Beloved priest celebrates milestone, bids farewell for now

By Monica Walton
CANTON – The final chapter as a full-time pastor came to a close where the first chapter began.

On June 20, 2022, on the occasion of his 50th Ordination Anniversary and retirement, Father Mike O’Brien came full circle, celebrating one of his last Masses as pastor in the very same parish where he had his first experience as pastor of any church. He was only 35 years old when he first moved to Sacred Heart in Canton in 1983. How fitting that this be the location of his final assignment in the Magnolia State.

Father Mike O’Brien pictured in Feb. 1976.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Father Mike reflected during his homily. “I love being a priest, and I’m very blessed to have these two worlds: Mississippi, I love ya’ll (he drawled)… and Ireland, I love my Ireland.” As he recaptured highlights of the many memories he lived during his childhood and priesthood, he noted that this was the longest sermon he’d given in all his 50 years. But he made certain to proclaim this truth, “I always knew God was with me, especially in the hard times of our Starkville church burning, Hurricane Katrina and the ICE raids.”

The beautiful, little church on Center Street was filled to the brim with the faithful from the many parishes and cities where Father Mike has served. Several who came to honor him had to watch the Mass on monitors in the Parish Center due to lack of seating, but they didn’t mind. They were simply happy to be there to bid farewell to this priest who had touched their lives in such a special way.

The evening was a beautiful blending of cultures — just as the church is meant to be — with the readings, songs, and food representing English, Spanish and, of course, Irish flair. Fifteen members of Father Mike’s family made the trip from Ireland to Mississippi for this incredibly special occasion. Four generations were represented with the youngest of the clan being present, his great niece, Aoivhinn, only 2 1/2 years old. “We just couldn’t miss it,” said Paul Hickey, nephew of Father Mike. “Michael always came for us. He came back to Ireland for holiday, and for our special celebrations.”

Local parishioners as well as members of Father Mike’s family took part in the Mass. The First Reading was proclaimed by the eldest in the family, Sister Margaret O’Brien, a Sister of Mercy and biological sister to Mike. Nieces Roisin O’Brien and Ciara Todd each read a prayer petition.

Father Mike’s younger brother, Tom, who bears strikingly close resemblance, spoke on behalf of the family at his big brother’s ordination reception although he was only a teenager when Father Mike was ordained. Tom once again delivered a reflection for the family at the end of Father Mike’s 50th Anniversary Mass. “When Bishop Brunini visited our home, we were proud, but a bit apprehensive,” Tom said. “Afterall, our brother was going to a place he couldn’t even spell! But our fears and reservations disappeared quickly. Mom and Dad visited Mike in Mississippi first, then all us siblings made trips. We brought our kids, and our kids brought their kids.” Tom closed with these final thoughts on his older brother, “First and foremost, he is a decent man. We are very, very proud of him.” When speaking of how thrilled the family is that he is going home to begin his retirement, Tom added, “But, we take note that he hasn’t sold his car!”

CANTON – Father Mike O’Brien is pictured at a Mass of Thanksgiving for his 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Monday, June 20.

More than 40 priests from throughout the state of Mississippi were in attendance, along with Bishop Joseph Kopacz. They led a moving, prayerful, a capella singing of “Salve Regina” just before the whole place joined in the recessional hymn, “This Little Light of Mine,” in honor of the light of Christ evident in Father Mike.

It was a night filled with immense joy, a living testimony to the effect Father Mike has had on this community. “I was so humbled and inspired by the awesome celebration,” Father Mike said. “I enjoyed it and appreciated everything so much.”

But how did this Irishman, born in Roscommon and ordained in Kilbegnet, wind up in Jackson, Mississippi? “It was the Holy Spirit,” he says. “I knew I wanted an adventure. I wanted to go away somewhere to be a priest, someplace like China or Sudan. My cousin was going to be a priest in Mississippi. I knew it was a river, but he said, ‘It’s also a state!’ So, I asked him, ‘Do they speak English there?’ He answered, ‘Well, sort of. …’” The church filled with laughter, as happened many times while Father Mike recounted stories of growing up with seven siblings, his deep love of family clearly shown.

His sister, Assumpta, said their Mom was worried about Mike going so far away because he was so young and didn’t even know not to wear white socks. “It was difficult in the beginning, but then as we heard about the wonderful local people, Mom knew he had a family here.” Assumpta recalled a few memories of her first visit to Mississippi. “We were thrilled with so many new things. I remember Mike had a waffle maker, and we had never seen one before!”

Sacred Heart parish was filled to the brim with the faithful from the many parishes and cities where Father Mike O’Brien served over his 50 years as a priest. (Photos by Berta Mexidor)

Father Mike credited Father Sam Messina with naming the reality that priests have three families – their birth family, their parish family and their family of brother priests. That is why the decision to return to Ireland upon retirement was not an easy one to make. Father Mike left his family and home at the young age of 24 to serve and has lived in Mississippi for 50 years. Father Mike said he has had mixed emotions about leaving, going back and forth over where to spend his retirement years. He had finally decided to stay in Mississippi when his sister, Marie, called with a creative proposition. “Marie said, ‘Why not come (back to Ireland) for just one year?’ and I thought that was a good idea.” said Father Mike.

Assumpta said their parents would be so thrilled that he is returning home to Ireland. “He will be a center for us all,” she said. That seems to be the effect he has on everyone in his midst. “Father Mike has been a great priests’ priest, as well as a great servant to the people,” said his close friend, Father Gerry Hurley, who also hails from Ireland. “Fellow priests could always look to Mike for encouragement, direction and assistance. He is a classic representation of all the good things of Ireland, and the hopes of the seminary that sent him.”

Ten days after the joyous 50th Anniversary celebration in the packed house of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Father Mike O’Brien celebrated his final Mass there as pastor. He bid a bittersweet “slán agat” (goodbye) to his Beloved Mississippi, but with the assurance that he will be back! “I am open,” he said. “I’m not saying that I’m going to Ireland forever.”

This faithful, humble priest with a most gentle heart and endearing smile will be greatly missed. Go with our sincere prayers, love, and blessings, Father Mike!

Court overturns Roe – ongoing efforts to ‘uphold sanctity of life’ continue

By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – On the evening of July 6, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization closed its doors for the final time, making it the first time in 49 years that the state of Mississippi has no operating abortion clinic. This coming after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its nearly five decades old decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

The Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization handed down on Friday, June 24 held that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, with the authority to regulate abortion returned to the states.

JACKSON – Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the last abortion facility in the state – closed permanently on July 7 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. (Photo by Joanna Puddister King)

The Dobbs case centered around Mississippi legislation that was passed in 2018 called the Gestational Age Act, that sought to prohibit abortions after 15 weeks gestation. The Jackson abortion clinic and one of its doctors sued Mississippi officials in federal court, saying that the law was unconstitutional.

The federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, both ruled in favor of the clinic, blocking enactment of the law.

In May 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would take up Dobbs, marking the first time since Roe that it would take up a pre-viability ban.
More than 140 amici curiae briefs were filed with the Supreme Court on the Dobbs case, the very first being from the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi, stating that “the church has a vested interest in this matter – the dignity and sanctity of all human life.”

While originally asking the Court to hear arguments on a viability question – whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional – Mississippi changed course and argued before the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021 that Roe should be completely overturned and the authority to regulate abortions be returned to the states.

With Associate Justice Samuel Alito writing for a 5-4 majority he states that “we hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. … The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”

Alito’s opinion closely mirrored a leaked initial draft majority opinion, shared on May 2 by Politico.

Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Chief Justice John Roberts concurred with the majority but in a separate opinion wrote that he would have taken “a more measured course” by “rejecting the misguided viability line” by Roe and Casey, but not overturning Roe completely.

The Supreme Court has six Catholics on the bench – Justices Alito, Kavanaugh, Thomas, Coney Barrett, Roberts and Sonja Sotomayor, with the latter joining Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan in dissent of the majority.

“One result of today’s decision is certain,” wrote the dissenting justices,” the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”

Of major concern of the dissenting justices was the discarding of the viability balance afforded by Roe and Casey.

“Today, the Court discards that balance. It says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of,” the justices wrote, mentioning that some state’s already passed “trigger” laws contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi’s trigger law passed in 2007, only allowing abortion if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. Twelve other states also have trigger laws.
On Monday, June 27, after Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch certified that Roe had been overturned, the clock began to tick on the trigger law which was set to take effect 10 days post determination on July 7.

After the Dobbs decision was released, many statements were released in celebration and some in outrage.

JACKSON – Officers were present to keep the peace and direct traffic in and out of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Saturday, July 2, days before the clinic closed. (Photo by Joanna King)

Bishops Joseph R. Kopacz and Louis F. Kihnemann released a joint statement commending the decision and recognizing much needs to be done to assist mothers and families.

“The church will continue to accompany women and couples who are facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies and during the early years of parenthood, through initiatives such as Walking with Moms in Need,” stated the bishops in their June 24 statement.

“Our respective dioceses will continue to collaborate with organizations such as Her Plan, Pro-Life Mississippi and many others to bring vital services to support mothers and the unborn.”

Catholic leader, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann stated that Mississippi is a leader on protecting the unborn with a law in place that prohibits abortion.

“I am pro-life,” stated Hosemann. “I am also pro-child. In addition to protecting the unborn, we must also focus on other ways to support women, children and families.”

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who led efforts to overturn Roe, also released a statement after the decision stating, “Now, our work to empower women and promote life truly begins. The Court has let loose its hold on abortion policy making and given it back to the people.”

The USCCB also released a statement by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“Today’s decision is also the fruit of prayers, sacrifices, and advocacy of countless ordinary Americans from every walk of life. Over these long years, millions of our fellow citizens have worked together peacefully to educate and persuade their neighbors about the injustice of abortion, to offer care and counseling to women, and to work for alternatives to abortion.”

The environment outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization – also known as the “Pink House” due to the bright pink hue it was painted in January 2013 – was anything but peaceful in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. Until the clinic closed for good on the evening of July 6, pro-life and pro-choice voices clashed amid national and local news reporters from near and far.

As an effort to keep providing services, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization requested a temporary restraining order to block the trigger law from taking effect but it was denied by chancery judge, Debbra K. Halford on Tuesday, July 5, reasoning that the state Supreme Court would reverse the 1998 Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Fordice ruling that relied on the Mississippi Constitution for a right to privacy.

Abortion demonstrators are seen near the Supreme Court in Washington June 24, 2022, as the court overruled the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision in its ruling in the Dobbs case on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The abortion clinic filed a petition to the Mississippi Supreme Court allow it to reopen, citing Fordice where the court stated it did not “interpret our Constitution as recognizing an explicit right to an abortion, we believe that autonomous bodily integrity is protected under the right to privacy as stated in In re Brown.” On July 11, the court rejected the clinic’s plea to stop the abortion ban. The court will wait for arguments from Attorney General Fitch to be submitted before ruling on the petition.

Nationally, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday, July 8, aiming to protect access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe. The order attempts to protect access to medication abortion, access to contraception and to guarantee a patient’s right to emergency medical services.

Speaking from the White House on July 8, President Biden urged women to “head to the ballot box” to “reclaim the right taken from them by the court.” He stated that “the fastest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law, codifying Roe.”

In response, the USCCB released a statement from Archbishop Lori stating, “I implore the president to abandon this path that leads to death and destruction and to choose life. As always, the Catholic Church stands ready to work with this Administration and all elected officials to protect the right to life of every human being and to ensure that pregnant and parenting mothers are fully supported in the care of their children before and after birth.”

Bishops Kopacz and Kihnemann remain “grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision but are also mindful that the battle to uphold the sanctity of life is an ongoing effort.”

“Let us pray and continue to raise our voices both in our churches and in our communities in defense of human dignity and justice.”

Statement from Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz and Bishop Louis F. Kihneman on Supreme Court’s Ruling in Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Today, Lady Justice has turned her attention to the cry of the unborn child hidden in the refuge of his or her mother’s womb. Today, justice has not abandoned that unborn child and his or her capacity to feel pain, but there is still more work to be done.

Together with many throughout our country, we join in prayer that states are now able to protect women and children from the injustice of abortion. The Catholic Church has had a vested interest in this matter – the dignity and sanctity of all human life.

The church has a long history of service to those who are most vulnerable and remains the largest private provider of social services in the United States. Through its charity agencies, and the independent efforts of its members, the Catholic Church is supporting all women in addition to the child in the womb.

The church will continue to accompany women and couples who are facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies and during the early years of parenthood, through initiatives such as Walking with Moms in Need.
With our brother bishops, we renew our commitment to preserving the dignity and sanctity of all human life by:

• Ensuring our Catholic parishes are places of welcome for women facing challenging pregnancies or who find it difficult to care for their children after birth, so that any mother needing assistance will receive life-affirming support and be connected to appropriate programs and resources where she can get help.

• Helping fellow Catholics recognize the needs of pregnant and parenting moms in their communities, enabling parishioners to know these mothers, to listen to them and to help them obtain the necessities of life for their families.

• Being witnesses of love and life by expanding and improving the extensive network of comprehensive care including pregnancy help centers, and Catholic health care and social service agencies.

• Increasing our advocacy for laws that ensure the right to life for the unborn and that no mother or family lacks the basic resources needed to care for their children, regardless of race, age, immigration status or any other factor.

• Continuing to support and advocate for public policies and programs directed toward building up the common good and fostering integral human development, with a special concern for the needs of low-income families and immigrants.

In all of these ways and more, the Catholic Church witnesses to the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death, and continues to work to build a culture of life in our nation.

Our respective dioceses continue to collaborate with organizations such as Her Plan, Pro-Life Mississippi and many others to bring vital services to support mothers and the unborn.

The community can immediately accompany women and couples who are facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies through the Walking with Moms in Need initiative in the Diocese of Jackson. For more information on how to get involved or offer support to women in need, please contact the Office of Family Ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Jackson at charlene.bearden@jacksondiocese.org. In the Diocese of Biloxi, contact Deacon Jim Gunkel, director of the Office of Family Ministry and Family Life at jgunkel@biloxidiocese.org or Margaret Miller, coordinator of Walking with Moms at mrmiller@biloxidiocese.org.

Additionally, there are Catholic Charities Community Outreach Centers located in the Diocese of Biloxi in Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Waveland and Pascagoula. These centers provide confidential pregnancy testing; Medicaid pregnancy confirmations; life-affirming options counseling; case management (including budgeting and goal setting); basic needs assistance; car seats and safe sleeping spaces for infants; diapers formula, clothing, blankets, socks, etc.; and representative payee services. The Diocese of Biloxi is also sharing the pro-life message through its Pro-Life Billboard initiative.

The Diocese of Biloxi will also be resuming adoptions and foster parenting services in the near future, complementing existing programs in the Diocese of Jackson that have provided those services through Catholic Charities, Inc. for over a half century.

Again, we are grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision but are also mindful that the battle to uphold the sanctity of life is an ongoing effort. Let us pray and continue to raise our voices both in our churches and in our communities in defense of human dignity and justice.

Statement from Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz and Bishop Louis F. Kihneman on Supreme Court’s Ruling in Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Today, Lady Justice has turned her attention to the cry of the unborn child hidden in the refuge of his or her mother’s womb. Today, justice has not abandoned that unborn child and his or her capacity to feel pain, but there is still more work to be done.

Together with many throughout our country, we join in prayer that states are now able to protect women and children from the injustice of abortion. The Catholic Church has had a vested interest in this matter – the dignity and sanctity of all human life.

The church has a long history of service to those who are most vulnerable and remains the largest private provider of social services in the United States. Through its charity agencies, and the independent efforts of its members, the Catholic Church is supporting all women in addition to the child in the womb.
The church will continue to accompany women and couples who are facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies and during the early years of parenthood, through initiatives such as Walking with Moms in Need.

With our brother bishops, we renew our commitment to preserving the dignity and sanctity of all human life by:

• Ensuring our Catholic parishes are places of welcome for women facing challenging pregnancies or who find it difficult to care for their children after birth, so that any mother needing assistance will receive life-affirming support and be connected to appropriate programs and resources where she can get help.

• Helping fellow Catholics recognize the needs of pregnant and parenting moms in their communities, enabling parishioners to know these mothers, to listen to them and to help them obtain the necessities of life for their families.

• Being witnesses of love and life by expanding and improving the extensive network of comprehensive care including pregnancy help centers, and Catholic health care and social service agencies.

• Increasing our advocacy for laws that ensure the right to life for the unborn and that no mother or family lacks the basic resources needed to care for their children, regardless of race, age, immigration status or any other factor.

• Continuing to support and advocate for public policies and programs directed toward building up the common good and fostering integral human development, with a special concern for the needs of low-income families and immigrants.

In all of these ways and more, the Catholic Church witnesses to the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death, and continues to work to build a culture of life in our nation.
Our respective dioceses continue to collaborate with organizations such as Her Plan, Pro-Life Mississippi and many others to bring vital services to support mothers and the unborn.

The community can immediately accompany women and couples who are facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies through the Walking with Moms in Need initiative in the Diocese of Jackson. For more information on how to get involved or offer support to women in need, please contact the Office of Family Ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Jackson at charlene.bearden@jacksondiocese.org. In the Diocese of Biloxi, contact Deacon Jim Gunkel, director of the Office of Family Ministry and Family Life at jgunkel@biloxidiocese.org or Margaret Miller, coordinator of Walking with Moms at mrmiller@biloxidiocese.org.

Additionally, there are Catholic Charities Community Outreach Centers located in the Diocese of Biloxi in Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Waveland and Pascagoula. These centers provide confidential pregnancy testing; Medicaid pregnancy confirmations; life-affirming options counseling; case management (including budgeting and goal setting); basic needs assistance; car seats and safe sleeping spaces for infants; diapers formula, clothing, blankets, socks, etc.; and representative payee services. The Diocese of Biloxi is also sharing the pro-life message through its Pro-Life Billboard initiative.

The Diocese of Biloxi will also be resuming adoptions and foster parenting services in the near future, complementing existing programs in the Diocese of Jackson that have provided those services through Catholic Charities, Inc. for over a half century.

Again, we are grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision but are also mindful that the battle to uphold the sanctity of life is an ongoing effort. Let us pray and continue to raise our voices both in our churches and in our communities in defense of human dignity and justice.

Calendar of events

SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT
HOMEWOOD, Ala. Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference, July 29-30 in the Family Life Center at Our Lady of Sorrows Church at 1728 Oxmoor Road held by the Diocese of Birmingham. Conference theme is “Thy Will Be Done” and will feature Andi Oney, an international Catholic evangelist. Registration fee is $25 for individuals and $65 for a family of three or more. All are welcome! Details: Sally Smith at (205) 983-4150 or mustardsally14@gmail.com.
CHATAWA Our Lady of Hope Retreat Center, Quo Vadis? Young Men’s Discernment Retreat, July 26-29. Age range for retreat is 15-25. Come pray, eat, have fun and build fraternity. To register visit: https://bit.ly/QuoVadis2022 Details: email Father Nick at nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org.
CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, “Life in the Spirit” retreat, Saturday, Aug. 27 at 9 a.m. and ends with closing Mass at 4 p.m. Details: church office (662) 624-4301.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories, Men’s weekly devotional group. Will start on Wednesday, Aug. 3 from 6-6:30 a.m. with coffee and donuts and a brief time for reflecting on scripture, faith and how it applies to our lives. Details: call Darrin at (662) 588-2596.
MADISON St. Francis, Diocese Fall Faith Formation Day, Saturday, Aug. 20, 10 a.m to 3 p.m. for formation leaders and volunteers. Theme is “Behold, I make all things new.” Keynote presenter is Stephanie Clouatre Davis, with breakout session topics including Total Youth Ministry: the Lifeteen experience; Cultivating vocations; Tips and tricks on facilitating small groups; Fruits of the Synod and more! Registration deadline is Aug. 15. Cost is $10 per person. Details: register at https://bit.ly/FFDay2022 – email fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org with questions.
PEARL St. Jude, The Marian Servants of Jesus the Lamb of God invite all to join them for fellowship, healing prayer, charismatic praise and worship, teaching faith sharing and the Rosary on Tuesdays from 1-3 p.m. in the Mary room. Details: call (601) 278-0423 or email msofjlog@gmail.com.

PARISH, FAMILY AND SCHOOL EVENTS
BATESVILLE St. Mary, Parish Rummage Sale, Friday, Aug. 5 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 6 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Parish Center. Details: church office (662) 563-2273.
CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Save the Date: St. Elizabeth Feast Day on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 10:30 a.m. Mass. Details: church office (662) 624-4301.
DIOCESE Catholic schools in Clarksdale, Columbus, Greenville, Holly Springs, Jackson, Madison, Meridian, Natchez, Southaven and Vicksburg are now enrolling. Contact your local school for a tour today! Visit https://bit.ly/catholicschoolssummerhours for contact information.
FLOWOOD St. Paul Early Learning Center Golf Tournament, Friday, Sept. 16 at Bay Pointe Golf Club.Details: contact stpaullearningcenter@gmail.com.
GLUCKSTADT St. Joseph, Save the date: Germanfest 2022, Sunday, Sept. 25 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Volunteers needed for kraut packing on Wednesday, July 20 at 4 p.m. No experience needed. Will be working outside to dress accordingly. Details: church office (601) 856-2054.
GREENVILLE St. Joseph, Catholic Inquiry Series begins Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m. Do you want to learn about what Catholics believe? Are you searching for a church home? Were you baptized Catholic but rarely attend church? Want to learn about our 2000 year history? If you answered yes, this series is for you! Details: call (662) 335-5251 to register.
HERNANDO Holy Spirit, Save the Date: Annual Bazaar, Saturday Sept. 10. Lots of help and items needed: prizes for kids games, silent auction items, vendors for craft booths, homemade goods for the Country Kitchen. Details: contact Julie Stefanik at julieastefanik@gmail.com or call the church office at (662) 429-7851.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, Inaugural Choral Festival, July 29-31. Details: church office: (601) 445-5616.
JACKSON Catholic Charities School Supply Giveaway, Friday, Aug. 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. COVID vaccines will be available. Giveaway located at Charities offices at 850 E. River Place, Jackson. Details: call (601 326-3703.
PEARL St. Jude, Trip to Yazoo City to tour historic Glenwood cemetery for parishioners on Saturday, July 30. Visit the final resting place for the Witch of Yazoo city, Mississippi author Willie Morris and Catholic priests and nuns who served in Yazoo City. Tour led by Charlie Carlyle, historian and official cemetery guide. Tour concludes with Mass at St. Mary Yazoo City, a tour of downtown and lunch. Group will leave from St. Jude at 8 a.m. and travel in cars. Details: church office (601) 939-3181.
St. Jude, Back to School Pancake Breakfast and Blessing of Backpacks on Sunday July 31. Breakfast served from 9:15-10:30 a.m. Backpack blessing at 10 a.m. Donations for breakfast accepted to benefit parish school of religion. Details: church office (601) 939-3181.
SOUTHAVEN Christ the King, Knights of Columbus Spaghetti Dinner, Saturday, July 23 from 5-7 p.m. Sit down or take out in the PRE building. Details: church office (662) 342-1073.

JOB OPENINGS
CATHOLIC SCHOOLS Catholic schools across the diocese have a variety of positions open. Please visit https://schools.jacksondiocese.org/education-overview/employment/ for an opportunity near you.
DIOCESE The Department of Faith Formation in the Diocese of Jackson is looking for a full-time Coordinator of the Office of Young Adults and Campus Ministry. The coordinator supervises and participates in the diocesan efforts for ministry to and with young adults, college students, youth and the various staff and volunteers who assist with these ministries from the parishes. Please send a cover letter and resume to fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org to apply.

Called by Name

I spent Fourth of July weekend in Mexico. It was not the most stereotypical setting for celebrating our country’s Independence, but our party rivaled that of the best backyard barbecues. I was in Cuernavaca, a city that rests about an hour and a half’s drive southwest of Mexico City, at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels. At this monastery the monks along with lay professors have put together an immersion program for seminarians from the U.S. The program includes four hours of one-on-one intensive language study on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then group discussion on Thursday for four hours, and cultural immersion discussion and activities on Friday.

Father Nick Adam
Father Nick Adam

I first heard of the program thanks to Father Victor Ingalls, who is the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Mobile. Father Vic has been sending seminarians to this program for the last two summers, and he was going to check in on his guys and invited me to tag along. I was blown away by the program. It was wonderful to see the seminarians, one month into the challenge of being immersed in a new language and culture, stepping up to the plate and relying upon the Lord to help them persevere and grow. Since we were visiting on Fourth of July Weekend (or Cuatro de Julio en Español), the seminarians had planned a big barbecue for the staff of the program and their families. They cooked hamburguesas on the grill, and while we couldn’t find french fries and potato salad, we made some macaroni and cheese and had lots of chips and dip!

It was a wonderful evening, and I came away very excited to have some of our seminarians enroll in this program in future years. Father Vic’s homily on the Fourth of July really hit home to me. He told the seminarians: “I’m sure there have been points this summer when you have felt like you were dying, when you felt like you couldn’t keep going, and yet this is where Jesus meets us. Whenever we offer ourselves freely to the Lord, he can do incredible things and help us to accomplish tasks that we did not think were possible.” I’m paraphrasing, but I could see that the homily hit home with the men who were studying in Cuernavaca, and it certainly hit home to me.

My first weekend as rector of the Cathedral was July 8-9, and I was struck by the great diversity of the parish. There are generational Jacksonians who have been members at the Cathedral for decades, and there are young professionals just moving in. There is also a thriving Hispanic community at St. Peter, and it’s a community I know I need to encounter in a real way. Learning Spanish and learning how to listen in their language is one way to hasten and broaden this encounter. I am happy that we have found a space for our seminarians to learn a new language, but I’m even happier that it is a space where they can truly encounter and minister to the people that they find there.
– Father Nick Adam

If you are interested in learning more about religious orders or vocations to the priesthood and religious life, email nick.adam@jacksondiocese.org.

Catholics need better understanding of the Mass, pope says

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The “sense of mystery” and awe Catholics should experience at Mass is not one prompted by Latin or by “creative” elements added to the celebration, but by an awareness of sacrifice of Christ and his real presence in the Eucharist, Pope Francis said.

“Beauty, just like truth, always engenders wonder, and when these are referred to the mystery of God, they lead to adoration,” he wrote in an apostolic letter “on the liturgical formation of the people of God.”
Titled “Desiderio Desideravi” (“I have earnestly desired”), the letter was released June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The title comes from Luke 22:15 when, before the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

In the letter, Pope Francis insisted that Catholics need to better understand the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council and its goal of promoting the “full, conscious, active and fruitful celebration” of the Mass.

Pope Francis elevates the host as he celebrates Mass at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. On June 29, 2022, the pope issued issued an apostolic letter insisting Catholics need to better understand the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council and its goal on promoting the “full, conscious, active and fruitful celebration” of the Mass. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“With this letter I simply want to invite the whole church to rediscover, to safeguard and to live the truth and power of the Christian celebration,” the pope wrote. “I want the beauty of the Christian celebration and its necessary consequences for the life of the church not to be spoiled by a superficial and foreshortened understanding of its value or, worse yet, by its being exploited in service of some ideological vision, no matter what the hue.”

While his letter offered what he called a “meditation” on the power and beauty of the Mass, Pope Francis also reiterated his conviction of the need to limit celebrations of the liturgy according to the rite in use before the Second Vatican Council.

“We cannot go back to that ritual form which the council fathers, ‘cum Petro et sub Petro,’ (with and under Peter) felt the need to reform, approving, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and following their conscience as pastors, the principles from which was born the reform.”

The liturgical books approved by “the holy pontiffs St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II,” he said, “have guaranteed the fidelity of the reform of the council.”

Although the post-Vatican II Mass is celebrated in Latin and dozens of vernacular languages, he said, it is “one and the same prayer capable of expressing her (the church’s) unity.”

“As I have already written, I intend that this unity be reestablished in the whole church of the Roman rite,” he said, which is why in 2021 he promulgated “Traditionis Custodes” (Guardians of the Tradition), limiting celebrations of the Mass according to the rite used before the Second Vatican Council.

The bulk of the pope’s new letter focused on helping Catholics learn to recognize and be astounded by the great gift of the Mass and the Eucharist and how it is not simply a weekly “staging” or “representation” of the Last Supper but truly allows people of all times and all places to encounter the crucified and risen Lord and to eat his body and drink his blood.

And, the pope wrote, it is essential to recognize that the Mass does not belong to the priest or to any individual worshipper, but to Christ and his church.

Pope Francis said “the non-acceptance of the liturgical reform” of Vatican II, as well as “a superficial understanding of it, distracts us from the obligation of finding responses to the question that I come back to repeating: How can we grow in our capacity to live in full the liturgical action? How do we continue to let ourselves be amazed at what happens in the celebration under our very eyes?”

“We are in need of a serious and dynamic liturgical formation,” he said.

Cheap grace

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
There’s a tension among Christians today between those who would extend God’s mercy everywhere, seemingly without any conditions, and those who are more reticent and discriminating in dispensing it. The tension comes out most clearly in our debates concerning who may receive the sacraments: Who should be allowed to receive the Eucharist? Who should be allowed to marry inside a church? Who should be allowed a Christian burial? When should a priest withhold absolution in confession?

However, this tension is about a lot more than who should be allowed to receive certain sacraments. Ultimately, it’s about how we understand God’s grace and mercy. A clear example of this today is the growing opposition we see in some sectors to the person and approach of Pope Francis. To his critics, Francis is soft and compromising. To them, he is dispensing cheap grace, making God and His mercy as accessible as the nearest water tap. God’s embrace to all. No conditions asked. No prior repentance called for. No demand that there first be a change in the person’s life. Grace for all. No cost.

What’s to be said about this? If we dispense God’s grace and mercy so indiscriminately doesn’t this strip Christianity of much of its salt and leaven? May we simply embrace and bless everyone without any moral conditions? Isn’t the Gospel meant to confront?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Well, the very phrase cheap grace is an oxymoron. There’s no such a thing as cheap grace. All grace, by definition, is unmerited just as all grace, by definition, doesn’t ask for certain preconditions to be met in order for it to be offered and received. The very essence of grace is that it is a gift, free, undeserved. And, though by its very nature grace often does evoke a response of love and a change of heart, it does not of itself demand them.

There’s no more powerful example of this than Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son and how it illustrates how grace meets waywardness. We know the story. The prodigal son abandons and rejects his father, takes his unearned inheritance, goes off to a foreign land (a place away from his father) and squanders the money in the pursuit of pleasure. When he has wasted everything, he decides to return to his father, not because he suddenly has a renewed love for him, but, selfish still, because he is hungry. And we know what happens. When he is still a long way from his father’s house, his father (no doubt longing for his return) runs out to meet him and, before his son even has an opportunity to apologize, embraces him unconditionally, takes him back into his house and prepares a special celebration for him. Talk about cheap grace!

Notice to whom this parable was spoken. It was addressed to a group of sincere religious persons who were upset precisely because they felt that by embracing and eating with sinners (without first demanding some moral preconditions) Jesus was cheapening grace, making God’s love and mercy too accessible, hence less precious. Notice as well the reaction of many of Jesus’ contemporaries when they saw him dining with sinners. For example, when he dined with Zacchaeus, the tax collector, the Gospels tell us, “All who saw it began to grumble.” Interesting how that discontent persists.

Why? Why this anxiety? What undergirds our “grumbling?” Concern for true religion? Not really. The deeper root of this anxiety is not religious but grounded rather in our nature and in our wounds. Our resistance to naked gift, to raw gratuity, to unconditional love, undeserved grace, stems rather from something inside our instinctual DNA that is hardened by our wounds. A combination of nature and wound imprints in us the belief that any gift, not least love and forgiveness, needs to be merited. In this life, no free meal! In religion, no free grace! A conspiracy between our nature and our wounds keeps forever reminding us that we are unlovable, and that love must be merited; it cannot be free because we are unworthy.

Overcoming that inner voice that is perpetually reminding us that we are unlovable is, I believe, the ultimate struggle (psychological and spiritual) in our lives. Moreover, don’t be fooled by protests to the contrary. People who glibly radiate how lovable they are and make protests to that effect are mostly trying to keep that fear at bay.

St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans as his dying message. He devotes its first seven chapters to simply affirming over and over again that we cannot get our lives right. We are morally incapable. However, his repeated emphasis that we cannot get our lives right is really a set-up for what he really wants to leave with us, namely, we don’t have to get our lives right. We are loved in spite of our sin, and we are given everything freely, gratuitously, irrespective of any merit on our part.

Our uneasiness with unmerited grace is rooted more in a human insecurity than in any genuine religious concern.

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

The Precious Blood of Jesus

Artwork: Saint Dominic Adoring the Crucifixion; Fra Angelico; c. 1437-1446; (Public Domain).

Stewardship paths
By Julia Williams
JACKSON – I once read in a parish bulletin a reminder that we should not use irreverent phrases such as “we’re serving wine at Mass,” because after the consecration during Mass, the wine is no longer wine — it is the Precious Blood of Jesus!

The Precious Blood of Jesus is Power! The power of the blood is enough to overcome everything coming against you. This is how you live a life of victory in Christ. It’s the life Jesus died to give you.
The life of a Christian steward models the life of Jesus. It is challenging and even difficult in many respects; yet intense joy comes to those who take the risk to live as Christian stewards. Women and men who seek to live as stewards learn that “all things work for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)

The month of July is dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus, spilled on the Cross for us. It is your opportunity to focus directly on this topic … Read about it … Pray about it … Frequent the sacraments, (including confession), so you can receive Him with a clean soul!

Be Blessed, and Remember … “Jesus is Lord!”

Excerpts: catholic-link.org; and Stewardship, A Disciple’s Response, USCCB.

(To subscribe to the monthly Stewardship PATHS newsletter, scan the QR code or email julia.williams@jacksondiocese.org.)