The Lord doesn’t require us to achieve a certain level of measurable success, but only to be faithful. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said this during her long life of ministry to the poor of India, and it is important that all of us take stock of that call at the end of this year.
In the Department of Vocations, success could very easily be measured: How many new seminarians do we have signed up for next year? It is tempting for me to take stock in this way, and yet constantly the Lord gives me examples of how success does not exist in hard numbers. In this year, my first year (or at least part of a year) as the full-time Vocation Director, I have seen our seminarians be formed into more virtuous men who look out for one another and have a deep love for the people of our diocese. I have watched as many discerners have experienced a taste of seminary life and have learned more about God’s call for them. I have spoken with many of you about sharing a vision for the future health of our diocese by supporting the mission of this department. There is one way in which worldly “success” can be measured, but there are many more ways that faithfulness can be measured.
Disciples of the Lord are known by the fruits that they produce in the world, and there have been many fruits born from this department this year. One of the greatest is the unity of the seminarians that we currently have and their dedication to praying for one another. In the summer Bishop Kopacz and seminarian Ryan Stoer came up with a plan to pray for one another more intentionally. On the first Thursday of every month, the seminarians, myself and Bishop Kopacz have committed to praying a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament from 6-7 a.m. Since we started this in August, we all have experienced an increase in our bond of charity that goes beyond a dinner together or shared experiences of formation. This is what I am most excited to share with you as we look toward a new year. I have no idea how many new seminarians we will have in the Fall of 2021, but I am hopeful. I am hopeful because the faith of the men who are a part of this mission with me and of so many of you who have helped financially and spiritually this year is strong.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Please pray for more laborers for the harvest, and pray that the men who are laboring now, including myself, remain faithful.
IN EXILE By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s a pious axiom that doesn’t always hold up. Sometimes the bad time comes and we don’t learn anything. Hopefully this present bad time, COVID-19, will teach us something and make us stronger. My hope is that COVID-19 will teach us something that previous generations didn’t need to be taught but already knew through their lived experience; namely, that we’re not invulnerable, that we aren’t exempt from the threat of sickness, debilitation and death. In short, all that our contemporary world can offer us in terms of technology, medicine, nutrition and insurance of every kind, doesn’t exempt us from fragility and vulnerability. COVID-19 has taught us that. Just like everyone else who has ever walked this earth, we’re vulnerable.
I’m old enough to have known a previous generation when most people lived with a lot of fear, not all of it healthy, but all of it real. Life was fragile. Giving birth to a child could mean your death. A flu or virus could kill you and you had little defense against it. You could die young from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, bad sanitation, and dozens of other things. And nature itself could pose a threat. Storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, pestilence, lightening, these were all to be feared because we were mostly helpless against them. People lived with a sense that life and health were fragile, not to be taken for granted. But then along came vaccinations, penicillin, better hospitals, better medicines, safer childbirth, better nutrition, better housing, better sanitation, better roads, better cars and better insurance against everything from loss of work, to drought, to storms, to pestilence, to disasters of any kind. And along with that came an ever-increasing sense that we’re safe, protected, secure, different than previous generations, able to take care of ourselves, no longer as vulnerable as were the generations before us. And to a large extent that’s true, at least in terms of our physical health and safety. In many ways, we’re far less vulnerable than previous generations. But, as COVID-19 has made evident, this is not a fully safe harbor. Despite much denial and protest, we’ve had to accept that we now live as did everyone before us, that is, as unable to guarantee own health and safety. For all the dreadful things COVID-19 has done to us, it has helped dispel an illusion, the illusion of our own invulnerability. We’re fragile, vulnerable, mortal. At first glance, this seems like a bad thing; it’s not. Disillusionment is the dispelling of an illusion and we have for too long (and too glibly) been living an illusion, that is, living under a pall of false enchantment which has us believing that the threats of old no longer have power to touch us. And how wrong we are! As of the time of this writing there are 70.1 million COVID-19 cases reported worldwide and there have been more than 1.6 million reported deaths from this virus. Moreover the highest rates of infection and death have been in those countries we would think most invulnerable, countries that have the best hospitals and highest standards of medicine to protect us. That should be a wake-up call. For all the good things our modern and post-modern world can give us, in the end it can’t protect us from everything, even as it gives us the sense that it can. COVID-19 has been a game-changer; it has dispelled an illusion, that of our own invulnerability. What’s to be learned? In short, that our generation must take its place with all other generations, recognizing that we cannot take life, health, family, work, community, travel, recreation, freedom to gather, and freedom to go to church, for granted. COVID-19 has taught us that we’re not the Lord of life and that fragility is still the lot of everyone, even in a modern and post-modern world. Classical Christian theology and philosophy have always taught that as humans we are not self-sufficient. Only God is. Only God is “Self-sufficient Being” (Ipsum Esse Subsistens, in classical philosophy). The rest of us are contingent, dependent, interdependent … and mortal enough to fear the next appointment with our doctor. Former generations, because they lacked our medical knowledge, our doctors, our hospitals, our standards of hygiene, our medicines, our vaccines, and our antibiotics, existentially felt their contingency. They knew they weren’t self-sufficient and that life and health could not be taken for granted. I don’t envy them some of the false fear that came with that, but I do envy them not living under a pall of false security. Our contemporary world, for all the good things it gives us, has lulled us asleep in terms of our fragility, vulnerability, and mortality. COVID-19 is a wake-up call, not just to the fact that we’re vulnerable, but especially to the fact that we may not take for granted the precious gifts of health, family, work, community, travel, recreation, freedom to gather, and (yes) even of going to church.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)
Kneading Faith By Fran Lavelle For me, there is something so immensely inviting about a cold grey December morning. Perhaps it invokes memories of Winter growing up on our farm in Southeastern Ohio. There is a stillness in a cold grey day that creates room for a pause. It is that pause that I most appreciate. Instead of jumping into the activity of the day I feel permission to sit with a cup of coffee and gaze out the window. I recently had such an experience Saturday morning a few weeks back. Surrounded by incredible peace, for a moment I forgot that our country and the world is being ravished by a pandemic. I also forgot that our politics in this country have become so polarized that death threats levied against political opponents has become commonplace. It has been a long year. It has been a difficult year; for some much more than others. I try to look for meaning in times that seem senseless and hope in the midst of grief. There are many factors that continue to lead us away from seeing one another as God’s beloved children. What we consume on cable news networks and social media play a big part in that widening chasm. Reconciling our communities with divergent very public (some might say vitriol) views is no small task. Two keen examples are our response to the virus (particularly mask wearing) and the outcome of the recent election. If our faith is what is going to save us, then we need to be willing to put into practice what we believe. I have spent some time this Fall reading Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical letter. The thesis of Fratelli Tutti is a timely call for the human family to acknowledge the dignity of one another. In framing the issue of our indifference to one another he is brutally honest about how far we are from true fraternal love. The scriptural centerpiece of this plea is the parable of the Good Samaritan. His approach to Scripture is very Ignatian. He reflects on the characters in the story and asks the reader to imagine themselves in the story in each character role. This mechanism builds a greater understanding of the complexity of the characters and builds a better understanding of the bigger picture. He then takes us deeper into our own reality and challenges us to reflect on whether our actions align with our vision and fulfill our mission. Pope Francis was very successful in using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the meaning of fraternal care. He adeptly negotiates the landscape of identifying not only the issues but allowing for reflection and action. His vision is always aligned with the mission of the Gospel. The continuity of that messaging was an “Ah Ha” moment for me. If the goal of a leader is to articulate a vision and to motivate others to share in and carry out the vision, clear and accessible communication is necessary. So is honesty in assessing the current situation. We need to be realistic about where we are to successfully map out the path to where we want to go. I do not think anyone relishes the constant reminders that we are a deeply divided country. I think that most Americans, and really all of humanity, want to live in peace. We cannot expect that government or Church leaders can solely change this narrative. We must all participate if change is to be sustainable. If we all spent less time following social media and more time following the Gospel, we would be less anxious and more hopeful. We do not change the narrative by adding to the cacophony of noise. We change the narrative by turning to God and one another and living the Gospel. I was recently reminded of the World War I Christmas Truce. On Christmas Eve, German and British troops fighting in World War I sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines. Christmas morning after white flags appeared from both sides, soldiers emerged from their trenches and shook hands with one another. They shared food and drink. There is documentation of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer. If amid a World War, so called dehumanized enemies can stop fighting and see one another the way God sees us – as one family – I know we can do the same. This Christmas give yourself a gift. Raise a white flag. Surrender to peace. The division ends when we stop giving our energy to it.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)
AMID THE FRAY By Greg Erlandson You’ve heard about the war on Christmas. But have you heard about the war on holly jolly? It’s a war my wife Corine has waged for some years now. It always starts the same way, my children will tell you. Something pushes her button – one too may grinning snowmen, one too many commercials where fabulously beautiful couples give each other cars with red bows on top, one too many images of idyllic consumerism, in other words. When she snaps, she turns to whichever child is walking with her down some overstuffed department store aisle and says: “There are two kinds of Christmases, the spiritual and the holly jolly. And the holly jolly just drives people crazy.”
When challenged about her war on holly jolly, she may blame it on my father, who lambasted Christmas for its “forced gaity,” a phrase that is just begging to be adopted as the name of a sullen rock band. The holly jolly is all the accoutrement of Christmas that has virtually nothing to do with the Christ Child’s arrival. It is all the stuff that, well, really ticked off the Grinch: All the noise, noise, noise and excessive fa la la. My wife would say that the Grinch had a point. All the marketing images forced upon us for months on end with happy couples, happy children, happy pets all sharing in perfect “Xmas” delight doesn’t just sell us stuff. It can make us feel bad. All sorts of people know that they are a long way from these images. At this irrationally exuberant time of year, they feel like they are failing if they aren’t equally exuberant as they struggle to live up to these expectations of holly jolly. Counselors tell us that rates of depression go way up around Christmas, and the internet is crowded with articles on how to relieve this stress. This year, it has to be worse. We have a pandemic, isolation and unemployment on top of the normal pressures of the season. Which is why I am proposing to my wife that we call a truce in the war on holly jolly. What I’ve been noticing this year is that people have been putting up lights earlier. Trees seem to be going up earlier too. Christmas music weeks and weeks before Christmas isn’t irritating. It’s soothing. The holly jolly aspect is maybe just what we need: It’s aromatherapy and light therapy for survivors of a dark and miserable year. Holly jolly, in fact, may be one of the few signs of normalcy we’ve been able to enjoy this year. So let’s make the most of it. Bring out the gingerbread houses! Take cookies over to the neighbors! Put on an extra strand of lights! Turn off “The Crown” and the evening news and watch the Christmas classics. It is a wonderful life, after all, even now. And at the same time, light the Advent wreath candles. Go to Mass once during the week. Bring in an extra bag of groceries for the food pantry or send a donation to your favorite charity. Don’t worry about doing 50 Christmas cards, but do 10. Enclose a personal note and send them to people who might really need a kind word. And don’t forget that there are 12 days of Christmas, so keep the holly jolly going at least till Jan. 6. In fact, keep those Christmas lights up the whole month. Give your neighbors something to smile about. It has been a rough year for so many of us. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to each other. I’m pretty sure that this year, it’s what the Christ Child would want.
(Greg Erlandson is the director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.)
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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 email@example.com.)
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?
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.)
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)
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.”
(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.)
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?
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.)