JACKSON – St. Richard School CASA Stem students learn about batteries and circuits through fun, hands-on experiments. Pictured left to right: Zoe Thomas, Oliver Skipper, Reeves Buckley, Andrew Compretta, Jason Ball (instructor), Ben Compretta, Drew Simmons and Andrew Ueltschey.
Next: St. Richard School closed out its school-wide unit on the Mississippi Blues with a performance by The Al Miller Band with singing, dancing and some original “blues” poetry by students. (Photos by Tammy Conrad)
St. Michael Youth at DCYC
FOREST – St. Michael parish youth were excited about attending DCYC this year. (Photos by Liz Edmondson)
Read Across America
SOUTHAVEN – Scarlett, Maddie, Sadie, Luis, Kannon, Haziel, Jayce, Cash, Zahrah, and Jonas were all smiles when they saw the cat come into view. Pre-K and Kindergarteners celebrated Read Across America and Dr. Seuss’ birthday with a visit from the “Cat” himself. (Photo by Sister Margaret Sue Broker)
STREAM at Annunciation
COLUMBUS – Annunciation fifth grade students cook with Mrs. Cancellare in S.T.R.E.A.M. Class. Pictured: Above, Preston Dimino scoops batter into baking cups. On right, Annabelle Brislin puts the final touches on her strawberry bruschetta. (Photos by Logan Waggoner)
Meridian youth attend DCYC
VICKSBURG – The Catholic Community of Meridian sent eight high school students to DCYC in Vicksburg the first weekend in March.The Holy Spirit moved in and around the youth through all activities at the annual youth conference. (Photos by Angela Dove)
By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D. The pastoral visit to Ireland, my second as the bishop of Jackson, delayed over two years by pandemic restrictions, was successfully undertaken earlier this month. Father Mike O’Brien, recently retired, greeted Msgr. Elvin Sunds and me at the Dublin airport, and for the next eight days he provided the best of hospitality; as well as, his well-honed driving skills over hill and dale around a large swath of Ireland. The primary purpose for this pastoral trip was to visit with, and to gather the available family members of the priests who dedicated their lives to priestly ministry in Mississippi.
Even if we wanted to combine a pastoral visit with a round or two of golf, March is not the time to do it. On the day we arrived we were greeted with two to three inches of snow. I asked how much snow annually falls in Ireland and was informed that it is about two to three inches and a bit. Perfect!
Our signature event occurred when more than 100 family members descended upon St. Patrick Church in Newbridge, one of the churches in the Ballygar parish whence came 17 missionary priests over the years to the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, now the Dioceses of Biloxi and Jackson.
Some traveled for over two hours to be together and to give thanks to the Lord for the gifts of family, faith and priesthood. The accompanying Mass photos illustrate a full church and the concelebrating clergy. At the altar from left to right is Father Douglas John Zaggi, pastor, Msgr. Elvin Sunds, Father Louis Lohan, myself, Bishop Kevin Doran, the Ordinary of the Diocese of Elphin, Father Mike O’Brien and Father P.J. Curley. Celebrating this special Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick’s Church brought to light the words of Ireland’s first missionary priest, St. Patrick.
“In the knowledge of this faith in the Trinity, and without letting the dangers prevent it, it is right to make known the gift of God and his eternal consolation. It is right to spread abroad the name of God faithfully and without fear, so that even after my death I may leave something of value to the many thousands of my brothers and sisters — the children whom I baptized in the Lord. I didn’t deserve at all that the Lord would grant such great grace. It was something which, when I was young, I never hoped for or even thought of.” (C 14-15)
Until recent times, that zeal for the Good News of Jesus Christ captured the imaginations of many Irish women and men who spent their lives as religious and priests “making known the gift of God and his eternal consolation.” For this we gave thanks. A packed parish hall of the faithful enjoyed an Irish feast of meat, potatoes, veggies and fine desserts. You’ve got to love those mashed potatoes.
Bishop Kopacz, Msgr. Sunds and Father Mike pose for a photo with the family of Father Brian Carroll after Mass in the family sitting room. Afterwards, they all warmed up by the turf fire and some Irish coffee.
Although the Sunday celebration in Newbridge was the centerpiece of the pastoral visit, there were many opportunities to cherish God’s goodness. Near to Roscommon, the home base during our stay, is the homestead of Father Brian (Speedy) Carroll’s brother, Anthony Carroll. On a balmy 38-degree night with the wind whipping and the rain falling sideways we paid our respects at Father Carroll’s gravesite. Requiescat in pace! Then onto the family homestead to celebrate Mass in the Sitting Room with the turf fire glowing brightly where Father Carroll had celebrated many a Mass over the years. The beloved hymn to the Blessed Mother, “Our Lady of Knock” brought our service to a stirring conclusion. Afterwards we added to the warmth of the evening with some fine Irish coffee.
Father Louie Lohan keeps his cows entertained by practicing his homily. On right, a visit to a poultry farm run by Father Noonan’s nephew.
Father Louie Lohan was very instrumental in organizing the visit with Father Mike O’Brien, and he was proud to show us his family farm and livestock. Some might say that he is a gentleman farmer, but it is evident from the photos that he is nearly as much at home in the barn as he is at the altar. Indeed, it appears that he prepares his homilies by addressing the cows so that his preaching does not go in one ear and out the udder. (The humor is compliments of Father Speedy.)
Throughout the eight days we were welcomed into many homes for delightful visits. These drop-ins included members of the O’Brien, Atkinson, Curly and Noonan families to name several. Father Curly was home for the funeral of a sister-in-law and we spent an hour or two at the family homestead. They spoke cheerily of their growing up years in their cozy home, and Father P.J. demonstrated that he could still position himself at full stature under the mantle of the fireplace as he did as a young lad.
During the final days of the visit, we took an overnight trip to visit the Michael Noonan family near Adare in the Limerick region in the southwest. It was nearly six years ago when we spent time with him and his family shortly after the death of Father Patrick Noonan. After paying our respects at Father Noonan’s grave with his nephew, Michael Noonan, we enjoyed a lively visit with his brother Michael and family, sharing many fond Mississippi memories.
Of course, there were many more precious moments that took place, too numerous to count. God willing, the third pastoral visit will occur sooner than the gap of five and a half years between the first and second sojourns.
Until then, dear friends in Ireland, “May the road rise up to meet you; may the wind be always at your back; may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
JACKSON – This year’s Chrism Mass is moving to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 4. For many years the Chrism Mass has been celebrated on Tuesday of Holy Week at the unique time of 5:45 p.m. Prior to this, many, many years ago, the Mass was celebrated in the morning on Holy Thursday and only priests were in attendance.
The Chrism Mass is a celebration focused on the ministerial priesthood. Priests from all over the diocese concelebrate and renew their priestly promises made at their ordination. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will recognize this year’s jubilarians in his homily. Then the oils to be used in priestly ministry are blessed and consecrated by the bishop surrounded by his brother priests.
The Ceremonial of Bishops describes the Chrism Mass in this way: “This Mass, which the bishop concelebrates with his college of presbyters and at which he consecrates the holy chrism and blesses the other oils, manifests the communion of the presbyters with their bishop.
“The holy chrism consecrated by the bishop is used to anoint the newly baptized, to seal the candidates for confirmation, and to anoint the hands of presbyters and the heads of bishops at their ordination, as well as in the rites of anointing pertaining to the dedication of churches and altars.
“The oil of catechumens is used in the preparation of catechumens for baptism. The oil of the sick is used to bring comfort and support to the sick in their infirmity. “This Mass is therefore a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, which continue to be present in the church.”
As stated above for many years the Mass has been celebrated in the evening and priests and people have come from all over the diocese. This would mean our clergy and people would return home late in the evening, especially those coming from parishes in the far corners of the diocese.
The move to late morning will allow for travel in the daylight. We also have invited fifth graders from our Catholic schools to the Mass and are having a fun, educational event with them afterwards to talk about the cathedral, liturgy and vocations. Right now, we have around 140 young folks and headed to the celebration on April 4.
Several other dioceses in the region do this and we are excited about having our young people present in the Cathedral for such a beautiful Mass. As always (except for the height of the pandemic) the Chrism Mass is open to the public.
As we journey closer to the sacred celebrations of Holy Week, let us hold our clergy in prayer. They certainly need them.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)
(OSV News) – The pro-life movement in post-Dobbs America requires robust support for health care and social service programs to accompany parents who choose life, some clergy, legislators and advocates told OSV News – including efforts to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum mothers.
The most recent front in the struggle to deliver such assistance is Mississippi, home to the city of Jackson referenced in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned Roe v. Wade. After a two-year clash of political wills, Mississippi’s House March 7 finally passed 88-29 a Medicaid postpartum coverage extension already approved by the state Senate, after the governor said this legislation was part of the “new pro-life agenda.”
Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that gives health coverage to some individuals, families and children with limited income and resources. It’s also the largest single payer of pregnancy-related services, funding 42% of all U.S. births in 2019. According to a 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation study, the average U.S. birth costs $18,865; for those insured, the average out-of-pocket expense is $2,655. In Mississippi, low-income mothers will now be eligible for a full year of postpartum coverage instead of just 60 days. With the signature of Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who as lieutenant governor helped craft the Dobbs brief, the bill becomes law.
“I am grateful for the prayer, hard work and collaboration that brought this bill to the finish line,” Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson told OSV News. “One big step forward for the common good.”
“Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it is very important that we provide support to moms and parents who are keeping their babies rather than aborting them,” Debbie Tubertini, coordinator in the Diocese of Jackson’s Office of Family Ministry, told OSV News.
Jennifer Williams, diocesan director of Catholic Charities of South Mississippi, also shared with OSV News that “expanded Medicaid for postpartum benefits will allow our clients and others across the state the opportunity to receive much-needed medical care and mental health care.”
Both Bishop Kopacz and Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi, Mississippi, issued a Feb. 24 letter urging lawmakers “to protect the life and health of mothers in this state.”
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicates Mississippi has the country’s highest infant mortality rate, and its population includes a sizable number of women with chronic medical conditions.
While federal law requires all states to provide Medicaid coverage without cost sharing for pregnancy-related services to pregnant women with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, individuals with pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage typically lose benefits two months after the end of pregnancy. The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act allowed states to extend Medicaid pregnancy coverage from 60 days to one year postpartum – however, the law’s provision expires in May.
Not all states have taken legislative action – some have done so in varying degrees – owing to political disagreement about the role of government when it comes to assisting mothers in need. Some advocate the government should provide a wider and stronger social safety net, while others oppose efforts to enlarge government programs and spending.
“It’s a philosophical difference about the role of government. I understand that,” said former Congressman Dan Lipinski, a Catholic pro-life Democrat who represented his Illinois district in the U.S. House 2005-2021.
“But I believe that (extending postpartum coverage) is the right thing to do. I don’t think that it is the government stepping in too much to help women who are really in need.”
Two pro-life groups, Democrats for Life of America and Americans United for Life, outlined a proposal declaring that “to change the future, we need a new model, a better paradigm. Birth in the United States of America should be free.”
Lipinski said the pro-life movement is at a critical moment “to demonstrate – now that Roe is gone – what we really stand for, and what we really want to do.”
Lipinksi’s call to comprehensive pro-life action has been echoed on the other side of the political aisle. “As we take steps to protect the unborn, we also have an obligation to support pregnant and new moms, as well as their young children,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told OSV News. “My Providing for Life Act provides a national blueprint to do exactly that, and I am encouraged to see states across the nation stepping up to do the same.”
Rubio’s plan would enable paid parental leave; expand the Child Tax Credit, Child Support Enforcement requirements, tax relief for adoptive parents and access to social services; provide additional funding, with reforms, to the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, program, and more.
Wyoming state Rep. Cody Wylie, R-Sweetwater, grabbed headlines when he declared in support a bill to expand temporarily postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months through 2024, “If we’re going to hold the line and protect life by outlawing abortion, we also need to be damn sure we’re prepared and willing to roll up our sleeves and fund programs for mothers and children.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed the bill into law March 3 calling it a “signature piece of pro-life legislation” that is expected to help as many as 2,000 low-income Wyoming mothers.
Patrick Brown, a Catholic and fellow in the Life and Family Initiative at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, told OSV News that both Lipinski and Rubio are “champions in trying to think through what an authentically pro-life policy agenda should be.”
“We should be prudently – but also meaningfully – investing in families, because they’re doing the important work of carrying on society for the next generation,” Brown explained. “That’s my overarching argument for why these kinds of policies are important.”
Nonetheless, “big changes like this don’t happen overnight,” he said. “It took 49 years to overturn Roe v. Wade – and we’re not even in the first year of what a post-Dobbs reality looks like.”
(Kimberley Heatherington writes for OSV News from Virginia.)
LENTEN MEALS AND STATIONS BATESVILLE St. Mary, Knights of Columbus Fish Fry on March 31 from 5-7 p.m. Cost $12/plate. BROOKHAVEN St. Francis, Stations every Friday during Lent at 5:30 p.m. followed by a light meal. CANTON Sacred Heart, Stations every Friday at 5:30 p.m. followed by a soup supper in the parish center (no charge). All are welcome! CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Lenten lunch and reflection on Fridays during Lent from 12-1 p.m. in McKenna Hall. COLUMBUS Annunciation, Fish Fry in the Activity Center, after Stations every Friday during Lent at 5:30 p.m. in the chapel. FLOWOOD St. Paul, Knights of Columbus Fish dinner every Friday after Stations at 6 p.m. Donations accepted. All are welcome. GLUCKSTADT St. Joseph, Lenten dinner/Fish Fry on March 31 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Stations every Friday at 6 p.m. Cost: $10 per plate. Includes three strips of catfish, coleslaw, fries, hushpuppies, tea or water. Dine-in or carry out. Grilled cheese sandwiches with fries for $3. GREENWOOD Immaculate Heart of Mary, Knights of Columbus Fish Fry, every Friday during Lent from 5-7 p.m. Cost is $12 per plate. Dine in or carry out. HERNANDO Holy Spirit, Men’s Association fish fry on March 31 beginning at 4 p.m. – eat in or takeout. JACKSON St. Peter Cathedral, Stations at 5:15 every Friday in Lent, followed by simple, meat-free meal in the parish center. Spanish stations at 7 p.m. JACKSON St. Richard, Stations at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays during Lent with Knights of Columbus Fish Fry in Foley Hall following. Dine-in or carry out. Cost: $12 adults; $6 children; $40 Families of 5+ members. MADISON St. Francis, Rosary 6 p.m., Stations 6:30 p.m. and Lenten meal 7 p.m. every Friday during Lent. MERIDIAN St. Joseph, Stations at 6 p.m. on March 31, followed by fish fry in Kehrer Hall. Plates $10 each. NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, Knights of Columbus Fish Fry, every Friday of Lent, from 5-7 p.m. in the Family Life Center. Cost: Catfish $12; Shrimp $12; Combo $14. Dinners include fries, hush puppies and coleslaw. For grilled fish, call 30 minutes ahead. Details: Darren (601) 597-2890. OLIVE BRANCH Queen of Peace, Soup Suppers at 5:30 p.m. March 24 and 31. OXFORD St. John, Stations in Church at 5 p.m. and Knights of Columbus Fish Fry at 5:30 in parish hall. Dine-in or take-out. Cost $10, plate includes fish, fries, hushpuppies, slaw and a drink. PEARL St. Jude, Fish Fry following Stations every Friday during Lent at 6 p.m. Reservations required. Dinner includes catfish, fries, huspuppies, coleslaw and tea. Dine-in only. No cost, donations encouraged. Details: church office (601) 939-3181. STARKVILLE St. Joseph, Knights of Columbus catfish dinner after Stations in the Church at 5:30 p.m. every Friday during Lent. SOUTHAVEN Christ the King, Fish Fry at 5:30 p.m. and Stations at 7 p.m. on March 31. TUPELO St. James, Lenten Pasta Dinner, Friday, March 31 at 5:30 p.m. in Shelton Hall. Dine-in or carry-out. Meatless spaghetti (choice of red or white sauce), salad, garlic bread and dessert. Cost: adults $9; kids $6. VICKSBURG Knights of Columbus Fish Fry every Friday during Lent. YAZOO CITY St. Mary, Stations and Soup, Tuesdays during Lent at 5:30 p.m.
PENANCE/RECONCILIATION SERVICES CLARKSDALE St. Elizabeth, Reconciliation with several priests available, Thursday, March 30 from 5-7 p.m. FLOWOOD St. Paul, Penance Service, Monday, March 27 at 6 p.m. GREENVILLE Sacred Heart, Penance Service and Individual Confessions, Wednesday, March 29 at 6 p.m. MAGEE St. Stephen, Penance Service, Saturday, April 1 at 4 p.m. OXFORD St. John, Penance Service, Monday, March 27 from 5-6:30 p.m. SHAW St. Francis, Penance Service and Individual Confessions, Monday, March 27 at 6 p.m. STARKVILLE St. Joseph, Penance Service, Tuesday, March 28 at 6 p.m. TUPELO St. James, Reconciliation Service, Thursday, March 30 from 5-7 p.m. in the Church.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.
This text from Psalm 133 is one with special meaning to any seminarian who must seek to live in unity with his brothers if he is to have some peace in his life! But it should have special meaning to all priests who need to cultivate deep, supportive friendships with fellow priests if they are to live a happy and healthy priesthood.
Father Gerry Hurley and a team of parishioners at St. Paul in Flowood have hosted area priests for dinner around St. Patrick’s Day for the last 16 years. Now that I am almost five years a priest, I find that these events are precious opportunities to spend time as brothers. We were able to relax and tell stories and laugh with one another for an evening, and it was a life-giving event. In the seminary, those opportunities were almost nightly. We always had some event that we had to help out with or an impromptu study session or dinner conversation that took us deep into the evening, but in the field, we are usually all very busy with our parishes and our other assignments, and so it is truly good and pleasant to have time to just be together for no other reason than to visit.
Priests are not married, but we still must have support. Our greatest support comes from our relationship with the Lord. We cultivate this in the seminary as our formators instill in us the absolute necessity of daily meditative prayer beyond simply saying the “mandatory” daily prayers of the breviary. Of course, we also cultivate a deep and life-giving relationship with our parishioners. But just as important is the encouragement and brotherhood of our fellow priests. There is a level of camaraderie and common cause that we need in order to stay on track and keep living our call. An isolated priest or seminarian can begin to doubt his call. A priest or seminarian who can quickly and effectively reach out for the support of a listening ear will be able to weather the storms that stir up during the course of his ministry.
There is a lot that seminarians are responsible for after they get done with class each day. Some of them serve in student government or on planning committees for seminary fundraisers. All seminarians have pastoral assignments at various ministries throughout each school year, and all of these obligations are carried out with others, which can be a challenge in itself! But looking back, I see that these obligations instilled in me a deep love for community. It is truly good and pleasant for there to be unity of purpose and faith and for that to be lived out in community. Diocesan priesthood by its nature gives us priests plenty of time to be with parishioners, and this is a great blessing, but I am convinced that I must be dedicated to cultivating deep and lasting brotherhood with my fellow priests as well. Please pray for our presbyterate, that we can continue to grow in unity and support one another to continue to follow the Lord’s will.
– Father Nick Adam
For more info on vocations email: email@example.com.
By Justin McLellan VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Being an apostle does not mean climbing up the church’s hierarchy to look down on others but humbling oneself in a spirit of service, Pope Francis said.
During his general audience in St. Peter’s Square March 15, the pope explained that apostleship as understood by the Second Vatican Council produces an equality – rooted in service – among laypeople, consecrated religious, priests and bishops.
“Who has more dignity in the church? The bishop? The priest? No, we are all Christians at the service of others,” he said. “We are all the same, and when one part (of the church) thinks it is more important than the others and turns its nose up (at them), they are mistaken.”
Vatican II, the pope said, did not focus on the laity’s relationship with the church’s hierarchy as a “strategic” move to adapt to the times, but as “something more that transcends the events of that time and retains its value for us today.”
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity states that collaboration between the hierarchy and the laity is essential for the church to fully live out its mission.
Viewing Christian life as a chain of authority “where the person on top commands the rest because they were able to climb up (the ladder)” is “pure paganism,” said the pope.
Reflecting on the passage from St. Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus sends out 72 apostles ahead of him two-by-two, Pope Francis said that service is the vocation Jesus gives to all, including “to those that seem to be in more important positions.”
“Listening, humbling yourself, being at the service of others: this is serving, this is being Christian, this is being an apostle,” he said.
The pope encouraged Christians to pray for members of the church’s hierarchy who appear conceited since “they have not understood the vocation of God.”
Pope Francis also asked that all members of the church reflect on their relationships and consider how that impacts their capacity for evangelization.
“Are we aware that with our words we can harm people’s dignity, thus ruining relationships?” he asked. “As we seek to dialogue with the world, do we also know how to dialogue among ourselves with believers? Is our speech transparent, sincere and positive, or is it opaque, ambiguous and negative?”
“Let us not be afraid to ask ourselves these questions,” the pope said, because examining the responses can help lead Christians toward a more apostolic church.
In his greetings to the faithful, Pope Francis also asked that religious sites in Ukraine be respected in the midst of the war. He expressed his closeness to the Ukrainian Orthodox religious community at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex after the Ukrainian government said it would not renew a lease for the monks who belong to the Orthodox community related to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared its independence from Moscow May 27, 2022, yet members of its senior clergy have since been accused of openly collaborating with the Russian army in Ukraine.
The night before he died, Jesus struggled mightily to accept his Father’s will. The Gospels describe him in the Garden of Gethsemane, prostrate on the ground, “sweating blood,” and begging his Father to save him from the brutal death that awaited him. Then, after he finally surrenders his will to his Father, an angel comes and strengthens him.
This begs a question: where was the angel when, seemingly, he most needed it? Why didn’t the angel come earlier to strengthen him?
Two stories, I believe, can be helpful in answering this.
The first comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. In the days leading up to his assassination, he met angry resistance and began to receive death threats. He was courageous, but he was also human. At a point, those threats got to him. Here is one of his diary entries.
“One night towards the end of January, I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, ‘Listen, nig.., we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.’ I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached a saturation point.
“I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally, I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.
“In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory.
“‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. Now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before.” (Strive Toward Freedom)
Notice at what point in his struggle the angel appears.
In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy shares this story. As a young woman, along with the man she loved, she had been somewhat militant in her unbelief. Indeed, their reluctance to enter the institution of marriage was meant as a statement of their non-acceptance of traditional Christian values. Then she conceived a child and its birth was the beginning of a radical conversion for her. The joy she felt holding her baby convinced her that there was a God and that life had a loving purpose. She became a Roman Catholic, much to the chagrin of the man she loved, the father of her child: he gave her an ultimatum: if you have this child baptized, our relationship is ended. She had the child baptized and lost that relationship (though they continued as friends). However, she now found herself a single mother with no job and no real vision or plan as to where to go now in life.
At one point, she became desperate. She left the child in the care of others and took a train from New York City to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In her autobiography, she describes how she prayed that day, how desperate her prayer was. Like Jesus in Gethsemane and Martin Luther King in Montgomery, her prayer was one of raw need and helplessness, of an admission that she no longer had the strength to go on. Essentially, she said this to God: I have given up everything for you and now I am alone and afraid. I don’t know what to do and am lacking strength to carry on in this commitment.
She prayed this prayer of helplessness, took the train back to New York, and not long after found Peter Maurin sitting on her doorstep, telling her that he had heard about her and that he had a vision of what she should now do, namely, to start the Catholic Worker. That set the path for the rest of her life. The angel had come and strengthened her.
Notice at what point in these stories the angel makes its appearance – when human strength is fully exhausted. Why not earlier? Because up to the point of exhaustion, we don’t really let the angel in, relying instead on our own strength. But, as Trevor Herriot says, “Only after we have let the desert do its full work in us will angels finally come and minister to us.”
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)
Every year, when I flip my calendar to December, thoughts of Christmas overwhelm me with anticipation of the joys to come and the great gift of Christ’s Nativity.
Yet, when I open that same calendar to the month of March, my initial thought has never been, “The Solemnity of the Annunciation is on March 25!” There are no cards or gifts, and merely a handful of hymns dedicated to this occasion. It is not celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation, nor is it marked with much festivity outside the celebration of regularly scheduled weekday Masses.
Perhaps this is because this solemnity often falls in the heart of Lent’s penitential season. Perhaps, too often, it falls in the shadows between the sorrow of the passion and the glory of the Resurrection. Lately, though, I have asked myself why I do not give the Solemnity of the Annunciation its due – and resolve that it will be different this year.
March 25 was chosen for this celebration precisely because it falls exactly nine months prior to the birth of Christ. If I truly believe all that the church teaches about the sacred dignity of life in the womb, then I should celebrate the Annunciation with the same reverence, joy and gratitude that I celebrate the Nativity. I rejoice in December when the angels sung in Bethlehem, giving glory to the newborn King. I should also rejoice in March when an angel announced in Nazareth, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. … You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:26-38)
I am amazed that Christ humbled Himself to be the tiny infant we welcome at Christmas. I should also be amazed that, nine months before that, He humbled Himself to enter the world far smaller and hidden away.
It is easy to celebrate what the eye can see. Hence, we celebrate our own birthdays and those of our loved ones and we count our years from that day forward. Yet, we know that all of us had remarkable hidden lives for months before that day we were delivered into the world. So, too, did Christ.
There is no Advent calendar counting down the days to the Annunciation. There are no grand celebrations and family gatherings ahead to mark this day. But perhaps, absent the distractions of Christmas, the Solemnity of the Annunciation is a particularly sacred time to contemplate the true wonder of God’s incarnation. Perhaps, in the midst of the Lenten season, this is an occasion to contemplate not only the wonder that Christ came to earth – but why He did. Perhaps in honor of Mary of Nazareth and her great “Yes,” this occasion can inspire our parishes and families to offer spiritual and material support for all those women who carry the sacred gift of life within them.
I hope that the Solemnity of the Annunciation holds many blessings for all who take time to contemplate that instant when Christ began His human life, starting His journey at the very beginning. I hope that parishes named for this solemnity enjoy their Feast Day in a special way. I hope that greater reverence for life in the womb fills our hearts as we mark this great day. And, for myself, I hope for fuller appreciation for the great gift of divine love that brought Christ to earth to share in our ordinary time.
(Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Faculty Research at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Somewhere in Nicaragua, a Catholic bishop languishes in prison because of his outspoken opposition to the policies of an unjust government.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a handsome and youthful 56-year-old, has been accused of “treason” and “undermining national integrity” by the Ortega regime. Earlier, 222 political prisoners, including priests, were released to the United States. Bishop Álvarez was among them at the airport.
But according to a National Public Radio opinion piece by Scott Simon, the bishop “stopped at the aircraft stairs.”
In “A Bishop of Immense Courage,” Scott recorded Bishop Álvarez’s words: “Let the others be free. I will endure their punishment.”
For someone like me, who generally acknowledges being a chicken, this is breathtaking bravery. But some of the people I admire most are the ones who simply remain faithful, who hear some call perhaps only they can hear. Even the journalist Simon seemed a bit puzzled by why Álvarez would not get on that airplane.
In 1980, four women, Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maureen Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and laywoman Jean Donovan were brutally slain by the military in the midst of a civil war in El Salvador. They didn’t have to be there.
Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit, spent 50 years of ministry in Syria. But when the Syrian government, aided by Russia, began a vicious war against rebel forces, he had every opportunity to leave. Instead, he was the last European left inside the Old City of Homs as fighting destroyed it. Speaking fluent Arabic, he served as a spokesperson for those caught in the destruction.
Then someone came for him, and he was shot in the head in the garden of his residence.
Our Catholic tradition has a long line of martyrs, those who won’t leave even when the average person would be on the next plane. And it always has something to do with fidelity to the poor, that preferential option for the poor at the heart of our faith.
So here’s one more. Father Stanley Rother (now Blessed Stanley Rother) was a farm boy from Okarche, Oklahoma. He was accepted to the seminary, but was sent home because he couldn’t handle the academics, especially Greek and Latin.
Fortunately, his bishop gave him another chance in another seminary and he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. This country priest volunteered for a missionary assignment in Guatemala. Again, war. As always, hardest on the poor, whom Rother served in a remote village. Where, we add with a nod to his first seminary, he easily learned the Mayan dialect. Knowing he was on a death list, he returned to the U.S. But something called him back to the village. Like Frans van der Lugt, he eventually heard the knock at the door and was killed. (For a compelling biography of Blessed Stanley Rother, read Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda’s “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run.”)
I can think of many rationalizations for why they could leave. Álvarez could speak publicly and educate us about the issues facing Nicaragua. Frans van der Lugt was 75 when he was shot – surely he deserved to die in his own bed?
But it’s Lent. So, we cast our eyes to Jesus, and watch him set his face toward Jerusalem. He knew what lay in store for him there. His disciples were confused; Peter remonstrated with him.
But Jesus had the kind of integrity that propelled him to answer a call he could have escaped.
Let’s pray to know Jesus and ask him how he wishes to send us. And let’s pray for Bishop Álvarez.
(Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service.)