Divine renovation – St. Paul pastor leads his flock to mission and Christ

Fr. Gerard Gerry Hurley

By Joanna King

FLOWOOD – Father Gerry Hurley and his leadership team are moving forward with a successful evangelization program launched at their parish designed to convert hearts and souls and bring faithful closer to Jesus Christ.

The church’s leadership team is working to focus the parish as a community that is moved “by the Spirit to expand our relationship with Jesus and the Father,” says Father Hurley, pastor of St. Paul Flowood, about the parish’s evangelization initiative inspired by Father James Mallon’s best-selling book “Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish.”

In 2014 Father Mallon, episcopal vicar for parish renewal and leadership support for the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, Canada, released the book designed to guide parishes seeking to cultivate vibrant and dynamic faith communities centered on missionary discipleship. Over the past five years, St. Paul Flowood took what they learned from the guide and slowly began introducing different programs as part of a parish renewal project reaching out to various age groups and all members of the parish community.  “We are establishing a direction of what is important,” said Father Hurley.

The parish used the ChristLife series (Discovering Christ, Following Christ and Sharing Christ) as an evangelization ministry to equip area Catholics for the essential work of evangelization as disciples of Christ. It launched with success. Another program is the parish’s small group ministry designed to encourage parishioners to get involved in the life and ministry of the parish. Alpha is an interactive evangelization program for youth used in the parish.

“Our ChristLife experience and our small group ministry processes have been a huge measure of growth and development in our parish,” said a pleased Father Hurley. “We have almost 400 people participating in small groups, which is certainly encouraging. There is much more work to be done because at the center is a community that is united, not uniform, but a united community with freedom of expression and growth, reflecting on what it means to be a true Eucharistic community,” Father Hurley added.

Father Mallon asserts that the Church has “an identity crisis.” In his introductory video, he states that “We’re a missionary church. We don’t have a mission. We are the mission.” Rather than be missionary, Mallon states that “often in our parishes we become maintenance focused and that is . . . we are content to maintain the flock.”

Moving from maintenance to mission is the message at the center of Father Mallon’s Divine Renovation. “In the life of a parish there can be so many things going on. So much busyness, so many requests for time and energy and events. . . . Are we so lost in busyness that we have forgotten the main thing,” asks Father Mallon. 

Going back to the Great Commission, the instructions of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples to spread his teachings, Father Mallon suggests that there is where parishes can find the “main thing’” which is to “make disciples.” Going, baptizing and teaching are the means by which we fulfill the command to “make disciples,” says Father Mallon.

“We’re led to be outwardly focused . . . to reach the un-churched,” Father Mallon explains, “Jesus didn’t say go and be disciples. He said go and make disciples. He didn’t say go and make disciples of people in the pews.”

At this point, the movement at St. Paul is not totally welcomed by everyone in the parish family, but the witness of results from the efforts of the parish’s new ministries continue to change hearts and encourage the pastor. Father Hurley says that “while there is still a great deal of push back, we are confident in where we are moving,” he said adding that he feels a great deal of support from his parish.

Rachel Mathias, a teacher at Brinkley Middle School, grew up at St. Paul receiving her first communion there as a child. She reflected at a small group meeting through St. Paul and shared that she appreciates the parish change in the direction from maintenance to mission and is happy about the additional freedom of expression of faith and love that it has afforded her.

As part of parish changes, St. Paul music ministry featuring traditional music and songs since its beginning, has added a “praise team” complete with bass, guitar, piano and drums.

“I miss our choir in a way, but I’m grateful that we’re at this point now,” said Mathias, a part of the choir since she was in tenth grade. “Yes, it’s different from what we are used to, but I have never felt closer to Jesus in Mass,” says Mathias, explaining that she has a new and stronger relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist with the help of her parish’s evangelization initiatives and new programs.

“For me it’s kind of like the Eucharist didn’t really sink in and have as much meaning until I realized who it was that I was actually talking to and singing to. So, I feel like for me that is my mission now. Yes, it’s definitely different than what I grew up with . . . but I have never felt closer in what we are doing than we are right now.”

Father Hurley said that he and his staff “are very enthusiastic about the growth and development thus far. We get much feedback and some resistance, but this is a natural part of this intense growth process,” he said.

To match their divine renovation, St. Paul Flowood is working on a capital campaign to renovate parish facilities and create a larger, more welcoming place of worship. The parish seeks to expand and improve their spiritual home and grow the parish flock with disciple and faithful brothers and sisters, who will open their arms and hearts and share stories of what a difference having a relationship with Jesus Christ has made in their lives.
Father Hurley displays a warm welcome on the parish website: “Jesus invites each of us to a personal relationship with him,” he states. “We hope to be a great companion to you on your journey of faith!“

Parish calendar of events

CULLMAN, Ala. Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center, “Introduction to Centering Prayer,” August 30 – September 1. Centering Prayer is a form of Christian prayer rooted in the ancient Christian contemplative tradition. Its purpose is to foster a deeper intimacy with Christ through the silence and stillness of contemplative prayer. This workshop/retreat is designed for those new to Centering Prayer. Private rooms and the ability to maintain silence are required. Retreat directors: Contemplative Outreach Birmingham Staff. Cost: Private room $245. Details: (256) 734-8302, retreats@shmon.org or www.shmon.org.
PEARL St. Jude, “Life in the Spirit and Healing Prayer” Seminar, Saturday, August 17, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. in the parish hall. Do you desire a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you interested in an opportunity to receive new gifts of the Holy Spirit and a greater outpouring of God’s healing and love? Come for a day of preaching, prayer and praise sponsored by the Marian Servants of Jesus the Lamb of God. Guest speakers include; Father Bill Henry, pastor of Greenville St. Joseph; retreat master and spiritual director, Celeste Zepponi; painter/singer/songwriter, retreat presenter and spiritual director, Mark Davis, formerly Ordained Assemblies of God pastor currently serving on St. Dominic’s Hospital pastoral care team and ethics committee and is an active member of Clinton Holy Savior. Free admission, $10 suggested donation for lunch. Details: Contact Maureen Roberts (601) 278-0423 or mmjroberts@gmail.com.
TUPELO The Diocese of Jackson’s Office of Family Ministry and Catholic Charities Office of Parish Health Ministry, Mississippi State Department of Health and Belhaven University are co-sponsoring a two day workshop on first aid for mental health. “Mental Health First Aid” (MHFA) teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in your community. Two separate trainings will be offered at Tupelo St. James on Thursday, August 22 (Adult Training) and Friday, August 23 (Youth Training) from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Registration includes lunch. The workshops will be led by Dr. Bradford Smith, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and certified instructor. Registration is required. Registration includes: lunch, a comprehensive manual and three-year MHFA certification. Attending full program is required to obtain certification. Fee: $10 per class. CEU’s offered for nursing and education. Registration website: https://conta.cc/2Hxr7yf. For more information: Contact Charlene Bearden, coordinator, Office of Family Ministry at 601-960-8487 or charlene.bearden@jacksondiocese.org.
JACKSON “Your Money Your Goals,” Friday, August 9 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (lunch included) at Catholic Charities, 850 East River Place, large conference room upstairs and Saturday, August 10, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (lunch included) at St. Richard, Foley Hall. For people that help people develop healthy financial practices. Register online by August 8 for one of the trainings listed at www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org by clicking on the “Your Money Your Goals” banner. Details: Dorothy Balser at (601) 326-3725.
MADISON Lake Caroline Golf Course, 37th Bishop Cup Annual Golf Scramble, Tuesday, September 10. Lunch at 12 p.m.; tee time at 1 p.m. and social/dinner/auction at 5:30 p.m. Each golfer receives cart and green fees, hat, golf towel, catered lunch, snacks and beverages on the course, dinner and social. Details: Rebecca Harris at (601) 960-8477 or rebecca.harris@jacksondiocese.org.

AMORY St. Helen, The book discussion group will meet and discuss The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See Monday, August 12 at 12 p.m., at the parish hall. Details (662) 256-8392.
BROOKHAVEN St. Francis, The book club reading Beyond Your Mother meets Sundays at 11 a.m. in the library. Details: Joshua Atwater at (601) 730-1455.
GRENADA St. Peter, Blood Drive, Sunday, August 25, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Please mark your calendar to come and make a donation. Details: church office (662) 226-2490.
GLUCKSTADT St. Joseph, Save the Date, Germanfest 2019, Sunday, September 29, 11a.m. – 5 p.m. Details: church office (601) 856-2054.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph, Knights of Columbus breakfast, Sunday, August 11 after 8 a.m. Mass. Details: church office (662) 335-5251.
HERNANDO Holy Spirit, Fr. David Szatkowski will teach a series of 10 sessions on the Gospel of Matthew at 6:45 p.m., Mondays, August 12 – November 18. Details: Please sign up or call Father David at (662) 342 1073.
JACKSON St. Peter Cathedral, Knights of Columbus breakfast Sunday, August 18 following 8 a.m. Mass. Details: church office (601) 969-3125.
JACKSON St. Richard, ChristLife, Thursdays, August 29 – October 10 from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. in Foley Hall. The program has enriched thousands of lives throughout the country. Program includes free lunch. Childcare available if needed. Details: Nancy McGhee at (601) 942-2078 or Tiffany at (601) 842-0151. Register at www.saintrichard.com/christlife.
MERIDIAN Catholic community of St. Joseph and St. Patrick, Coffee with the Saints, join for coffee and a light breakfast and learn more about the lives of some amazing holy people, Wednesdays, 10:30 – 11:45 a.m. in the Parish Center, July 31 – St. Catherine of Siena, August 7 – Bl. John Henry Newman and August 14 – G.K. Chesterton. Details: church office (601) 693-1321.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, Blood Drive, Wednesday, July 31 from 1 – 6 p.m. at the O’Connor Family Life Center. Details: Regina in the church office (601) 445-5616 or to make an appointment online, go to www.vitalant.org.

JACKSON St. Richard School, Back to School Night, Tuesday, August 6, 4-6 p.m. Details: school office (601) 366-1157.
Sister Thea School, 2019-20 registration is now underway for grades Pre K3 – 6th grades. Details: Shae Goodman-Robinson, Principal at (601) 506-8998.
MADISON St. Francis of Assisi, Annual Life Teen Parent-Teen Kick Off event, Sunday, August 18, 5-8 p.m. Details: church office (601) 856-5556.
MERIDIAN St. Patrick School, Orientation, Monday, August 5 at 6 p.m. in the school cafeteria. Parents may drop off school supplies beforehand at 4-6 p.m. Details: school office (601) 482-6044.

Dos nuevos Sacerdotes

Por Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – En la Catedral de San Pedro fueron ordenados como sacerdotes Mark Shoffner y Adolfo Suarez Pasillas, el pasado 11 de mayo. La ceremonia fue celebrada por el obispo Joseph Kopacz, en compañía de sacerdotes de la diócesis de Jackson y seminaristas de Notre Dame.
Durante la misa de ordenación el obispo impone las manos y con el santo oleo bendice a los hasta entonces diáconos, y quienes desde ese momento se convierten en sacerdotes.
Durante la ceremonia los clérigos Mark y Adolfo recibieron las vestiduras de parte de los padres Patrick Farrell y Kent Bowlds, respectivamente. Los nuevos curas, Adolfo y Mark, juraron obediencia al obispo actual y futuros de la Diócesis de Jackson; juramento con el cual crearon el compromiso de servir como sacerdotes diocesanos.
Los reverendos Mark y Adolfo tienen cada uno una historia de vida diferente, comparten el temor a Dios y una vena mexicana, siguieron distintos caminos de discernimiento y desde ahora seguirán un plan divino similar. Los dos continuaran el llamado del Señor para servir a sus hijos.
Despues de la Misa de Ordenación, los nuevos sacerdotes y varios parroquianos asistieron al Foley Hall de la iglesia de St Richard a recibir la primera bendicion de los nuevos sacerdotes.

National Catholic Sisters Week draws attention to communities of service

By Berta Mexidor
Religious women across America put their own twist on celebrating International Women’s Day when they celebrated National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW), March 8-14. According to the website dedicated to the event, “NCSW is an annual celebration to honor women religious. It is a series of events that instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women. It’s our chance to recognize all they have done for us. It’s also our hope that as more young women learn about women religious, more will choose to follow their example.
“National Catholic Sisters Week, a branch of National Catholic Sisters Project headquartered at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisc., is headquartered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., and is held in conjunction with Women’s History Month.”
The website, http://nationalcatholicsistersweek.org/, includes testimonies to promote religious vocations and a range of activities celebrated by sisters around the country.
Certainly the history of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson is full of stories of the service and dedication of women religious. In the earliest days, they ran orphanages and schools. In the modern era, they founded and ran hospitals, worked as nurses, teachers, parish administrators and cloistered prayer warriors.
Mississippi Catholic thanks and honors the more than 100 religious serving throughout the Diocese in schools, hospitals, convents, community centers and prison ministry. Some, including Sister Thea Bowman, whose cause for canonization opened last year, are more famous than others, but they all give their lives in service to the Church and her people. They represent more than a dozen congregations including:
• The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes, – CSA;
• Missionaries Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, MGSpS;
• School Sisters of Notre Dame, SSND;
• Sisters of Humility of Mary, CHM;
• Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, RSM;
• Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, DC;
• Sisters of Charity of Halifax, SC;
• Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, OSF;
• Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns, OCD;
• Dominican Sisters of Springfield, OP;
• Congregation of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, FSPA;
• School Sisters of St. Francis, Milwaukee, WI – OSF
• Sisters of St. Francis, Aston, OSF
• Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, SCN
• Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota
• Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes
• Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family
• Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, SNJM;
• Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate, S.H.Sp;
• Union of the Sisters of the Presentation of the BVM, PBVM;
• Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province – CSJ.
• Sisters of St. Joseph, CSJ

Parish calendar of events


BROOKSVILLE The Dwelling Place, Beloved Disciples, February 22-23. Begins with 6:30 p.m. dinner. Life is not about finding ourselves. We are not lost. It is about discovering who God created us to be. We are all beloved of God and if we allow Him control of our lives, He can love each one of us into being that beloved disciple that God describes in his Gospel. During this overnight there will be time to listen, pray and share. Presenter: Kathleen Grusek, Certified Spiritual Director and author of four books on spirituality. Donation: $100. Details: (662) 738-5348 or email dwellpl@gmail.com for more information.
COLLIERVILLE Tenn, Women’s Morning of Spirituality, Saturday, February 23, 8:15 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Catholic Church of the Incarnation, 360 Bray Station Road. Keynote speaker: Johnnette Benkovic Williams; Witness speaker: Sister Rita Marie Kampa, O.P. Love offerings accepted. Details: Mary Beth (901) 853-1819 or wmosmemphis@gmail.com. Register at womensmorning.com.
COVINGTON Louisiana, Married Couples Retreat, March 16-17, at St. Joseph Abbey Christian Life Retreat Center. Come away for rest and spiritual strength and nourishment. Suggested donation: $275 per couple. Details: www.faithandmarriage.org or call (504) 830-3716.
JACKSON Catholic Day at the Capitol, Wednesday, February 27, begins at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle and wraps up with networking at 3 p.m. The day will include Mass and lunch, as well as a visit to the capitol building. The topic is reform aimed at restorative justice – especially in the criminal justice system. Details: Sue Allen at sue.allen@ccjackson.org or 601-383-3849. (See page 1 for related story.)


BROOKHAVEN St. Francis of Assisi, Mardi Gras Party for adults hosted by the Knights of Columbus and the Ladies of St. Francis, Saturday, February 16, 5:30 – 10 p.m. with food and drinks provided; no babysitting provided. Details: church office (601) 833-1799.
FLOWOOD St. Paul, Women’s Guild Lenten Day of Reflection, “Refreshing the Body, Mind and Soul” Saturday, March 23, 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Deadline to register is March 18. No cost, suggested donation for Domestic Violence Shelter. Details: wgstpaul@gmail.com or Renee Gosselin (601) 966-5452; Linda Rainey (601) 212-9802; Cheryl Marsh (860) 823-7878 or Renee Carpenter (601) 214-9457.
GRENADA St. Peter, Lenten Retreat, Saturday, March 16, begins at 9 a.m. and ends with 6 p.m. Mass. Most Rev. Dr. Sam Jacobs, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Houma Thibodaux, will be the special speaker. Details: church office (662) 226-2490.
HERNANDO Holy Spirit, spaghetti dinner fund-raiser, Friday, February 22, 4-8 p.m. or until sold out. Cost: $10 adults and $5 children. Details: church office (662) 429-7851.
JACKSON St. Peter Cathedral, Saturday, February 16, Pro Life Rosary. Bring your families out at 9 a.m. to pray the Rosary at the Marian Prayer Garden (weather permitting in the Cathedral Center if it rains). Light breakfast afterward for all who attend. Details: church office (601) 969-3125.
St. Richard, Saturday, February 23, 10-11 a.m. in the Chatham Meeting Room. The Carmelite Seculars, a lay (“Third Order”) Carmelite community from various parishes in the Jackson area welcomes parishioners to come and learn more about this lay vocation as you join them in praying the Morning Divine Office and Lectio Divina. You are welcome to remain as we explore the lives and writings of the saints of our Order. Meetings are held every fourth Saturday. Details: Dorothy Ashley at (601) 259-0885 or https://ocdsjackson.wordpress.com. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul St. Therese Conference, has changed their schedule of intake calls to every first and third Wednesday 1 – 3 p.m. of the month. As a reminder, the phone number is 601-896-8710
St. Therese, Men’s Lenten Retreat Faith, Family and Fatherhood – La Fe, Familia & Paternidad in the Parish Hall, Saturday, February 16, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., followed by Mass. Coffee and sweets at 8:30 a.m. Grow your faith with other men — Spanish and English fellowship. Details: Ben Mokry (601) 259-7926.
MADISON St. Francis of Assisi, Save the Date, Cajun Fest, Sunday, May 5. Includes lots of Cajun food and games for the children. More details will follow. Details: church office (601) 856-5556.
MERIDIAN Catholic Community of St. Joseph and St. Patrick, inaugural joint Father/Daughter and Mother/Son Dance, Saturday, February 16, in the Family Life Center, 6-8 p.m. All children ages three thru sixth grade are invited. Desserts and drinks will be provided. Volunteers are needed. Details: RSVP to Leslie Vollor (662) 321-1150 or Katie Rutledge (662) 803-2837.


CLARKSDALE Catholic Community of St. Elizabeth, Save the date, Vacation Bible School, June 17-21. Details: church office (662) 624-4301.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph School Drama Department is presenting the musical “Annie,” Friday, February 15, and Saturday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee performance on February 17, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 in advance or $7 at the door.
St. Joseph School Spring Fling, Saturday, March 2, at the Washington County Convention Center, 1040 South Raceway Road. Drawdown at 6 p.m.; you need not be present to win. Dinner at 6:30 p.m.; Live Band 8 p.m. – midnight; Cost is $100 for two adult admissions. Profits raised go to help close the gap at both schools. Details: school office (662) 378-9711.
JACKSON St. Richard School, Sixth Annual Krewe de Cardinal, Friday, March 1 at the Railroad District, 824 South State Street, 7-11 p.m. Details: School office at (601) 366-1157 or www.strichardschool.org.
MADISON St. Joseph School, “Jeans, Jazz and Bruin Blues,” Annual Draw Down, Saturday, February 23, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $130 and admit two adults. Each ticket gives you the chance at the $10,000 and allows you to participate in live and silent auctions. Guests will dine on gourmet food prepared by the Knights of Columbus of St. Francis of Assisi Church. Details: school office (601) 898-4800 or www.stjoedrawdown.com.

Don’t be afraid to ask for things from God in prayer

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN (CNS) – No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said.
Jesus does not want people to become numb to life’s problems and “extinguish” those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.
“He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue” with God, the father, he said.
Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity.
With this prayer, Jesus shows an “audacious” way to address God immediately as “our Father” without any pomp and “preambles,” the pope said.
“He doesn’t say to turn to God calling him ‘O, the All-Powerful’ or ‘O, the One on high,’ or ‘O, You who are so far from us and I am the wretched one ….’”  
“No. He doesn’t say that, but simply (uses) the word, ‘Father,’ with great simplicity, like children who turn to their daddy. This word, ‘Father,’ expresses intimacy, filial trust,” he said.
The prayer invites people to pray in a way that “lets all the barriers of subjection and fear fall away,” he added.
While the Our Father is rooted in “the concrete reality” of every human being, prayer, in essence, begins with life itself.
“Our first prayer, in a certain way, was the first wail that came with our first breath”, and it signals every human being’s destiny: “our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our constant search for happiness.”
Prayer is found wherever there is a deep hunger, longing, struggle and the question, “why?” Pope Francis said.
“Jesus does not want to extinguish (what is) human, he does not want to anesthetize” the person in prayer, he said. Jesus understands that having faith is being able to “cry out.”
“We all should be like Bartimaeus in the Gospel,” he said. This blind man in Jericho kept crying out to the Lord for help even though everyone around him told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus, who – they felt – ought not be disturbed because he was so busy.
Bartimaeus did not listen and only cried out louder “with holy insistence,” the pope said. Jesus listened to his plea and told him his faith is what saved him.
The pope said this shows how the cry for healing is an essential part of salvation, because it shows the person has faith and hope and is “free from the desperation of those who do not believe there is a way out of so many unbearable situations.”
“We can tell him everything, even those things in our life that are distorted and beyond comprehension. He promised us that he would always be with us,” he said.
When greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope greeted all those from Mexico and Latin America, noting that Dec. 12 marked the feast “of our patroness,” Our Lady of Guadalupe. He asked that she help people surrender themselves to God’s love and to place all of their hope in him.
Before the audience, the pope blew out a few candles on a birthday cake a visitor had prepared for him. The pope will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 17.
Greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope met with a delegation from Panama, representing the upcoming World Youth Day events in January, and he greeted a delegation of Austrian members of parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of the song “Silent Night,” whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.
The pope said that “with its profound simplicity, this song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the savior, born in Bethlehem, reveals to us the love of God the father.”

Dual Citizenship


Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
I live on both sides of a border. Not a geographical one, but one which is often a dividing line between two groups.
I was raised a conservative Roman Catholic, and conservative in most other things as well. Although my dad worked politically for the Liberal party, most everything about my upbringing was conservative, particularly religiously. I was a staunch Roman Catholics in every way. I grew up under the papacy of Pius XII (the fact that my youngest brother is named Pius, will tell you how loyal our family was to that Pope’s version of things). We believed that Roman Catholicism was the one true religion and that Protestants needed to convert and return to the true faith. I memorized the Roman Catholic catechism and defended its every word. Moreover, beyond being faithful church-goers, my family was given over to piety and devotions: we prayed the rosary together as a family every day; had statues and holy pictures everywhere in our house; wore blessed medals around our necks; prayed litanies to Mary, Joseph, and the Sacred Heart; and practiced a warm devotion to the saints. And it was wonderful. I will forever be grateful for that religious foundation.
I went from my family home to the seminary at the tender age of seventeen and my early seminary years solidly reinforced what my family had given me. The academics were good and we were encouraged to read great thinkers in every discipline. But this higher learning was still solidly set within a Roman Catholic ethos that valued all the things religiously and devotionally I’d been raised on. My studies were still friends with my piety. My mind was expanding, but my piety remained intact.
But home is where we start from. Gradually though through the years my world changed. Studying at different graduate schools, teaching on different graduate faculties, being in daily contact with other expressions of the faith, reading contemporary novelists and thinkers, and having academic colleagues as cherished friends has, I confess, put some strain on the piety of my youth. It’s no secret; we don’t often pray the rosary or litanies to Mary or the Sacred Heart in graduate classrooms or at faculty gatherings.
However academic classrooms and faculty gatherings bring something else, something vitally needed in church pews and in circles of piety, namely, wider theological vision and critical principles to keep unbridled piety, naïve fundamentalism, and misguided religious fervor within proper boundaries. What I’ve learned in the academic circles is also wonderful and I am forever grateful for the privilege of higher education.
But, of course, that’s a formula for tension, albeit a healthy one. Let me use someone else’s voice to articulate this. In a recent book, Silence and Beauty, a Japanese-American artist, Makoto Fujimura, shares this incident from his own life. Coming out of church one Sunday, he was asked by his pastor to add his name to a list of people who had agreed to boycott the film, The Last Temptation of Christ. He liked his pastor and wanted to please him by signing the petition, but felt hesitant to sign for reasons that, at that time, he couldn’t articulate. But his wife could. Before he could sign, she stepped in and said: “Artists may have other roles to play than to boycott this film.” He understood what she meant. He didn’t sign the petition.
But his decision left him pondering the tension between boycotting such a movie and his role as an artist and critic. Here’s how he puts it: “An artist is often pulled in two directions. Religiously conservative people tend to see culture as suspect at best, and when cultural statements are made to transgress the normative reality they hold dear, their default reaction is to oppose and boycott. People in the more liberal artistic community see these transgressive steps as necessary for their ‘freedom of expression’. An artist like me, who values both religion and art, will be exiled from both. I try to hold together both of these commitments, but it is a struggle.”
That’s also my struggle. The piety of my youth, of my parents, and of that rich branch of Catholicism is real and life-giving; but so too is the critical (sometimes unsettling) iconoclastic, theology of the academy. The two desperately need each other; yet someone who is trying to be loyal to both can, like Fujimura, end up feeling exiled from both. Theologians also have other roles to play than boycotting movies.
The people whom I take as mentors in this area are men and women who, in my eyes, can do both: Like Dorothy Day, who could be equally comfortable, leading the rosary or the peace march; like Jim Wallis, who can advocate just as passionately for radical social engagement as he can for personal intimacy with Jesus, and like Thomas Aquinas, whose intellect could intimidate intellectuals, even as he could pray with the piety of a child.
Circles of piety and the academy of theology are not enemies; they need to embrace.

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

Hope for synod: boldness, honesty

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis asked bishops to be bold, honest, open-minded, charitable and, especially, prayerful as they begin a three-week meeting on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
While many young people think no older person has anything useful to teach them for living today, the pope said, the age of the bishops, combined with clericalism, can lead “us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything.”
“Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the church,” Pope Francis said Oct. 3 at the synod’s first working session. “We must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.”
The pope formally welcomed 267 bishops and priests as voting members of the synod, eight fraternal delegates from other Christian churches and another 72 young adults, members of religious orders and lay men and women observers and experts at the synod, which will meet through Oct. 28.
He also thanked the thousands of young people who responded to a Vatican questionnaire, participated in a presynod meeting in March or spoke to their bishops about their concerns. With the gift of their time and energy, he said, they “wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of the church or to enter into dialogue with her.”
They showed that, at least on some level, they believe the church can be a mother, teacher, home and family to them, he said. And they are asserting that “despite human weaknesses and difficulties,” they believe the church is “capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s timeless message.”
“Our responsibility here at the synod,” the pope said, “is not to undermine them, but rather to show that they are right to wager: It truly is worth the effort, it is not a waste of time!”
Pope Francis began the synod with an invitation that every participant “speak with courage and frankness” because “only dialogue can help us grow.”
But he also asked participants to be on guard against “useless chatter, rumors, conjectures or prejudices” and to be humble enough to listen to others.
Many of the synod participants arrived in Rome with the text of the three-minute speech they intended to give, but the pope asked them “to feel free to consider what you have prepared as a provisional draft open to any additions and changes that the synod journey may suggest to each of you.”
A willingness to “change our convictions and positions,” he said, is “a sign of great human and spiritual maturity.”
The synod is designed to be an “exercise in discernment,” the pope told them. “Discernment is not an advertising slogan, it is not an organizational technique or a fad of this pontificate, but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.”
Discernment “is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me,” he said. It requires listening and prayer, which is why the pope has added a rule that after every five speeches there will be a three-minute pause for silent reflection and prayer.
Listening to the Spirit, listening to God in prayer and listening to the hopes and dreams of young people are part of the church’s mission, the pope said. The preparatory process for the synod “highlighted a church that needs to listen, including to those young people who often do not feel understood by the church” or feel they “are not accepted for who they really are, and are sometimes even rejected.”
Listening to each other, especially young people and bishops listening to each other, he said, is the only way the synod can come to any helpful suggestions for leading more young people to the faith or for strengthening the faith of young people involved in church life.
“Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and (should) not judge them negatively,” he said. “I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3,000 B.C. and was discovered on a clay pot in ancient Babylon, where it is written that young people are immoral and incapable of saving their people’s culture.”