Call by Name

A couple of our seminarians and I recently watched a documentary called “The Social Dilemma” (streaming now on Netflix). The filmmaker interviews former Silicon Valley developers who helped to create the majority of the social media platforms that exist today. Most of the subjects left their posts due to ethical concerns about the effect that social media is having on humanity as a whole. This is not a new concern, but the documentary is a helpful source to understand just how addictive our phones and devices can become, and the way that the psychology-based advertising strategy of some social networks can basically break our brain. People stare at their phones, refresh, and stare some more. While “The Social Dilemma” focused much more on the effect that this is having on our youngest generations, we all know that every generation is susceptible to this threat: the threat of having our primary source of truth, goodness and beauty be a plastic rectangle that we hold in our hands.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

It was interesting that I watched this film in one of the places in our country where screens do not have such a stranglehold: the seminary. The community life and brotherhood of priestly formation is a great antidote to the addiction of the virtually connected. The men at the seminary are actually connected, in prayer to and worship of the Lord, in common purpose, in conversation, and in challenging one another. This is a great gift that houses of formation provide, and it is something that I advertise to those who I bring to visit the seminary.
I think our younger generations are waking up to the lie of our “plugged-in” society faster than the rest of the population. They know that they will not find truth, goodness or beauty from any social network because ultimately all of these platforms are only seeking eyes and ears and clicks to sell to advertisers. Younger people have seen the destruction that this causes in the alarming rise in depression, self-harm and suicide among youth that the documentary details. This terrible reality, however, is also the reason I believe that these generations are ready to turn to something deeper, something greater, because they know the answer does not lie on their phone, they know that the meaning of life is not how many “likes” they get, but how many real relationships they can develop, and how they develop in relationship with the God who made them. They have spent their childhood in digital spaces that might care about their eyes and ears, but not about their immortal souls.
The Lord is certainly breaking in and speaking loudly and clearly on college campuses that provide access to exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and have thriving Catholic Student Centers because the students just want to grow in relationship with actual people, and with the Lord who actually loves them. I am impressed and inspired by the young men and women who are members of the Catholic Student Associations at the universities and colleges in our state, and I appreciate the pastors, like Father Jason Johnston in Starkville and Father Joe Tonos in Oxford, who support the students who are members of their flocks and hire excellent campus ministry staff to support them.
I encourage all of us this Advent to take a long look at what we are spending our time looking at and listening to. We all need more time with the Lord who loves us, and less time with devices that have made us objects of advertisers’ affection. I wish you all a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas.

An invitation to maturity – weeping over Jerusalem

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Maturity has various levels. Basic maturity is defined as having essentially outgrown the instinctual selfishness with which we were born so that our motivation and actions are now shaped by the needs of others and not just by our own needs. That’s the basic minimum, the low bar for maturity. After that there are degrees and levels, contingent upon how much our motivation and actions are altruistic rather than selfish.
In the Gospels, Jesus invites us to ever deeper degrees of maturity, though sometimes we can miss the invitation because it presents itself subtly and not as explicitly worded moral invitation. One such subtle, but very deep, invitation to a higher degree of maturity is given in the incident where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. What’s inside this image?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Here’s the image and its setting. Jesus has just been rejected, both in his person and in his message and he sees clearly the pain the people will bring upon themselves by that rejection. What’s his reaction? Does he react in the way most of us would: Well the hell with you! I hope you suffer the full consequences of your own stupidity! No. He weeps, like a loving parent dealing with a wayward child; he wishes with every fiber in his being that he could save them from the consequences of their own bad choices. He feels their wound rather than gleefully contemplating their suffering.
There’s a double challenge here. First, there’s a personal one: are we gleeful when people who reject our advice suffer for their wrong-headedness or do we weep inside us for the pain they have brought onto themselves? When we see the consequences in people’s lives of their own bad choices, be it with irresponsibility, with laziness, with drugs, with sex, with abortion, with ideology, with anti-religious attitudes, or with bad will, are we gleeful when those choices begin to snake-bite them (Well, you got what you deserved!) or do we weep for them, for their misfortune?
Admittedly, it’s hard not be gleeful when someone who rejects what we stand for is then snake-bitten by his own stubborn choice. It’s the natural way the heart works and so empathy can demand a very high degree of maturity. For example, during this COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts (almost without exception) have been telling us to wear masks to protect others and ourselves. What’s our spontaneous reaction when someone defies that warning, thinks he is smarter than the doctors, doesn’t wear a mask, and then contracts the virus? Do we secretly bask in the cathartic satisfaction that he got what he deserved or do we, metaphorically, “weep over Jerusalem?”
Beyond the challenge to each of us to move towards a higher level of maturity, this image also contains an important pastoral challenge for the church. How do we, as a church, see a secularized world that has rejected many of our beliefs and values? When we see the consequences the world is paying for this are we gleeful or sympathetic? Do we see the secularized world with all the problems it is bringing onto itself by its rejection of some Gospel values as an adversary (someone from whom we need to protect ourselves) or as our own suffering child? If you’re a parent or grandparent who’s suffering over a wayward child or grandchild you probably understand what it means to “weep over Jerusalem.”
Moreover the struggle to “weep over” our secularized world (or over anyone who rejects what we stand for) is compounded by yet another dynamic which militates against sympathy. There’s a perverse emotional and psychological propensity inside us which works this way. Whenever we are hurting badly, we need to blame someone, need to be angry at someone, and need to lash out at someone. And you know who we always pick for that? Someone we feel safe enough to hurt because we know that he or she is mature enough not to hit back!
There’s a lot of lashing out at the church today. Granted, there are a lot of legitimate reasons for this. Given the church’s shortcomings, part of that hostility is justified; but some of that hostility often goes beyond what’s justified. Along with the legitimate anger there’s sometimes a lot of free-floating, gratuitous anger. What’s our reaction to that unjustified anger and unfair accusation? Do we react in kind?“You are way out of line here, go take that anger elsewhere! Or, like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, can we meet unfair anger and accusation with tears of empathy and a prayer that a world that’s angry with us will be spared the pain of its own bad choices?
Soren Kierkegaard famously wrote: Jesus wants followers, not admirers! Wise words. In Jesus’ reaction to his own rejection, his weeping over Jerusalem, we see the epitome of human maturity. To this we are called, personally and as an ecclesial community. We also see there that a big heart feels the pain of others, even of those others who reject you.

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

What our suffering world needs most of all

Making a Difference
By Tony Magliano
More than anything else the world needs saints! And that is exactly what God is urging you and me to become. Not next week, not next month, not next year, but now is the time humanity needs us to decisively commit our lives to faithfully walk in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus – just like thousands of canonized saints and countless little known saints have done throughout the centuries.
Well, you may think that you are not the stuff saints are made of; that you can’t possibly be that good, that kind, that generous, that just, that peaceful, that selfless, that prayerful, that loving, that Christ-centered, that holy. And you’re right, that is, if you think you can become a saint solely through your own efforts.
The desire of becoming a saint, and the life-long ongoing effort it takes to progress toward that most important goal, cannot be attained if you and I simply rely on just our own will-power, talents and skills. The age-old temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil are far too powerful; they will overwhelm our best intentions.

Tony Magliano

Rather, sainthood is a gift from God. For only the Divine Holy One can fill us with divine life. But for divine grace, divine life to enter and evermore fill us, we must cooperate with God’s grace. We must consistently open our minds and hearts to the ultimate power of God and God’s love, and what God is calling us to do, and then the evil one will have no power over us. For as the psalmist says, “I keep the Lord always before me; with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.” So, it is essential for us to stay focused on the Lord!
Similarly, in the words of St. Paul, let us likewise “put on the Lord Jesus Christ!” And may our lives also echo his acclamation that in God “we live and move and have our being.”
You and I were created by God to fully immerse ourselves in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus; to daily pray over it, think about it, and radiate it in word and deed.
To love God with our whole soul, heart, strength and mind, and to love everyone as we love ourselves is how a saint lives her or his life. This way of life – the only way to fully live life – is the only sure, comprehensive, lasting cure for all that ails our largely sick world and wounded planet.
From abortion to euthanasia, from gun violence to war, from poverty and hunger to homelessness, from drug cartels to refugees, from child labor to human trafficking, and from pollution to climate change the world is desperately in need of saints!
Be inspired, sign-up to receive Saint of the Day (see: https://bit.ly/34Gwgkx).
Each holy person not only inspires others to strive for holiness, but also prays and works to change what St. Pope John Paul II called “structures of sin” into structures justice and peace; thus answering the saint’s clarion call to build the “culture of life.”
In his new social encyclical letter titled Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”), Pope Francis urges us to encounter one another – especially those human beings existing on the margins, victims of the “throwaway culture” – and to build-up a world of “universal fraternity” and “social friendship” where welcoming replaces exclusion, where bridges replace walls, where mutual respect replaces distain, where nonviolence replaces violence, where social justice replaces greed and where fraternal love replaces hate and indifference. (see: https://bit.ly/3e4NsDb)

(Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net.)

Black saints matter

It’s time to include people of color in the U.S. church’s models of holiness.

Testaments
By Alice Camille
Last fall in the month of All Saints, I rode the Amtrak from Providence, Rhode Island to Baltimore, Maryland. I was heading to a celebration of the life of Mother Mary Lange. Who’s that, you ask? She’s one of the Six. And if you have to ask, “Who are the other five?” then you have to hear the story.
It started when I was asked to cowrite a book about U.S. saints. The publisher wanted to include all the American saints, plus the beatified (those one miracle short of sainthood).
It’s not as clear-cut as it sounds. The trouble is defining what’s meant by an “American” saint. We were to cover U.S. saints only, not Canadian, not Central or South American. But should that list include those who ministered on the soil of this country before 1776? And does “U.S. soil” include Guam and Puerto Rico before, or even after, they became part of our national story?

Servant of God, Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990), a noted evangelist and member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, is a candidate for sainthood. She is pictured here in this undated photo at Smith Park across from the Cathedral of St. Peter Jackson. (Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, fspa.org)

Finally, we agreed on 12 saints: missionaries Isaac Jogues, Jean de Lalande, and René Goupil as well as Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha. The five foundresses Elizabeth Ann Seton, Rose Philippine Duchesne, Theodore Guérin, Frances Xavier Cabrini, and Katharine Drexel. Philadelphia Bishop John Neumann and the healing presences of Father Damien De Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope. In addition, we admitted three who’d attained the title of Blessed: Franciscan Junípero Serra (since canonized and once more controversial), Redemptorist Francis Xavier Seelos, and Puerto Rican layman Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago. Alas, Blessed Charlie, as the last fellow is popularly called, was sacrificed to the limitations of page count. Sadly too, as his is an illuminating chapter of U.S. Catholic history.
Kateri Tekakwitha was the lone person of color left in the book after the ejection of Blessed Charlie. This bothered us mightily at the time: the whitewashing of U.S. models of holiness. It wasn’t that the canonization pipeline hadn’t identified worthy candidates of color to nominate. A considerable number of Black, Cuban, and Puerto Rican Catholics languish on the backlogs of sanctity awaiting recognition.
As we traveled the country visiting places where the saints and beatified had worked, we found informal shrines to others whose stories were as compelling as the ones we were commissioned to tell. We resolved to also promote their stories until their names were as well known as the folks with their own holy cards.
Mother Mary Lange is on our wish list for formal sainthood. Right now she bears the title Servant of God (step one of formal recognition of her cause in Rome). Her birth date at the end of the 18th century in Cuba is uncertain. But she lived into her 90s and died in 1882. Hers was a difficult era of history for a dark-skinned woman. That’s saying something, since no era has been especially easy for someone like her.
Elizabeth Lange emigrated to the United States in the early 19th century, settling in Baltimore as a free woman of color in a slave state. Public education wasn’t open to Black children, so Lange opened a free school in her home entirely self-financed. Sulpician Father James Hector Nicholas Joubert noticed her efforts and encouraged her to found an order of sisters to carry out this ministry.
The Oblate Sisters of Providence became the first Black religious community in the nation. Lange took the name Sister Mary. She and three other women continued to educate girls of color with financial and institutional support from Father Joubert. The sisters also offered night classes to adults, nursed the sick during a cholera epidemic, and opened a home for children orphaned by the Civil War.
Father Joubert died in 1843. Without him, ecclesial support evaporated. The sisters became destitute, and their ministries suffered. White priests (there were no Black ones) refused to provide sacraments or spiritual counsel to Mother Lange’s community. The sisters were spat on and pushed into the street by passersby. Many left the order. Yet Mother Lange persisted until she became blind and enfeebled in her final years. Her community survives today.
Meeting today’s Oblates in Baltimore and hearing them tell the history personally was deeply thrilling. I expressed interest in sharing Mother Lange’s life more broadly, and each time I mentioned this, whichever sister I was addressing immediately insisted: Tell the stories of all Six. Promote the Six. We need the Six.
These generous women were not merely trying to get their immensely impressive foundress canonized. They were just as vocal concerning Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766–1853), whom I’ve privately dubbed the Holy Hairdresser.
Toussaint was an enslaved Haitian with a gift for coiffure. Transplanted with a white family to New York City, this gracious man refused to see color when it came to assisting those in want. He made lucrative earnings doing hair for high society. He used his income to support Black schools and whites-only orphanages as well as impoverished priests and countless other individuals in need. When the white widow whose household he served fell on hard times, Toussaint supported her financially. This remains astonishing. Only then did she offer Toussaint his liberty.
Also among the Six is Venerable Henriette Delille (1813–1862), Creole foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family. These New Orleans sisters offered an education to free mixed-race children by day and enslaved people by night — ever walking the precarious color line. Of its bitter restrictions, these Creole sisters were themselves well versed. They also provided shelter for destitute Blacks, cared for the sick, and served the poor of New Orleans. Despite their good works, due to prejudice these sisters were forbidden to wear a religious habit in public until a decade after Mother Henriette’s death.
U.S. Catholics should know Lange, Toussaint, and Delille. We should also know Servant of God laywoman Julia Greeley (born between 1833 and 1848, died in 1918), an illiterate enslaved woman who became a one-woman St. Vincent de Paul to the poor of Denver. She begged from the rich families and gave to the poor ones. Conscious of their shame in accepting aid from a Black woman, she brought help to white families only after dark.
More of us know Venerable Augustus Tolton (1854–1897), the first Black priest recognized as Black ordained in the United States. (Earlier, the Healy brothers had passed for white.) After every seminary in the country refused to admit Tolton, he went to Rome to prepare for ordination. He faced fierce bigotry, lack of ecclesial support, and financial distress. His priesthood ended too soon, a result of the poor health care options available to Black Americans.
Servant of God Thea Bowman (1937–1990) rounds out the Six. Converting to Catholicism and joining the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration was no easy matter for Bertha Bowman. She faced racism within the community, yet overcame it with a radiance and confidence that sprang from a rich Black heritage, the civil rights awakening, and the Second Vatican Council. Sister Thea became a worldwide evangelizer, writer, and gospel singer, challenging church leadership to consider its complicity in racism. Through her final debilitating years living with cancer, she proclaimed the gospel while bald and in a wheelchair, never diminishing her message of what it means to be Black and Catholic.
Do we really need more saints? Actually, we need millions more! But let’s start with these. Let’s fight for the Six.

(This article appeared in the November issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 85, No. 11, pages 47-49) and was reprinted with permission. Visit www.uscatholic.org.)

Called by Name

When Jesus teaches something in the Gospel, do we take notes? Do you apply His words to the way we live our lives? We say that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore is God Himself, but do we take what He says in the Gospel seriously?

Take Matthew 19. Jesus tells his listeners that he is calling for an understanding of the marriage covenant that goes beyond a civil contract. He raises marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and thus says that the old Jewish understanding of divorce is no longer valid. But later on in the chapter, Jesus goes even further. He states that some are called to forgo marriage “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” and then he makes the stakes even higher, saying “whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Matthew 19:12)

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

When we think about vocations to the priesthood and religious life, do we ever think about this clear teaching of Jesus. He is calling some to forgo the goodness of marriage to point people toward the Kingdom of God, and yet don’t we often see the call to celibacy as the rare “exception to the rule,” or something to consider after other goals have been accomplished or other more pressing questions about our lives and futures have been answered?

It is true that marriage to another is a natural desire of our hearts, but I challenge all those who profess the faith to really examine the way they see the possibility that they, or someone they love are being called to an incredible life, a life of fruitfulness not in a marriage bond, but in a deep, life giving relationship with the church.

God wants to give us many great leaders who can build up the church as spiritual fathers and mothers, begetting and protecting the many souls entrusted to them, and courageously pointing the laity toward the Kingdom when things seem most desperate, when tragedy has struck, or when temporal leadership has let them down. But we won’t have that great stock of leadership if we don’t take the words of Jesus extremely seriously. Jesus doesn’t say, well, those who don’t want to get married for some reason or who have exhausted all other options should think about doing this. No, he wants the very best potential husbands and fathers and wives and mothers to answer the call if they receive it. He wants the most talented and gifted among us to use their gifts for the church in ordained ministry or consecrated life if he calls them to it.

In order to answer the call, however, one must be open to it, he or she must be listening. Please encourage young men and women in your midst to be open to this call and help them to be open to the call by talking about it and learning about it yourself. Parents, help your children and teach them this lesson that Jesus gives us in the Gospel. We must shift the way in which the church sees the call to priesthood and religious life. We should give God our best, our first shot. We should all open the way to this call in our hearts, then if we don’t receive it, we can joyfully pursue a life-giving married life. Think of the gifts that would be brought to bear in our parishes and our diocese if all of us took the teachings of Jesus seriously, and were open to whatever the Lord called us to. “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Welcome acolytes

(Fr. Nick travels a lot, but he puts his homilies on the internet for those who would like to hear them! Go to www.jacksonpriests.com/podcasts each Sunday evening to listen. You can also find out all you want to know about our Vocation office at www.jacksonpriests.com.)

Structure, ritual and habit as anchoring love, prayer and service

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
In his book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks suggests that a key to sustaining fidelity in any vocation is to build a structure of behavior for those moments when love falters. He’s right.
Anybody who has made a commitment to be faithful for the long haul inside a marriage, a friendship, a faith community or a vocation to serve others, will need more than initial enthusiasm, bare-footed sincerity, affective energy and good resolutions to sustain himself or herself on that road. It’s one thing to have a honeymoon with someone, it’s another to be in a marriage over many years. It’s one thing to be an enthusiastic neophyte on a spiritual journey, it’s another thing to remain faithful inside that journey for seventy or eighty years. And it’s one thing to go out for a season and serve meals to the homeless, it’s something else to be Dorothy Day.
So the question is: how do we sustain our initial enthusiasm, sincerity, affective energy and good resolutions through the boredom, heartbreak, misunderstanding, tiredness and temptations all of us will undergo in our lives, whether that be in our marriage, our vocation, our church life, our prayer life or our service to others?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

That question was put to me recently, speaking to a group of young seminarians, I shared that I had just celebrated forty-eight years of ministry. The seminarians peppered me with questions: What’s the secret? How do you get through the rough times? How do you sustain good intention, good will and good energy year after year? How do you sustain your prayer life over forty or fifty years?
I answered with an insight from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, whenever he officiated at a wedding, would tell the couple: Today you are very much in love and think your love will sustain your marriage. It can’t. But your marriage can sustain your love. I advised the seminarians in the same way: don’t trust your present enthusiasm and good energy to sustain your priesthood; let your priesthood sustain your enthusiasm and energy. What’s at stake here?
A genuine commitment in faith, love or service becomes a ritual container, an ark, like Noah’s, that existentially locks you in. And the fact that you’re locked in is exactly what makes the commitment work. You enter naïvely, believing that your good feelings and affective energies will sustain you. They won’t. Inevitably they will be worn down by time, familiarity, boredom, misunderstanding, tiredness, wound and new obsessions that emotionally tempt you elsewhere. So how can you sustain yourself in a commitment through periods of dryness? David Brook’s answer is a good one – by building a structure of behavior for exactly those moments.
How do you do that? Through routine, ritual and habit. Anchor your person and your commitment in ritual habits that steady and hold you beyond your feelings on any given day. Set rituals for yourself, certain ritual behaviors, which you will do regularly no matter how you feel.
For me, as a priest, some of these are pre-set. As a priest, you are to daily pray the Office of the Church as a prayer for the world, no matter how you feel. You are to celebrate the Eucharist for others regularly, irrespective of whether or not this is personally meaningful to you on any given day. You are to do some private prayer daily, particularly when you don’t feel like it. The list goes on. These rituals give you structure and healthy routines, and they are needed because in the priesthood as in every other vocation, there are times of fervor when feelings are enough to sustain you; however there are also desert times, bitter times, angry times, times when love falters. It’s then that a structure of behavior can steady and sustain you.
The same holds true for marriage. Couples have to build a structure of behavior for those times when love falters. To name one such ritual: a wife and husband need to have some ritual expression of affection when they wish each other a good day as they part each morning, no matter their emotions and feelings on a given day. That ritual is a container, an ark, which locks them in and holds them together until a better season and better feelings return. Ritual can sustain love when it falters.
In understanding this, we need beware of “Job’s friends,” that is, beware of the various books and gurus on spirituality, prayer and marriage that give you the impression there’s something wrong with you if your enthusiasm and emotional affectivity are not the glue that daily sustains you in your commitment. Simply put, these are books written by spiritual novices and marriage manuals written by someone confusing a honeymoon for a marriage.
Enthusiasm and good feelings are wonderful, but they can’t sustain you through a marathon. For a marathon you need to have long-practiced strategies to carry you through the long tiring miles in the middle and at the end.

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

Compassion matters

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
“Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony (The Father of Hermits 4thC), ‘What ought I to do?’ Abba Anthony replied, ‘Have no confidence in your own virtuousness. Do not worry about a thing once it has been done. Control your tongue and your belly.’”

Sister alies therese

Actually, the hermits were trying to get some clarification as to whether they were being ‘good hermits’ or not, so Abba Anthony’s friend Abba Nisteros the Great replied: ‘Not all works are alike. For Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him; Elijah loved solitary prayer and God was with him; and David was humble, and God was with him. Therefore, whatever you see your soul desire according to God, do that thing, and you will keep your heart safe.’” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Ward, SLG).
Conceivably these folks might have been married, asking how to make a perfect marriage or maybe priests or a bishop asking how to do perfect works. We all want to know, from someone with perhaps more experience than our own, how to do the works of the Gospel perfectly.
Equally, they might just have been trying their hearers with the notion that they can indeed become perfect on their own if they just knew how to do it! Not possible. Many opportunities to be compassionate and hospitable come our way with or without ‘titles’ or ‘important’ jobs. Gratitude, for example, is a work of compassion we can all share in. The Scriptures mention so many and no one person can do them all!
Compassion is not a virtue, but a way of life. Hospitality calls us to receive others as Christ. You are probably familiar with Exodus 20:15ff where the Scriptures give us an outline of a compassionate life. Who do we see there as most compassionate? Well, God. ‘… and if they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry.’ (21) Perhaps it is also just another way of saying that our Christian way of life is: Love of God, Love of neighbor? That includes those with whom you disagree!
A compassionate life has been shown in many and varied ways in our Christian Catholic life. We can look to founders of religious orders that focused on education of the poor, healing the sick, or living a life of prayer. We look to first-responders, nurses, doctors, those who put their lives on the line. We only have to look to Ephesians 4ff to get some ideas about how these might be lived in the community. Paul in prison, (after mentioning all sorts of horrid things we do) says this: ‘in place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.’ (32)
Our days have been difficult. Political squabbles have caused families to cease speaking to one another and anger has flourished. Election outcomes have distanced many. Christians still persecuted; do we pray for their persecutors?
We might focus on the compassion of Jesus, hanging from the Cross, midst great anguish, focuses on the thief next to Him: ‘a single good word made the thief pure and holy, despite all his previous crimes, and brought him into Paradise.’ (Luke 23:42) [Philokalia #90, page 319]
How can we learn one single, good ‘word’ for someone who comes to us; that may all they need to hear? In this time of pandemic, in this month remembering those who have died/served, in this time of Thanksgiving, in this time of Christ the King, in this beginning of Advent we have many ‘words’ to learn. Can we draw forth from God in humility what we need and then share that with whomever the Lord brings onto our path?
Another place in our devotional life is the 6th and 8th Stations, – Veronica, who in her compassion for Jesus gently wipes His face. The women weep over their children. Are the children in cages, the 550+ still separated from their parents, those who live on Death Row at Parchman (or anywhere in our prisons) are their faces being wiped in gentleness and compassion? The COVID patients still dying and the many who suffer while recovering. Who speaks a word of compassion into their ears encouraging them to stick it out? Who brings a word of compassion to their families? Who speaks a word of compassion to you when you feel abandoned, lost or that God is far away? Remember, ‘the treasury of compassion is inexhaustible’ (Faustina, Chaplet, Closing Prayer).
Amma Syncletica puts it plainly: ‘Whatever people say by the grace of the Spirit, therefore, that is useful, springs from love (compassion) and end in it. Salvation, then, is exactly this – the two-fold love of God and of our neighbor.’ (Life, Bongie, 1996)
Blessings.

(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.)

The beauty of generosity

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
The sixth Fruit of the Spirit, called “goodness” in a majority of the Bible translations commonly used by Protestants, is rendered as “generosity” in two of the most popular versions favored by Catholics: the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), and the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (NRSVCE). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1695), the Holy Spirit prompts us to do good works, “to act so as to bear the fruit of the Spirit by charity in action.” Simply put, the easiest way for people to see Christ in our lives is through our generosity.
Generosity has everything to do with giving, whether it’s your time, talents, or treasure. Donations must always be made out of love, and not to call attention to yourself. And to anyone who might be tempted to boast about how much he has contributed, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen applies this cautionary remark: “never measure your generosity by what you give, but rather by what you have left.”

Melvin Arrington, Jr.

When we give alms, it must be for the right reason; it must be for the benefit of the recipient, not the giver. There’s really no charity involved in making a donation of something you no longer want, especially if the purpose of the gift is to gain a tax benefit or to free up space in a closet in order to stockpile new possessions. As someone once said, real charity doesn’t care whether the gift is tax deductible or not.
When we donate our time, we make an offering of ourselves. Self-giving by its very nature is a sacrificial act because we’re denying ourselves to attend to the needs of others. Archbishop Sheen says the poor widow who gave two mites “emptied herself to fill the emptiness of others.” There’s just something innately beautiful about a sacrifice.
When we offer up ourselves in love we become more like Christ, who freely gave Himself up for us. Our Lord literally divested Himself of everything He had: His clothing (“He was stripped of His garments”); His mother (He gave her to John and, by extension, to us saying, “Behold, your Mother”); His life itself when He suffered and died on the Cross; and even His very Spirit (“Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”)
Christ surrendered everything, so we should all deny ourselves in at least some fashion. Bishop Robert Barron has written and spoken often about how generosity enlarges the human soul, transforming it from the pusilla anima (the little or petty, that is, pusillanimous soul) into one that is generous and compassionate, the magna anima (the great soul), from which our word “magnanimous” is derived.
If liberality is characteristic of the magnanimous soul who cheerfully presents himself as an offering, then miserliness and selfishness shift the focus from giving to receiving, thereby reversing the direction from outward to inward. The selfish, self-centered, ego-driven person is ultimately concerned only with self-aggrandizement. His gods are possessions, power, pleasure and prestige. He constantly has to feed his ego by acquiring and possessing. He becomes so caught up in the material world that matters of the spirit get shoved aside.
American artist Paul Cadmus (1904-99) in a painting titled “Avarice,” one of a series depicting the Seven Deadly Sins, aptly illustrates the pitfalls and consequences of a life devoted solely to material gain. The old man portrayed in this work, a stooped skeletal figure bearing the burden of his possessions on his shoulder, struggles to hold onto a single golden object that appears to be slipping away from him. The expression on his face tells the whole story: the goods of this world can’t fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart. Why cling so tightly to wealth? Why refuse to share with the poor when, as the saying goes, “you can’t take it with you?” A life that has no concern for the welfare of others and has no room for faith and matters of the spirit will never come to know abundant life.
For those struggling with their faith and seeking to escape the ego trap, acts of charity can be a remedy. When someone asked the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins for advice on how he could learn to believe, Hopkins responded simply, “give alms.” By providing for the needs of our neighbor we can gain a better understanding of God’s love for us.
Experience teaches us that an authentic act of generosity blesses the giver even more than the recipient. Why do we derive more pleasure from giving than from receiving? Perhaps it’s because what’s perceived as a reduction in physical or monetary assets becomes, through the charitable act, an increase in spiritual goods. The more we give away, the more we gain.
The vast expanse of our world, in all its beauty and goodness, testifies to the boundless generosity of God. Everything we have has been bestowed on us from our loving God. Everything! And so, we give generously because we have received so many showers of blessings. We should never hoard these heavenly favors or use them solely for our own purposes but rather to glorify Him and serve Him by sharing our resources with those who need them more than we do. In the words of St. Ambrose, the rich man who gives to the poor does not bestow alms; rather, he pays a debt. That’s the Christian perspective on giving. What a beautiful concept!

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

Called by Name

Our seminarians are supported by so many parishioners throughout the diocese who believe it is vital that our future priests receive the best formation possible. As we continue to celebrate the beatification of Blessed Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, I would like to focus this column on what our local KCs do to support the education of future priests. Every year the Knights present a large donation to my department that goes directly to the education of our men. In 2019 they donated more than $40,000 – what an amazing gift!

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

A special program that I am seeking to promote in the coming months and years is the RSVP (Refund Support Vocations Program), which provides individual councils and 4th degree assemblies with the opportunity to sponsor individual seminarians and support them with small monetary gifts. The money that the men receive helps them to cover incidentals while they are in school, as well as pay for things that their tuition costs and diocesan stipend do not cover. I am very grateful to the more than ten councils in our diocese that have committed to supporting our seminarians in this way. They are also encouraged to provide moral support and prayers for the men they sponsor, and the seminarians are encouraged to keep in touch with the councils supporting them and nurture relationships with them while they are in formation and beyond.

The Knights of Columbus Council in Meridian was a big influence on me when I began discerning God’s will in my life. The men of Council 802 were great witnesses to me and an incredible support to me during my six years in the seminary. I remember working closely with several brother knights on a Habitat for Humanity project before deciding to go to seminary. While we worked I got the opportunity to learn how their faith influences every decision they make, including big decisions with regard to their families. This had a huge impact on me.

I have greatly enjoyed working with Knights from across the diocese and the state, and I am so pleased that Father McGivney has been beatified. If your council is not participating in RSVP and would like to take part, please contact me and I will let you know how to support the men studying for the priesthood in our diocese.

Office of Vocations Quarterly Report

By Father Nick Adam

Homegrown Harvest

It has been a wonderful start to the new academic year and I am very grateful to the support we received from parishes and individuals across the diocese in our first annual Homegrown Harvest Gala and Fundraiser. With your help we blazed past our $75,000 goal and we are now up to over $80,000, and we might not be done!
You can check out the videos that I produced for the gala on the vocations website (www.jacksonpriests.com). I want to thank Father Jim Wehner, the rector of Notre Dame Seminary and our keynote speaker for doing an excellent job and for all that he does to support our local church.

Congratulations to Carlisle Beggerly

Carlisle Beggerly (Immaculate Conception, West Point) was installed as an acolyte in October at Notre Dame Seminary. Acolyte installation is the last liturgical step prior to Diaconate Ordination, so please keep Carlisle in your prayers.

Discerners

I continue to “pound the pavement” to bring forth men for formation to the priesthood. Right now, I have one applicant looking at entering next year with a few more guys pondering the possibility.
I am taking small groups of discerners down to the seminary, with one group of three visiting in early October and another group of two at the end of October. I am convinced that this is the most effective way to get guys to take the call seriously and to feel comfortable in making the decision to enter formation.

Join us in prayer

Bishop Joseph Kopacz has committed to praying intentionally for all of our seminarians during a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament on the first Thursday of every month from 6-7 a.m. Bishop Kopacz and I have been observing this hour of prayer together at the Cathedral of St. Peter Jackson and the seminarians are observing it at their respective seminaries. I invite you to consider joining us in solidarity.

Spirituality and the second half of life

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
One size doesn’t fit everyone. This isn’t just true for clothing, it’s also true for spirituality. Our challenges in life change as we age. Spirituality hasn’t always been fully sensitive to this. True, we’ve always had tailored instruction and activities for children, young people, and for people who are raising children, carrying a job, and paying a mortgage, but we’ve never developed a spirituality for what happens when those years are over.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Why is one needed? Jesus seemingly didn’t have one. He didn’t have one set of teachings for the young, another for those in mid-life, and still another for the elderly. He just taught. The Sermon on the Mount, the parables, and his invitation to take up his cross are intended in the same way for everyone, irrespective of age. But we hear those teaching at very different times in our lives; and it’s one thing to hear the Sermon the Mount when you’re seven years old, another when you’re twenty-seven, and quite another when you’re eighty-seven. Jesus’ teachings don’t change, but we do, and they offer very specific challenges at different times of our lives.
Christian spirituality has generally kept this in mind, with one exception. Except for Jesus and an occasional mystic, it has failed to develop an explicit spirituality for our later years, for how we are meant to be generative in our senior years and how we are to die in a life-giving way. But there’s a good reason for this lacuna. Simply put, it wasn’t needed because up until this last century most people never lived into old age. For example, in Palestine, in Jesus’ time, the average life expectancy was thirty to thirty-five years. A century ago in the United States, it was still less than fifty years. When most people in the world died before they reached the age of fifty, there was no real need for a spirituality of aging.
There is such a spirituality inside the Gospels. Even though he died at thirty-three, Jesus left us a paradigm of how to age and die. But that paradigm, while healthily infusing and undergirding Christian spirituality in general, was never developed more specifically into a spirituality of aging (with the exception of some of the great Christian mystics).
After Jesus, the Desert fathers and mothers folded the question of how to age and die into the overall framework of their spirituality. For them, spirituality was a quest to “see the face of God” and that, as Jesus makes clear, requires one thing, purity of heart. So for them, no matter your age, the challenge was the same, trying to achieve purity of heart. Then in the age of the persecutions and the early Christian martyrs, the idea developed that the ideal way to age and die was through martyrdom. Later, when Christians were no longer physically martyred, the idea took hold that you could take on a voluntary type of martyrdom by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They believed that living these, like the quest for purity of heart, taught you all you needed to know, no matter your age. Eventually this was expanded to mean that anyone who faithfully responded to the duties in his or her life, irrespective of age, would learn everything necessary to come to sanctity through that fidelity. As a famous aphorism put it: Stay inside your cell and it will teach you all you need to know. Understood properly, there’s a spirituality of aging and dying inside these notions, but until recently there was little need to draw that out more explicitly.
Happily, today the situation is changing and we’re developing, more and more, some explicit spiritualities of aging and dying. Perhaps this reflects an aging population, but there’s now a burgeoning body of literature, both religious and secular, that’s taking up the question of aging and dying. These authors, too numerous to mention, include many names already familiar to us: Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Kathleen Dowling Singh, David Brooks, Cardinal Bernardin, Michael Paul Gallagher, Joan Chittister, Parker Palmer, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Paul Kalanithi, Erica Jong, Kathie Roiphe and Wilkie and Noreeen Au, among others. Coming from a variety of perspectives, each of these offer insights into what God and nature intend for us in our later years.
In essence, here’s the issue: today, we’re living longer and healthier late into life. It’s common today to retire sometime in our early sixties after having raised our children, superannuated from our jobs, and paid our mortgages. So what’s next, given that we probably have twenty or thirty more years of health and energy left? What are these years for? What are we called to now, beyond loving our grandkids?
Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, were invited to set out for a new land and conceive a child long after this was biologically impossible for them. That’s our call too. What “Isaac” are we called to give birth to in our later years? We need guidance.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)