Beloved, ‘larger than life’ priest, Father Kaskie passes at age 57

By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Known for his ‘larger than life’ personality, Father Brian Kaskie was a gem of a priest to those around the Diocese of Jackson for almost 30 years.
Father Brian, 57, died Friday, March 26 after an extended bout with medical issues.

JACKSON – On March 30, priests from around the diocese gathered at St. Peter Cathedral to celebrate the life of Father Brian Kaskie. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Brian David Kaskie was born Feb. 17, 1964 in Forest, Mississippi and attended St. Michael Catholic Church while growing up, assisting as an altar server and active in CYO. In high school, he was a multi-sport athlete, playing on the basketball, football, baseball and tennis teams for the Forest Bearcats.
He was a graduate of Mississippi State University earning his bachelor’s degree in geology. He received his Master’s in Divinity in 1992 and was ordained June 6 that year as the first native-born priest from Scott county.
After his ordination, presided over by Bishop William Houck, Father Brian said, “Many people have different demands and expectations of priests today. A priest has to be able to compromise and meet people where they are.”
That is something Father Brian was able to do well, with is zest for life, God, science, family and community. His obituary read, “He never met a stranger and always engaged in friendly conversation.”
This was so true with the flood of comments to social media after news of his death.

MCCOMB – Father Brian Kaskie speaks at the diaconate ordination of now, Father Andrew Nguyen on May 26, 2019 at St. Alphonsus parish. (Photo courtesy of archives)

“You were always so funny and kind. We enjoyed your hunting adventures and stories of the pink bathroom at the rectory. I loved being your ‘ace in the hole’ as you called it because I would speak at Mass when you couldn’t find someone else. Heaven has gained a true angel. We will miss you here!” – Amy Hornback of St. Alphonsus parish.
“He made such a difference in the lives of the parishioners of St. Mary in Natchez, especially the youth there and at Cathedral School. To the CYO members in the 90s, he was just one of them!” – Betsy Pitchford of St. Mary Basilica, Natchez.
“You were the best boss. We always had fun. You can have all the Diet Coke, Double Stuffed Oreos and pizza you want. Your angel wing(s) will support you.” – Laura Tarbutton of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Jackson.
“I pray you know how much you were truly loved. I can’t imagine a world without your radiant smile and beautiful homilies … your words touched countless souls over the years, and I feel humbly blessed to have grown up beneath a blanket of Father Brian blessings. – Ashley Hemleben, who first met Father Brian at St. Therese Jackson and grew up with him as chaplain of St. Joseph School.

“Back in the day,” Father Brian Kaskie and Father Joe Tonos share a laugh. The cartoon piece on the left, drawn by Father Joe in the early 2000s, features Father Brian as a “Kris Kringle.” (Photo courtesy of Father Joe Tonos)

“I always appreciated his unique sense of humor. When we realized we were birthday twins – at a CYO convention no less – we figured out he was several hours older than me. His response was that he got here in time for three meals that day, while I was only here in time for two.” – Teresa Hayes of St. Therese Jackson.
And the list of memories could fill pages of a novel of the love and humor Father Brian brought to those around the diocese.
In the early 2000s, Father Joe Tonos, who was in seminary with Father Brian in the late 80s/early 90s, wrote a column for Mississippi Catholic and would occasionally have a cartoon in place of the column that would often feature Father Brian.
Some featured Father Brian as a “Kris Kringle,” another series was entitled “Father Brian’s Big Bucket O’ Catholic Trivia,” that went through topics like, “who is in hell?”, “why saints have symbols” and the trivia fact that priests do have interests outside of church.
In the 90s, Father Joe and Father Brian were frequently together at youth retreats and CYO events around the diocese. Father Joe reminisced about the time Father Brian was chaplain at St. Joseph School Madison and he was responsible for doing the senior retreat.

JACKSON – Bishop William Houck annoints Father Brian Kaskie’s hands with Sacred Chrism at his ordination on June 6, 1992 at St. Richard Jackson. (Photo courtesy of archives)

“He gathered the students around a bonfire and celebrated Mass outdoors with them. As part of his homily, he decided that he would take each person in the class and say something about that person. He was winging it. So, he would just look at a person and begin to eulogize this kid and talk about what they meant to him and highlight some stories or qualities. As the stories dragged on into over 20 minutes, … if I remember (correctly), a teacher gently asked him, during the homily, to ‘wrap it up.’ I honest to goodness do not remember how that ended. I don’t even know if I stayed awake for it,” said Father Joe.
“But thinking now, … what a divine gift! To have a chaplain of your school notice you and to be able to say something about you. I know of hundreds of people but can’t really give a ‘homily’ on each member of my congregation. … The shepherd knows his sheep.”
In his 29 years as a priest, Father Brian served parishes in Natchez, Madison and Jackson, where he was rector of the Cathedral. He also served as director of seminarians and vocations for the diocese, as well as chaplain to St. Joseph School in Madison. In 2009, Father Brian made his way to Pike County with assignment as pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in McComb, St. Teresa Chatawa and St. James Magnolia.
Daniel Kaskie, Father Brian’s brother, spoke of the love his brother had for St. Alphonsus at his Funeral Mass at the parish on Tuesday, April 6.
“Brian was one of those gifts that, I think, we all like to hold onto. I found out pretty quickly once he became a priest that he was in very capable hands in the communities he was in. Everyone loved and cared for him and when he found his home here in McComb, man, he loved McComb and McComb loved him right back, and it was a perfect fit I think for his last moments,” said Kaskie.
Father Aaron Williams, administrator of St. Joseph parish in Greenville, gave the homily and spoke of his years and experiences with Father Brian between third and eighth grade and then again entering seminary. He wanted to be a priest from a very young age and Father Brian encourage him through his journey to the priesthood.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”
Father Williams began his homily with an excerpt from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as he can’t help but think of Father Brian when he thinks about the Harry Potter series.
“For one thing,” he told family gathered for the funeral, “Brian borrowed and never returned more than one of my volumes,” joked Father Williams.
“My parents used to talk about how well read he was, and you could hear it in his homilies. He had this masterful ability to find the good in all sorts of things in the culture – in books, movies and music and to use that to explain the love of God.”
Daniel Kaskie mentioned something similar at the close of Mass, saying “I’m sure he’s thinking ‘Quote the Beatles! Quote the Beatles, Daniel’”
“But there is no song, no lyric, there’s no book that is going to sum up Brian. But I think the shared experience y’all have is one bond that I think binds us all together,” said Kaskie.
That experience surely must be love.

SVDs, Jim Crow and growing a better future for African Americans

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Not many people are aware that the first seminary for African American candidates to the priesthood began in Greenville, Mississippi at Sacred Heart Parish in 1920. A small group of devoted young men were formed in the attic of the original school building there.
In 1923, the seminary moved to Bay St. Louis to the newly established St. Augustine Seminary built by the Society of the Divine Word priests (SVD’s) after years of dialogue with Bishop Thomas Heslin and after his death in 1911, Bishop John Gunn.

JACKSON – 1936 ordination of Father Clarence Howard and Father Orion Wells, SVDs by Bishop R. O. Gerow. (Photos from the archives)

Bishops Heslin and Gunn had a strong desire and mission to evangelize and grow the faith in the African American communities of Mississippi. A large percentage of African Americans in those years were former slaves and children of slaves. A good number had been catechized in the Catholic faith and baptized by the earlier Bishops of the diocese.
Bishop Heslin and his successor Bishop Gunn saw a real need for this growing Catholic community to have priests from their own ranks. At the turn of the 20th century, Bishop Heslin invited the SVD’s to serve in the diocese and establish missions to specifically serve African Americans.
The SVD’s, founded in 1875 by Rev. Arnold Janssens in the Netherlands, first arrived in the U.S. in 1897 near Chicago. A few years later in 1905, they found themselves in Mississippi establishing these missions and growing the faith – the earliest of these being Vicksburg St. Mary, Jackson Holy Ghost, and Yazoo City St. Francis. They also would be in Meridian, Indianola, Mound Bayou and Clarksdale along with many smaller missions that have been absorbed by larger parishes throughout the years.
Getting back to the first seminary, the point of dialogue made more than 100 years ago was, the seminary training for these young men of color should be done by a religious order and not at a seminary forming diocesan clergy.

One may think this is an obvious choice because the SVD’s had a charism to serve the African American community, but actually, that was an afterthought according to correspondence in the archives. Both Bishop Heslin and Bishop Gunn believed the current diocesan clergy being ingrained in the culture and climate of the diocese would not be accepting or welcoming of African American priests among their ranks.
Rectory-living would have been considered illegal if black and white priests were assigned together. The Jim Crow laws and culture of intimidation are far too complex to address in an archives column. I will share the following from David H. Jackson’s section in the Mississippi Encyclopedia:
“After 1877 African Americans lost their political rights in Mississippi through intimidation, fraud, and outright murder, and racial segregation became largely a matter of custom. According to historian Neil McMillen, ‘Mississippi seems to have had fewer Jim Crow laws during the entire segregation period than most southern states.’ Wherever they turned, black Mississippians faced segregation. More often than not, Jim Crow customs required both separation and exclusion. The state legislature passed laws segregating trains in 1888 and streetcars in 1904. At weddings and funerals, in courtrooms, public facilities, and other places used for social gathering, habit kept the races apart. The code of racial etiquette prohibited any form of interracial activity that might have even remotely implied equality. Nonetheless, blacks were more concerned with having equal access to facilities than they were with integration per se.”
“In 1890 the Mississippi legislature called a constitutional convention expressly to disfranchise blacks. The Second Mississippi Plan emerged from this meeting, imposing literacy requirements, poll taxes, and laws denying the vote to anyone convicted of bribery, arson, murder, theft, or burglary — crimes for which African Americans were much more likely to be convicted than whites. Following Mississippi’s lead, other southern states began to enact laws to deny blacks the franchise. The US Supreme Court’s decision in Williams v. Mississippi (1898) added to African Americans’ political impotence by denying them federal civil rights law protection.”
As we have explored in previous columns, blacks and whites were together sacramentally in the early days of the diocese. This continued even after the Civil War, but when the protections of reconstruction were gone, segregation took hold fiercely.

In navigating these evil circumstances, Bishops Heslin and Gunn found a way to persevere in serving the African American community by arranging for the SVD’s to establish a seminary for black men to study for the priesthood and serve in their own communities. Following the path of their times to establish a parallel society, these two bishops opened the door to the empowerment of the African American Catholic community in our diocese and in the United States.
Seeing the need for black Catholics to see the face of Christ as a familiar one was a profound step in the journey of faith and justice in our state. Looking back on this effort, it seems to have been a calculated move in the hopes of growing a better future for the African American community and for the universal church. And it all started in the Mississippi Delta.

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

Stations of the Cross reenacts Christ’s journey

By Danny McArthur Daily Journal
TUPELO – St. James Catholic Church honored Christ’s journey birth to his death during a 1 p.m. Stations of the Cross service on Good Friday at their Life Center. Dozens of onlookers were in attendance for the bilingual service where church members portrayed 14 key moments in Jesus’ life.
Father Cesar Sanchez presided over the service. Mary Frances Strange and Victor Vazquez alternated reading the reflection in English and Spanish respectively, which tied how Christ’s story mirrors the current life for many migrants. Rodrigo Dominguez played the guitar and sang between each station.
The service lasted over an hour and encouraged attendees to commit themselves to show love to one another regardless of racial, cultural and national backgrounds and differences.

(Reprinted with permission of the Daily Journal – djournal.com)

The Water, the Spirit and the Blood

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
“God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what Font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.”
This opening Collect of the Second Sunday of Easter (or of Divine Mercy) is the profound prayer of the priest celebrant on behalf of all gathered that all may grasp and rightly understand the mystery of God’s plan of salvation as disciples baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the Water, the Blood, and the Spirit of which St. John eloquently speaks in his first letter. This is the hope of Easter that St. Augustine shared in one of his Easter Octave Sermons. “This is the octave day of your new birth. … When the Lord rose he put off the mortality of the flesh; His risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By His resurrection He consecrated Sunday as the Lord’s day.”

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

As Catholics we are a people of tradition reaching back nearly 2000 years into the font of Sacred Scripture. This is evident in the link between the Gospel on Divine Mercy Sunday and the Sacrament of Confirmation now underway throughout the Diocese of Jackson.
The crucified and resurrected Lord appeared to the 11 disciples huddled in fear in the upper room with his gift of peace and the breath of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is conferred with the Invocation of the Holy Spirit sealed in Sacred Chrism, and the Lord’s own greeting, “peace be with you.” The Holy Spirit is ceaselessly at work in whom we have been reborn as new creations to serve God’s divine plan of mercy. It is gift and mystery that reconcile and raise up those under the yoke of sin and shame.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” so Jesus instructs his adopted brothers. They rightly could have asked, “where are you sending us, Lord?” Their marching orders were clear, yet shrouded in mystery. Go, preach a Baptism of Repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and make disciples of all the nations while you’re at it. The Baptism of Repentance for the forgiveness of sin is the Font in which we have been washed, our covenant with God renewed on Easter Sunday.
The joy with which St. Augustine addressed the newly baptized at Easter is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord’s gift of peace. “I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry, and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown.”
The Water, the Spirit and the Blood are the cord of three strands that cannot be easily undone. The Blood, the third element, was splattered everywhere during the Lord’s passion and along with water flowed from the side of the expired Savior on the Cross. In that moment of divine mercy, we see the flowing waters of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord. For the first time during the Easter season, the Eucharistic Banquet is now open to the newly baptized who can partake fully of the mysteries of God’s love, the fruit of full initiation.
In another lifetime before the pandemic, we were reading about surveys revealing that many Catholics no longer believe in the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord under the appearance of bread and wine. This central dogma of our faith has been a stumbling block for many since our Lord’s Bread of Life Discourse in John’s Gospel. (Chapter 6)
The following is taken from the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem to those about to be baptized in the 4th century. “Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, this is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood? Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. … Do not then regard the Eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine. They are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself declared. Whatever your senses may tell you; be strong in faith.”
As a people of tradition, by God’s grace, may we grasp and rightly understand the length and breath, height and depth of our Easter faith.

El Agua, el Espíritu y la Sangre

Por Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
“Dios de eterna misericordia, que en el mismo momento de la fiesta pascual enciendes la fe del pueblo que has hecho tuyo, aumenta, te rogamos, la gracia que has concedido, para que todos capten y comprendan correctamente en qué Fuente han sido lavados, por cual Espíritu han renacido, por cuya Sangre han sido redimidos.”
Esta colecta de apertura del segundo domingo de Pascua (o de la Divina Misericordia) es la oración profunda del sacerdote celebrante en nombre de todos los reunidos para que todos puedan captar y comprendan correctamente el misterio del plan de salvación de Dios como discípulos bautizados en la muerte y la resurrección de Jesucristo.

Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz

Éste es el Agua, la Sangre y el Espíritu de los que habla San Juan, elocuentemente en su primera carta. Esta es la esperanza de la Pascua que compartió San Agustín en uno de sus Sermones de la Octava de Pascua. “Este es el día de la octava de tu nuevo nacimiento. … Cuando el Señor resucitó, se despojó de la mortalidad de la carne; su cuerpo resucitado seguía siendo el mismo cuerpo, pero ya no estaba sujeto a la muerte. Por su resurrección, El consagró el domingo como el día del Señor.”
Como católicos somos un pueblo de una tradición que se remonta a casi 2000 años en la fuente de la Sagrada Escritura. Esto es evidente en el vínculo entre el Evangelio del Domingo de la Divina Misericordia y el Sacramento de la Confirmación ahora en curso en toda la Diócesis de Jackson.
El Señor crucificado y resucitado se apareció en el aposento alto, con su don de paz y el soplo del Espíritu Santo, a los 11 discípulos, acurrucados por miedo. La Confirmación se confiere con la Invocación del Espíritu Santo sellada en el Sagrado Crisma, y el propio saludo del Señor, “la paz sea contigo”. El Espíritu Santo está trabajando incesantemente en quien hemos renacido como nuevas creaciones para servir al plan divino de misericordia de Dios. Es un don y un misterio que reconcilia y levanta a los que están bajo el yugo del pecado y la vergüenza.
“Como el Padre me envió a mí, así también yo os envío”, así instruye Jesús a sus hermanos adoptivos. Ellos, con razón, podrían haber preguntado ¿a dónde nos envías, Señor? Sus órdenes de marcha eran claras, pero envueltas en misterio. Vaya, predique un Bautismo de arrepentimiento para el perdón de los pecados y haga discípulos de todas las naciones. El Bautismo de Arrepentimiento para el perdón de los pecados es la Fuente en la que hemos sido lavados, nuestra alianza con Dios renovada el Domingo de Resurrección.
La alegría con la que san Agustín se dirigió a los recién bautizados en Pascua es fruto del Espíritu Santo y un don de la paz del Señor. “Les hablo a ustedes que acaban de renacer en el bautismo, mis hijitos en Cristo, ustedes que son la nueva descendencia de la Iglesia, don del Padre, prueba de la fecundidad de la Madre Iglesia. Todos ustedes que están firmes en el Señor son una semilla santa, una nueva colonia de abejas, la flor misma de nuestro ministerio y el fruto de nuestro trabajo, mi gozo y mi corona.”
El Agua, el Espíritu y la Sangre son el cordón de tres hilos que no se pueden deshacer fácilmente. La sangre, el tercer elemento, se esparció por todas partes durante la pasión del Señor y junto con el agua fluyó del costado del salvador muerto en la cruz. En ese momento de la divina misericordia, vemos las aguas fluidas del Bautismo y el Sacramento del Cuerpo y la Sangre del Señor. Por primera vez durante el tiempo pascual, el banquete eucarístico está ahora abierto a los recién bautizados que pueden participar plenamente de los misterios del amor de Dios, fruto de la plena iniciación.
En la vida antes de la pandemia, leíamos sobre encuestas que revelaban que muchos católicos ya no creen en la presencia real del Cuerpo y la Sangre del Señor bajo la apariencia del pan y el vino. Este dogma central de nuestra fe ha sido un obstáculo para muchos desde el Discurso del Pan de Vida de nuestro Señor en el Evangelio de Juan. (Capítulo 6)
Lo siguiente está tomado de las Conferencias Catequéticas de San Cirilo de Jerusalén a los que están a punto de ser bautizados en el siglo IV. “Ya que Cristo mismo ha declarado que el pan es su cuerpo, ¿quién puede tener más dudas? Como él mismo ha dicho de manera bastante categórica, esta es mi sangre, ¿quién se atrevería a cuestionarlo y decir que no es su sangre? Por lo tanto, recibimos con total seguridad el pan y el vino como el cuerpo y la sangre de Cristo. … No consideres entonces los elementos eucarísticos como pan y vino ordinarios. De hecho, son el cuerpo y la sangre del Señor, como él mismo declaró. Lo que sea que te digan tus sentidos; sé fuerte en la fe“.
Como pueblo de tradición, y por la gracia de Dios, debemos asirnos y comprendamos correctamente la duración, el aliento, la altura y la profundidad de nuestra fe Pascual.

Saints accompany, intercede for Christians in prayer

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians are never alone in prayer but instead are accompanied by myriad saints who protect them and seek God’s intercession, Pope Francis said.
Whenever men or women open their hearts to God, they will always be in the “company of anonymous and recognized saints who pray with us and who intercede for us as older brothers and sisters who have preceded us on this same human adventure,” the pope said April 7 during his weekly general audience.
Continuing his series of talks on prayer, the pope reflected on the connection between prayer and the communion of saints who are “not far from us” and are a reminder of Jesus Christ because they have also “walked the path of life” as Christians.
“In the church, there is no mourning that remains solitary, no tear that is shed in oblivion, because everything breathes and participates in a common grace,” he said.

Pope Francis leads his general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican April 7, 2021. The pope said Christians are never alone in prayer but instead are accompanied by countless saints who have preceded them. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The tradition of having graveyards around churches is a sign of that sharing, he said. It is “as if to say that every Eucharist is attended in some way by those who have preceded us. There are our parents and grandparents, our godfathers and godmothers, our catechists and other educators,” who have not only transmitted faith but also “the way of praying.”
The saints, he explained, are “witnesses that we do not adore – that is understood, we do not worship these saints – but whom we venerate and who in thousands of different ways bring us to Jesus Christ, the only Lord and mediator between God and human beings.”
Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope said the lives of saints also serve as a reminder that “even in our lives, though weak and marked by sin, holiness can blossom.”
“In the Gospels, we read that the first ‘canonized’ saint was a thief and he was ‘canonized’ not by a pope, but by Jesus himself,” he said. “Holiness is a path of life, of encounter with Jesus, whether long or short, or in an instant, but always a witness” of God’s love.
The pope also highlighted the need for Christians to pray for one another, which is “the first way of loving” others.
In times of tension, he said, “one way to dissolve the conflict, to soften it, is to pray for the person with whom I am in conflict. Something changes with prayer; the first thing that changes is my heart, my attitude. The Lord changes it to make an encounter possible, a new encounter, and prevents the conflict from becoming a war without end.”
Pope Francis said the first thing people must do in times of anguish is to ask “our brothers and sisters, the saints above all, to pray for us” because they will “give us hand to obtain from God the graces we need most.”
Christians who “have not reached the breaking point” and persevere in times of trial perhaps owe it to the intercession of the saints who are not only in heaven, but also the holy men and women here on earth, the pope added.
“They don’t know it, neither do we, but there are saints, everyday saints, hidden saints or as I like to say the ‘saints next door,’ those who live in life with us, who work with us, and lead a life of holiness,” he said.

The power of beauty

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
The world will be saved by beauty! Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that, Dorothy Day quoted it, and centuries before Jesus, Confucius made it central to his pedagogy. They were on to something. Beauty is a special language that cuts through and sidelines all the things that divide us – history, race, language, creed, ideology, politics, economic disparity, gender, sexual identity, and personal wounds. Beauty melts down all differences. Its speech, like that of a newborn, has no explicit words, but is a language so perfect that it can only be soiled by violating oneself. Two things in this world cannot be argued with, beauty and a baby. They also cannot defend themselves, and have only their own vulnerability as protection.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In classical Western philosophy, beauty is seen as one of the transcendental properties of being, and therefore as one of the properties of God. God is understood as having four transcendental qualities, namely, as being One, True, Good and Beautiful. Hence, beauty possesses a divine, sacred quality. Artists and everyone sensitive to aesthetics have always recognized this, not necessarily in that they affirm explicitly that beauty is a property of God, but that they recognize a godly quality in beauty; they sense a “blaspheme” whenever it is defaced, and feel the energy to create as divine.
Beauty, as we know, takes many forms. Who of us has not at times felt the stunning power of physical beauty? Who has not been momentarily transfixed by the beauty of a sunset, an ocean, a mountain range, the stars, a full moon, a desert landscape, a particular tree, a thunderstorm, fresh snow, a gentle rain, an animal in the wild, a work of art or architecture, or a human body? Physical beauty is self-justifying. It cannot be argued with and may never be denigrated by an appeal to something higher and more spiritual. It is unequivocally real and thus needs to be recognized, affirmed, and blessed.
For most of us, when we hear the word beauty, physical beauty is what comes to mind. Now, while that beauty is real, powerful, and can transform the heart, there are other kinds of beauty equally as powerful and transforming. I am not sure what language works in terms of what I am about to describe, so forgive me if my expression here is amateur and awkward, but we can speak, and need to, of beauty in the emotional and moral realm. There is something we might call emotional beauty or moral beauty.
Emotional beauty is not the beauty of a sunset or a great painting, but is the beauty of a particular expression of love, of empathy, or of compassion that, like a beautiful sunset, we are occasionally graced to witness. For example, we can be transfixed when seeing the miraculous rescue of a child, when seeing a helpless animal saved by rescuers, when seeing an elderly couple affectionately holding hands, or when hearing of a generous response by the public to a plea for help by a poor family. As with physical beauty, there is a divine quality here and, as with physical beauty, there is something here that only the most boorish of persons would dare smudge. However, whenever our emotions are involved there is always the danger of an unhealthy sentimentality also being present; but, that danger notwithstanding, our emotions, like our eyes, are also an opening to beauty.
Finally, not least, there is moral beauty, beauty of soul. The salient example here is martyrdom and every other kind of love that sacrifices its own wishes, desires, and life for something higher. While this does not always make for a beautiful body, it does make for a beautiful soul. In affirming this, I am not thinking, first, of its most salient examples, the religious martyrs who gave up their lives rather than deny their faith, or even of persons like Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Maximillian Kolbe, Oscar Romero, and the many today who give up their lives for others. These are powerful examples of moral beauty, but many of us see this first-hand in our own families and circle of friends. For example, I look at my own mother and dad who for most of their lives sacrificed to provide for a large family and, especially, to provide that family with what is more important than food and clothing, namely, faith and moral guidance. There was a moral beauty in their sacrifice, though sometimes during those years, by Hollywood standards, my mom and dad looked more haggard than beautiful. Moral beauty, though, is measured by a different standard. That being said, there is also the need to be cautious here: while emotional beauty carries the risk of sentimentality, moral beauty carries the risk of fanaticism. Fanatics, serial killers, and snipers are also highly focused morally. Morality, like anything else, can be misguided.
The world will be saved by beauty! True, though I would employ the present tense, the world is being saved by beauty.

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

Call by Name

            The longer I walk with discerners the more I realize that I need to stop rushing. It took two-and-a-half years from the time I heard the Lord’s call to the priesthood until I ultimately enrolled in seminary. Sometimes I am tempted to forget that fact as I witness the journey of the men who are treading that same path today. It is easy to try to rush. It is easy to try to push, prod, and pull men through the door to the seminary. Discernment in a seminary or religious house really is wonderful, and I want as many good young Catholics as possible to experience it, but God’s time is not my time and I cannot rush it!

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

            I know that there are many young men who are being called to the priesthood in our midst, and it is my job to help guide them along the path, but I also believe that they often know the trajectory of their journey much better than I do. A young man has to have the desire and the maturity to enter into formation fruitfully, but he also has to pick the right time. In my case, I had a contract that I needed to honor with my employer. I could have cut and run I suppose, but that course of action would not have brought the same peace as leaving the right way did. It also would not have set a great example to my employer! I began to really seriously consider entering the seminary about a year after I heard God’s call, but it took another year and a half for me to be able to leave the right way. And it was worth the wait, every minute of it.

            I see this process being born out with the men and women that I work with here in the diocese. I wish I could bring about that perfect timing myself, but this is not my task. My task is to trust that the Lord is working, and to empower our discerners to trust their prayer and the path that the Lord has put them on. I thank you for your continued prayers. I assure you that they are working in the lives of men and women who know that the Lord has called them to something great.

            I also want to take this space to let you know how hard our current seminarians are working. The six men that are studying for the priesthood right now are truly seeking after God’s will, and I am very grateful that this is the first “crop” of seminarians that I have had the opportunity to lead as Vocation Director. I know that many of you got to see our seminarians in action as they served at the altar and in parishes during their Easter break, and many of you told me how wonderful it was to have those men sharing their gifts back at home. I agree with you!

Prediscernment Prayer Nights:

Each event is from 6-7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, Aprill 27 at Catholic Community of Meridian; 6-7 p.m. at St. Patrick

Novenas: powerful periods of prayer

THINGS OLD AND NEW
By Ruth Powers
With the increasing popularity of the Divine Mercy Novena, which began on Good Friday and ended on the Sunday after Easter, many Catholics are rediscovering an ancient form of Catholic prayer which has fallen out of regular use in recent years — the novena. “Novena” comes from the Latin word novem (nine) and refers to a nine-day period of public or private prayer to obtain special graces, to ask for special favors, or to make special petitions.

Ruth Powers

There is no mention of nine-day celebrations among the Jewish people in the Old Testament, so it is likely that the origin of the novena is not in Jewish practice. However, Roman culture had a tradition of celebrating nine days of prayer for various reasons, such as to avert some evil predicted by soothsayers or in the aftermath of some “wonder.” There was also a nine-day period of mourning after the death of a loved one, with a special feast on the ninth day. These practices make it likely that the origin of the novena is in the adaptation of Roman culture to Christianity as the Christian religion began to spread outside of Palestine. The very first novena of the followers of Christ, however, is described in the New Testament. Between the Ascension of Christ and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost nine days later, the Acts of the Apostles recounts that they spent the time in constant prayer.
In the ancient church, novenas continued to be associated with nine days of prayer after someone had died, just as in the pagan Roman community. For this reason, some of the Church Fathers, such as Augustine, warned against the practice. As Christianity spread, however, the practice expanded to include periods of prayer honoring a particular saint, in preparation for a feast day, or to ask for special favors from God. Church writers began to associate the nine days with specifically Christian themes, such as the nine months Jesus spent in the womb of Mary, Jesus giving up his spirit at the ninth hour, and the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost. Some writers also gave numbers various symbolic meanings. The number ten was seen as symbolic of the perfection of God, so the number nine was seen as symbolic of imperfect humans turning toward God. By the Middle Ages, novenas of all types had become popular, especially those associated with Mary. After the Protestant Reformation, novenas used by Catholics had to have papal approval, and Pope Pius IX (pope from 1846 to 1878) was known for approving large numbers of novenas and promoting their use.
Novenas generally have one or more of four basic purposes. There are mourning novenas to pray for the soul of a departed loved one either before or after burials, which was their original use. Preparation novenas are joyful and are prayed in preparation for a feast day. Petition novenas ask God for intervention or some other help, usually through the intercession of a saint. Finally, Indulgence novenas are acts of penance and are usually said in conjunction with the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Novenas can be a spiritually fruitful form of devotion when approached properly. First, we must remember that a novena is an act of devotion to God. One possible reason for the decline in popularity of novenas recently is that they came to have superstitious overtones. Some people approached them almost as a form of “magic,” believing that if they said a particular novena their prayer would always be granted, rather than seeing a novena as ultimately an act of devotion with its outcome dependent on God’s will. The traditional novena is said over a period of nine days although it can be said in a shorter format by saying the prayers once per hour over a period of nine hours. It is helpful to pray the novena at the same time each day or each hour to develop the discipline of prayer. Novenas can be prayed privately or with a group. Some parishes have even experimented with praying a novena in a social media live stream that people can join virtually!
If you decide to explore this devotional practice further, there is available a multitude of novenas to many different saints, for many different needs and for many different feasts. Try one!

(Ruth Powers is the Program Coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez.)

Consider mercy

From the hermitage
By sister alies therese
I was particularly reminded of mercy when Pope Francis was in Iraq. He has been heavily quoted, but this touched my heart, so I offer it again:
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our Father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful, and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane God’s Name by hating our brothers and sister … Peace begins with the decision not to have enemies!” (Pope Francis, Ur, 6Mar21)

Sister alies therese

In fact, I suspect that everything we have had, have now, are, or want to be is tied up in this web of God’s mercy. If like the Pharisee we try to wriggle out of the web and think only of ourselves, rather than like the tax-collector who knows his blessing is in God alone … well, how will we reach the mercy seat?
A few years ago, I wrote this little meditation:
“Where do you want to meet, greet, and spend all of eternity? ‘Come ye Disconsolate,’ where? At the mercy seat, the very throne of God. How shall we arrive there? We shall be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, in the arms of friends who love us, or by catching onto the coattails of that ‘holy’ friend who, as s/he ascends toward heaven, carries us along, to Jesus. The question God will ask each of us as we stand before this mercy seat is, where are all the others? Who did you bring with you? Who did you enable to receive mercy that they might never again live an ungrateful or useless life? Why are you here by yourself, and where are your wounds … what did you do with what came your way? You know the scars that still hurt a bit? The terrible wounds of childhood or the loss of a child. Maybe the scars are from addictions or physical abuse? Regrets or what you did to others? Sin. The mercy seat is for those who were changed by God’s mercy to the extent that nothing means more to them than being a wounded servant like Jesus. If you wish to sit at the mercy seat with Jesus and His friends, experience the fulfillment of joy and love for eternity, become a mercy-maker and bring lots of others along with you.” (The Mercy Seat, pg. 43, Contemplative Drawing and the Gifts of Mercy, 2016)
This year has been tough. Lots of negatives and lots of opportunities maybe for the first time to learn real service, real mercy? Who did we see who really needed us? And what did we do?
St. Sister Faustina tells this: “Jesus came to the main entrance (of the convent) today, under the guise of a poor young man who was emaciated, barefoot and bareheaded, with his clothes in tatters. He was frozen as the day was cold and rainy. I went to the kitchen, searched about, found nothing but some soup I reheated and crumbled in some bread. He ate it and told me He was the Lord of heaven and earth. When I saw Him as He was, He vanished from my sight … in my meditation I heard these words in my soul: ‘My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless Me as they leave your gate have reached my ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased Me. … I have tasted the fruits of your mercy.’” (St. Faustina’s Diary, #1312, 2005).
Until we literally bump into the mercy of God everything done to us or that we have done to others remains festering deep within. When we are brave enough to accept God’s mercy and grace to give it over, we change our focus, and our life is shiny and new. Then we can become true friends, real lovers, people of the Way. Then we can recognize Jesus in the poor, Jesus in the rich, Jesus in everyone! Wound together in the soft web of God’s mercy we will be gently held, by hands wounded for us, and full of joy.
‘Hold a true friend with both your hands.’ (Nigerian Proverb)
St. Augustine tells us what sitting at the mercy seat is going to be like. I want to be there, with you and all the people God has in mind, and that is everyone who wants to come! Nothing completes our life, not another person, thing, or duty. Nothing is enough until filled with mercy.
“When I am completely united to You, there will be no more sorrows or trials; entirely full of You, my life will be complete.” (Augustine, Confessions)
BLESSINGS.

(sister alies is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)