sitting at a kitchen table in Chicago more than three decades ago, I had a chance to get to know a holy woman who might one day be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.

Sister Thea Bowman, granddaughter of slaves and the first African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, was in Chicago for a series of speaking engagements. She stayed that weekend with the lay community where I was living.

Many people in the Black Catholic community and beyond were aware of Sister Thea because of her dynamic presentations around the country – lively gatherings that combined singing, Gospel preaching, prayer and storytelling. She spoke in a direct way to break down racial and cultural barriers. She also encouraged people to communicate with one another so they could understand other cultures and races.

I was relatively new to Catholicism at the time Sister Thea stayed with my lay community, but I had previously heard Sister Thea speak when she visited Chicago for frequent revivals and workshops. One of my housemates attended the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans and had the chance to take classes with Sister Thea.

Like Sister Thea, I was the only Catholic in my family. I remember that we spoke about what that common experience was like. We talked about being Black and Catholic, and the gifts we bring by being our “authentic Black selves to the Church.”

Being Black and Catholic is kind of an enigma: We aren’t accepted by the wider Black church, and, unfortunately, our gifts are still not fully accepted in the wider Catholic Church.

“I bring myself; my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become,” Sister Thea told the U.S. bishops in a famous 1989 address. “I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility – as gifts to the church. I bring a spirituality that our Black American bishops told us (they just told us what everybody who knew, knew), that spirituality is contemplative and Biblical and holistic, bringing to religion a totality of mind and imaginations, of memory, of feeling and passion, and emotion and intensity. A faith that is embodied, incarnate praise – a spirituality that knows how to find joy even in the time of sorrow – that steps out on faith that leans on the Lord.”

Sister Thea lived a full life. She fought evil, especially prejudice, suspicion, hatred and things that drive people apart. She fought for God and God’s people until her death in 1990. Throughout her life, Sister Thea pioneered the rights of African Americans in the Catholic Church and refused to accept the racial injustices she witnessed within her community.

This holy woman is now one of six American Black Catholics who are in the process of canonization. The U.S. bishops endorsed her sainthood cause during their 2018 fall general assembly in Baltimore.
I would like to close with a prayer by Sister Thea. Her words are so needed today.

“O, Lord, help us to be attentive to your commands. Help us to walk in unity. Help us to celebrate who we are and whose we are. Help us to overcome selfishness, anger and violence in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our world. Help us to knock down, pull down, shout down the walls of racism, sexism, classism, materialism and militarism that divide and separate us. Help us to live as your united people, proclaiming with one voice our faith, our hope, our love, our joy. Amen.”

Sister Thea Bowman, pray for us!

(Adrienne Curry’s piece first appeared in the Catholic Review. Find them at