Cardinal visits diocese with message that ‘God never abandons you’

By Berta Mexidor and Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – “God does not abandon you” was the message of Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri during his visit to the Diocese of Jackson between Dec. 19-21, 2019. This message was received by hundreds, mostly immigrants, who attended his talks in the communities of Carthage, Canton and Forest that were affected following the immigration raids in August 2019 that resulted in more than 700 detentions, many of whom are of Guatemalan decent.
Raised to the rank of cardinal in October by Pope Francis, Cardinal Ramazzini is from Huehuetenango, Guatemala and is known for his aid and human rights advocacy for the poor of Central America. During his tour of love and hope, Cardinal Ramazzini talked to many about of the economic situation in Guatemala, which causes many to leave to seek a better life and encouraged those affected in faith, while many face the legal process of deportation from the United States.
“Being a Cardinal opens more windows of communication with more people … to serve better in the last stage of my life and especially the service to the most marginalized people in the world,” said Cardinal Ramazzini.
At a news conference at the Chancery office in Jackson with Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Joe Boland, vice president of mission for Catholic Extension and Father Roberto Mena, ST of St. Michael Forest on Dec. 20, Cardinal Ramazzini explained his position with regard to the U.S. government and thanked those around the country for their show of solidarity and all of the humanitarian assistance received from Catholics and non-Catholics alike to those affected by the raids.

At the conference, Cardinal Ramazzini said he advocates for a “migration policy with a human face,” to solve the economic conditions that force many to leave their home country and to stop the custom where immigrants are treated as criminals, without having a criminal record.
Cardinal Ramazzini stated that immigration laws in the U.S. are from many previous administrations and he evaluated with the same weight the governments of Barack Obama and Donald Trump when applying immigration laws with “legality and little justice.” Additionally, he denounced the inhumane treatment of immigrants when they have been handcuffed in their workplaces in front of colleagues and families.
At the same time, Cardinal Ramazzini strongly criticized the Guatemalan government for their poor economic model that leaves natives on the verge of despair. During his advocacy work over the years, he has expressed to Guatemalans the danger of putting themselves and their children in the hands of “polleros” or “coyotes,” otherwise known as smugglers.
Following the news conference, Cardinal Ramanizzi met with parishioners at St. Anne Carthage, Sacred Heart Canton and St. Michael Forest. At each of the gatherings he thanked the priests tending to their flocks – Father Odel Medina, ST, Father Michael O’Brien and Father Roberto Mena, ST. The priests also thanked him for his visit and explained their work ahead with parishioners and their families affected by the raids, which includes much financial support since many are unable to work, in addition to consoling parishioners through the trauma experienced due to the raids.
During his conversation with the communities, some affected families shared what they suffered in the moment of detention, the shame and uncertainty and the moment of facing federal court; yet also their hope for the future. Also many communicated to Cardinal Ramanizzi their gratitude for the work of the priests, religious, volunteers and Catholic Charities, who have made this time a little less difficult and, for which, they have not lacked food, aid and financial payments to keep a house and utility services on for their families.
Cardinal Ramazzini mentioned that the many people who have helped the affected families, is the proof that God does not leave people alone. “In the moments of trial, the solidarity and help of others, tested greater that God does not abandon us,” he said on his visit.
During his talks with each of the parishes as a whole, Cardinal Ramanizzi compared the situation of immigrants arrested in the raids with Job, who lost everything until he was left ill and alone.
“This book of Job, can help us all when we go through difficult times. And Job asks God why he is suffering. And the answer from God was and is ‘I have not abandoned you, I just wanted to see if you were faithful.’ … When everything is going well, we forget God. It shouldn’t be that way, but we are human beings.”
“We must be sure that God does not abandon us, but it is very easy to say that when everything is fine, but after being in jail, or seeing a family member being caught and passing difficult moments, people always ask themselves in a situation like that. ‘God, if you are love, why do you allow things like this to happen?’ The temptation of despair, of the lack of trust in God, is very great, … I ask the Lord to not let you fall into that temptation because, despite the difficult time, God does not abandon us,” Cardinal Ramazzini emphasized.
In addition to the talks, Cardinal Ramazzini took part with parishioners asking for Posada (Inn) at St. Anne Carthage and St. Michael Forest, a tradition before Christmas that represents the Holy Family in search of shelter, when they looked for an inn until they found a place in a stable. It was there that the son of God was born, “to teach us that surrender to others makes us happy,” said Cardinal Ramazzini.
He added that being Christian is being consistent with the faith and helping each other “… if [you] believe that God is love, there is the way forward.”
Continued support for impacted families
While on his visit to Mississippi, Cardinal Ramazzini received continued commitment of members of Catholic Charities Jackson, Mississippi Center for Justice, the Jesuit Social Research Institute, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) and other community groups, who have mobilized volunteers to distribute aid, assist families with transportation to visit their detained relatives and translation services for the courts.
Chicago-based non-profit Catholic Extension, which sponsored Cardinal Ramazzini’s pastoral visit, announced their new mental health initiative through Extension’s Holy Family Fund to provide counseling and other services for families affect by the raids at the press conference held at the Chancery office on Dec. 20.
The initiative is a partnership between Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) of Miami and Catholic Extension’s Holy Family Fund, a relief program that assists families in the United States who are financially dependent on a parent that has been detained or deported for immigration reasons. Through the fund, Catholic Extension has been instrumental in ensuring the flow of aid to support delivery of basic resources to the churches serving the humanitarian and spiritual needs of the families in Mississippi affected by the crisis caused by the ICE raids.
“Raids like the one we saw in Mississippi cause massive chaos for these families,” said Joe Boland, vice president of mission for Catholic Extension. “We need to continue to ensure that they are getting the resources and services they need to address the long-term suffering caused by a system where parents are forcibly removed from their children, and that is what we are aiming to do.”
The mental health initiative is set up to ease the lingering trauma and anxiety created for children separated from a parent due to detention or deportation. This endeavor will include counseling, pastoral care, mental health aid and other services to address the psychological consequences suffered by families who have been separated.
During the news conference, Boland described receiving a letter from an 8-year-old boy from Morton after the raids. The boy’s mother had been detained for two months before being released. The child wrote, “Thank you for remembering us, for not abandoning us. … Going forward don’t forget about us because it’s the children who suffer the most.”
Donations to the Holy Family Fund to help launch and sustain this new mental health program can be made at catholicextension.org/family.

MississippiCares: reform minded approach to Medicaid expansion

By Richard Roberson
JACKSON – When the Affordable Care Act was passed nearly a decade ago, one of the primary ways that Congress increased health care coverage for those without insurance was by creating a new category of Medicaid eligibility for low income non-disabled, non-elderly adults. Commonly referred to as “Medicaid Expansion,” this program is funded at no less than 90% by the federal government. Approximately 200,000 Mississippians without health care coverage are eligible for this program. Citing differences in political philosophy and concerns about how the state can fund its small share of the costs, Mississippi leadership has refused to allow hundreds of thousands of its citizens to receive health care coverage through Medicaid expansion.
The impact of this decision is manifested by Mississippi ranking among the worst states for health care conditions, for medical debt, for the percent of its population without health insurance, for unemployment rates and for poverty. In addition, six Mississippi hospitals have closed and four have filed bankruptcy over the last several years. According to a Navigant study released in February 2019, Mississippi has the highest percentage of its rural hospitals in financial risk than any other state. A significant reason for the peril that these and other Mississippi hospitals find themselves in is the $600 million in uncompensated care costs associated with treating patients who have no means to pay for the services they receive.
The Mississippi Hospital Association has proposed a simple plan for Mississippi to extend Medicaid eligibility to low income non-disabled non-elderly adults. This plan is called MississippiCares. Under MississippiCares, eligible low-income Mississippians would pay $20 per month with modest copayments for health care coverage administered by a health plan offered by Mississippi hospitals and authorized by the Mississippi Legislature in 2015. Far from a free ride, MississippiCares ensures that plan members have skin in the game to be prudent consumers of health care services and to avoid unnecessary emergency department visits. An additional tax paid by Mississippi hospitals and payments from the federal government would fund the remaining cost.

MississippiCares is a winning proposal across the board. Low-income working Mississippians would have affordable health coverage and access to preventive care including telemedicine services; hospitals would receive payment for their services, thereby reducing uncompensated care costs by hundreds of millions of dollars; and, the economic benefit of over 9,000 new jobs would produce over $100 million in much needed new revenue for the state’s coffers. MississippiCares would preserve access to care for rural areas by keeping the doors open at rural hospitals and provide those hospitals with sustainable funding to launch new transformative services and to recruit physicians. MississippiCares literally provides a lifeline to Mississippians and their communities and it allows hospitals to help themselves by putting up their own money in order for the state to receive full federal funding.
MississippiCares is the single biggest thing that Mississippi leadership could do for our state. Based on outcomes in other states, Mississippi’s health care will improve, new jobs will be created and access to health care in rural areas will be preserved. Unlike other states, MississippiCares offers a funding solution that doesn’t require the state to foot the bill. It offers working adults a hand up, not a handout. Rather than ignoring the health care crisis that exists in our state, Mississippi would do well to implement this reform minded approach to expanding Medicaid coverage. For more information, go to www.mississippicares.org.

(Editors note: Healthcare and prison reform are the two issues at the forefront of Catholic Day at the Capitol on March 4, 2020.)

Cardinal Ramazzini asks for an inn with pilgrims from Carthage and Forest

By Berta Mexidor
JACKSON – This year two parishes had a special inn or Posada, with the presence of Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of Guatemala, who became a pilgrim asking for an inn for the birth of the Savior. In the parishes of St. Anne Carthage and St. Michael Forest, cardinal Ramazzini was accompanied by the priests of the parishes, Odel Medina, ST and Roberto Mena, ST, respectively, and was followed by dozens of pilgrims, including numerous children dressed as Mary and Joseph.
As is tradition, during the walking tour, several songs were sung, the Holy Rosary was prayed and the pilgrims carried candles. At the end of the road, a few blocks walking, the pilgrims reach the house of one of the parishioners who open the door, after the well-known Christmas carol, where the pilgrims, headed by Joseph, explain to the owner of the house, that Mary being pregnant of the Word made flesh, Jesus, needs a place to rest.

In Carthage and Forest, the cardinal accompanied the pilgrims asking for Posada, a tradition before Christmas that represents the Holy Family in search of refuge. History tells that they looked for an inn until, at the end, they found a place in a stable.
In the parish of St. Anne Carthage, cardinal Ramazzini sang “Silent Night” with parishioners, a song that reminds that Christmas Eve is a night of peace and an announcement of the gift that Jesus gives – peace and love.
Cardinal Ramazzini blessed the house and everyone present. At the end of the Inn, as is common, there was music, prayers and Guatemalan food, accompanied by a hot punch to remedy the cold outside.
At St Michael Forest, after the Posada, a Mass was celebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Cardinal Ramazzini was the homilist and Father Roberto Mena, St the concelebrant. In the end, the parishioners enjoyed traditional Guatemalan dances and food in the spirit of Christmas.
Cardinal Ramazzini arrived to Mississippi to give words of encouragement to families affected by immigration raids, coinciding with the time of Advent. The cardinal explained, in his visits in both parishes, that the tribulation of the Holy Family seeking refuge and the humility of the place of Jesus’ birth demonstrates Jesus gave himself to serve humanity. The Holy Family only found a place where shepherds kept animals and tools, in a very humble place “… and it was there that the son of God was born, the one who has power over humanity,” said Cardinal Ramazzini. He came “to teach us that giving ourselves to others makes us happy.”
He added that “to be Christian is to be consistent with your faith and help each other, … if [you] believe that God is love, that is the way forward.”

Reflections on life and death

In recent years, in quiet moments of reflection, Uncle Joe, like Simeon, righteous and devout, expressed his gratitude for many blessings and his love for all in his life. Indeed, God allowed his servant to go in peace on the morning of the feast of the Holy Family …

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
During the morning of the Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 29, 2019, in the heart of the Christmas season, my Uncle Joe Calomino peacefully died at the age of 96 on his birthday. I was blessed to be on my annual holiday to the Northeast to be with family at this noteworthy moment when the curtain fell on the last member of that generation, respectfully referred to as the greatest.
There were nine siblings on my mother’s side and seven on my father’s. My Uncle Emil died this past summer at the age of 94 and he and Uncle Joe braved stormy winter weather on Feb. 6, 2014 to be present at my ordination and installation as the 11th Bishop of Jackson. Both lived lives of loving service that were deeply rooted in faith in the Lord Jesus and love for him in the Eucharist. Daily Mass, with the rosary beforehand, was the bedrock of Uncle Joe’s day, providing his daily bread and inspiring him to hold fast to our ultimate goal of having communion with Jesus Christ forever. A stroll down memory lane provides the background for why our family celebrated his funeral with joy and pride and a small measure of sadness, a life well lived.
Uncle Joe was born in 1923 and graduated from high school in 1942 as World War II raged. Immediately, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to southern England to be part of the effort that would crest with the invasion of Normandy. There were six brothers in this branch of the Calomino clan and five of them served in WWII. The sixth was heartbroken when he was not able to enlist because of disqualifying physical impairments. Families and the nation were overwhelmingly of one heart and one mind in the 1940s in defense of our allies and freedom, perhaps for the only time in our history.
Afterwards, like countless others, Uncle Joe returned home to marry and build a life with his beloved Angeline, Aunt Lena, a marriage of 62 years that ended when she died in 2009. They were not blessed with children, but the extended family would have had a gaping hole without their loving presence. At the funeral we were unable to count how many godchildren they had together, perhaps a dozen or more. After his retirement at the age of 65 as a warehouseman for food distributors, he began volunteering at the food stand at the local playground association, serving baseball and soccer players and their families until this past October when the season ended. Over the course of this extraordinary life, he was a blessing for family, for neighbors, for the church, for the community and for the nation.
Reflecting upon his life and death, I am drawn to the figures of Simeon and Anna who were the venerable ones featured in the Infancy narrative of Saint Luke’s Gospel during the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. Their lives were a testimony to faith and hope, faithfully waiting for and actively praying for the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. There would be a gaping hole in the Christmas story if not for these elders who were there to encourage and spiritually support Mary and Joseph in God’s plan of salvation for them and for all the nations.
Recall these inspired words in Saint Luke’s Gospel. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. … When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God saying: Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)
In recent years, in quiet moments of reflection, Uncle Joe, like Simeon, righteous and devout, expressed his gratitude for many blessings and his love for all in his life. Indeed, God allowed his servant to go in peace on the morning of the feast of the Holy Family when he was born into eternal life.
This weekend is the culmination of the Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan River at the hands of John the Baptist. Through faith and baptism, we become members of the Body of Christ and the family of God, adopted children, no longer slaves to sin, but heirs to eternal life. We are God’s children, sisters and brothers of the Lord Jesus, and Temples of the Holy Spirit. May we not receive the gift of God in vain, squandering our inheritance on the vanities of life. Instead we are invited to make our lives something beautiful for God. May we be inspired by others in our lives, in every generation, who daily respond to God’s call with wisdom, knowledge and grace.
Requiescat in pace, Uncle Joe, as you join the Cloud of Witnesses who encourage us to fight the good fight, stay the course, and finish the race in eternal life. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Reflexiones sobre la vida y la muerte

En los últimos años, en momentos tranquilos de reflexión, el tío Joe, como Simeón, justo y devoto, expresó su gratitud por muchas bendiciones y su amor por todos en su vida. De hecho, Dios permitió a su siervo ir en paz en la mañana de la fiesta de la Sagrada Familia …

Obispo Joseph R. Kopacz

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
Durante la mañana de la Fiesta de la Sagrada Familia, el 29 de diciembre de 2019, en el corazón de la temporada navideña, mi tío Joe Calomino murió pacíficamente, en su cumpleaños, a la edad de 96 años. Tuve la bendición de estar, en mis vacaciones anuales al noreste, con la familia en este momento notable cuando cayó el telón sobre el último miembro de esa generación, respetuosamente llamada “la más grande.”
Fueron nueve hermanos del lado de mi madre y siete del lado de mi padre. Mi tío Emil murió el verano pasado a la edad de 94 años y él y el tío Joe desafiaron el tormentoso clima invernal del 6 de febrero de 2014 para estar presente en mi ordenación e instalación como el onceavo Obispo de Jackson. Ambos vivieron vidas de servicio amoroso profundamente arraigadas en la fe en el Señor Jesús y en el amor por él en la Eucaristía. La misa diaria, con el rosario de antemano, fue la piedra angular del día del tío Joe, su pan de cada día y que lo inspiró a aferrarse a nuestro objetivo final de tener comunión con Jesucristo para siempre. Un paseo por el carril de la memoria proporciona los antecedentes de por qué nuestra familia celebró su funeral con alegría, orgullo y un poco de tristeza por una vida bien vivida.
El tío Joe nació en 1923 y se graduó de la escuela secundaria en 1942 cuando se desataba la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Inmediatamente, se alistó en el ejército y fue enviado al sur de Inglaterra para ser parte del esfuerzo que se alzaría con la invasión de Normandía. Eran seis hermanos, en esta rama del clan Calomino, y cinco de ellos sirvieron en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. El sexto estubo desconsolado cuando no pudo alistarse debido a discapacidades físicas descalificantes. Las familias y la nación estuvieron abrumados, en un corazón y una mente, en la década de 1940 en defensa de nuestros aliados y la libertad, tal vez por única vez en nuestra historia.
Después, como muchos otros, el tío Joe regresó a casa para casarse y construir una vida con su amada Angeline, la tía Lena, un matrimonio de 62 años que terminó cuando ella murió en 2009. No fueron bendecidos con hijos, pero la extensa familia habría tenía un gran agujero sin su presencia amorosa. En el funeral, no pudimos contar cuántos ahijados estuvieron juntos, tal vez una docena o más. Después de su retiro a la edad de 65 años, como almacenista de distribuidores de alimentos, comenzó a ofrecerse como voluntario en el puesto de alimentos de la asociación local de juegos, sirviendo a los jugadores de béisbol y fútbol y a sus familias hasta el pasado octubre, cuando terminó la temporada. En el transcurso de esta vida extraordinaria, fue una bendición para la familia, los vecinos, la iglesia, la comunidad y la nación.
Al reflexionar sobre su vida y muerte, me recuerda a Simeón y Anna, que fueron las figuras venerables que aparecen en la narración de la infancia del Evangelio de San Lucas durante la presentación del niño Jesús en el Templo por José y María. Sus vidas fueron un testimonio de fe y esperanza, esperando fielmente y orando activamente por el cumplimiento de la promesa del Mesías. Habría un gran vacío en la historia de Navidad si no fuera por estos ancianos que estaban allí para alentar y apoyar espiritualmente a María y José en el plan de salvación de Dios, para ellos y para todas las naciones.
Recordemos estas palabras inspiradas en el Evangelio de San Lucas. “En aquel tiempo vivía en Jerusalén un hombre que se llamaba Simeón. Era un hombre justo y piadoso, que esperaba la restauración de Israel. El Espíritu Santo estaba con Simeón, y le había hecho saber que no moriría sin ver antes al Mesías, a quien el Señor enviaría. Guiado por el Espíritu Santo, Simeón fue al templo; y cuando los padres del niño Jesús lo llevaron también a él, para cumplir con lo que la ley ordenaba, Simeón lo tomó en brazos y alabó a Dios, diciendo: «Ahora, Señor, tu promesa está cumplida: puedes dejar que tu siervo muera en paz. Porque ya he visto la salvación que has comenzado a realizar a la vista de todos los pueblos, la luz que alumbrará a las naciones y que será la gloria de tu pueblo Israel.» (Lucas 2: 25-32)
En los últimos años, en momentos tranquilos de reflexión, el tío Joe, como Simeón, justo y devoto, expresó su gratitud por las muchas bendiciones y su amor por todos en su vida. De hecho, Dios permitió a su siervo ir en paz en la mañana de la fiesta de la Sagrada Familia, cuando nació en la vida eterna.
Este fin de semana es la culminación de la temporada navideña con el Bautismo del Señor Jesús en el río Jordán a manos de Juan el Bautista. A través de la fe y el bautismo, nos convertimos en miembros del Cuerpo de Cristo y la familia de Dios, hijos adoptados, ya no esclavos del pecado, más bien herederos de la vida eterna.
Somos los hijos de Dios, hermanas y hermanos del Señor Jesús, y Templos del Espíritu Santo. Que no recibamos el don de Dios en vano, derrochando nuestra herencia en las vanidades de la vida. En cambio, estamos invitados a hacer de nuestras vidas algo hermoso para Dios. Que seamos inspirados por otros en nuestras vidas, en cada generación, que responden diariamente al llamado de Dios con sabiduría, conocimiento y gracia.
Requiescat in pace, tío Joe, mientras te unes a la Nube de Testigos que nos alienta a “pelear la buena batalla, mantenernos fiel y terminar la carrera” en la vida eterna. (2 Timoteo 4: 7)

Pope begins New Year with apology, prayers for peace

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis began the New Year with an apology for losing his patience the night before with a woman who grabbed his hand and yanked him closer to her while he was greeting people in St. Peter’s Square.
To get away, the pope had slapped her hand and gave her a very serious scowl. A video of the incident went viral on Twitter.
Reciting the midday Angelus prayer Jan. 1, Pope Francis was talking about how God’s offer of salvation in Jesus is “not magic, but patient, that is, it involves the patience of love, which takes on inequity and destroys its power.”

Pope Francis slaps a woman’s hand after she grabbed his hand while walking to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 31, 2019. At his Angelus Jan. 1 the pope apologized for the “bad example” he gave when he slapped the hand of the woman. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Then, briefly departing from his prepared text, the pope said that “love makes us patient. We often lose our patience; me, too, and I apologize for my bad example last night.”
Returning to his text, Pope Francis said that in gazing upon the Nativity scene with the eyes of faith, “we see the world renewed, freed from the dominion of evil and placed under the regal lordship of Christ, the baby lying in the manger.”
The church marks Jan. 1 as both the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day, he said, urging Catholics to pray for peace and to recognize their responsibility to work for peace.
For the 2020 celebration of World Peace Day, he said, the focus was on peace as a “journey of hope, a journey which proceeds through dialogue, reconciliation and ecological conversion.”
“Jesus is the blessing of those oppressed by the yoke of slavery, both moral and material,” he said. “He frees with love.”
To those who are enslaved by vice and addiction, the pope said, Jesus bears the message that “the Father loves you, he will not abandon you, with unshakable patience he awaits your return.”
Jesus opens the doors of fraternity, welcome and love to those who are victims of injustice or exploitation; pours “the oil of consolation” on the sick and the discouraged; and opens windows of light for prisoners who feel they have no future, he said.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the people in the square, “let’s get down from the pedestals of our pride and ask for the blessing of the holy Mother of God. She will show us Jesus. Let’s let ourselves be blessed, let’s open our hearts to goodness and that way the year that is beginning will be a journey of hope and peace, not through words, but through daily gestures of dialogue, reconciliation and care for creation.”
Pope Francis used his midday address to thank and encourage all the initiatives Catholics, their parishes and dioceses around the world undertake to promote peace.
“My thoughts also go to the many volunteers who, in places where peace and justice are threatened, courageously choose to be present in a nonviolence and unarmed way, as well as to the military who carry out peacekeeping missions in many areas of conflict,” the pope said.
Addressing everyone, “believers and non-believers because we are all brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis urged people to “never stop hoping in a world of peace,” which must be built together, day by day.
 

Called by name

Father Nick Adam

A desire for marriage and family is written on the human heart. We all have an innate desire to be known by another to the very depth of our being, and to give ourselves completely to another, and through that bond, to be fruitful and to see the fruit of that love. This desire is fulfilled in the sacrament of matrimony. This innate desire was reaffirmed in my own heart this Christmas. As I visited my siblings and witnessed anew the love that they have for their spouses and children, the sacrificial way that they cared for one another, I was prompted by the Lord to reflect on my own vocation. Am I giving myself away like my brother is to his wife and his children, like my sisters to their families?
And this is all natural. Of course, I am attracted to natural fatherhood by the example of the families in my life, because I am a human being! But I have discerned a call from the Lord to celibacy “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt. 19:12) I have been asked, for reasons that I will never completely comprehend, to live a life for others that is not the norm, but which is vitally necessary because it is a living witness that this world is not all there is, that we are building a kingdom that will never end and we must live ultimately for the Kingdom of God.
The thinking, “I want to get married and be a father, therefore I am not called to be a priest,” is wrong-headed. Of course every young man wants to get married and have a family, but Jesus doesn’t say, “let those who for some reason can handle the thought of not getting married become my priest,” he says “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”
I would never recommend a young man to the seminary who I did not think would be a fantastic husband and father. Priesthood is a sacrifice, a choice, that demands full acceptance of the call of Christ and the ability to make that choice over another good. Jesus asks us to live out celibacy, but it does not mean that we are somehow disinterested cyborgs who don’t have a normal human experience. So, if you feel attracted to marriage and family, praise the Lord, but please, simply ask God what he wants for you. If you find yourself attracted to the actions of the priest at Mass, in your parish, or in your school, don’t brush it off. He may be calling you, and it will be a sacrifice, but ask any husband or wife, so is marriage. God will give us the grace to take on any challenge, all we need to do is ask him what he wants and to respond to his promptings with courage.

Friday, Jan. 31 – Feb. 2 – Notre Dame Seminary Visit, New Orleans, Louisiana. The Vocations Department is sponsoring this annual event for young men in “pre-discernment.” You can’t make an informed decision about priesthood without seeing what seminary is like! Meet seminarians, participate in beautiful liturgy and other exciting community events.

Friday, Feb. 7-9 – Nashville Dominican Sisters, Jesu Caritas Retreat. This is semi-annual retreat hosted by a rapidly growing religious community in the Southeast. Please contact Father Nick at frnick@saintrichard.com if you would like to register!

Contact the Office of Vocations if interested in attending any of these events.
vocations@jacksondiocese.org
www.jacksonpriests.com

Anchoring ourselves within God’s goodness

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
What would Jesus do? For some Christians, that’s the easy answer to every question. In every situation all we need to ask is: What would Jesus do?
At a deep level, that’s actually true. Jesus is the ultimate criterion. He is the way, the truth, and the life and anything that contradicts him is not a way to God. Yet, I suspect, many of us find ourselves irritated in how that expression is often used in simplistic ways, as a fundamentalism difficult to digest. Sometimes, in our irritation at this, we spontaneously want to say: Jesus has nothing to do with this! But, of course, as soon as those words escape our mouths we realize how bad that sounds! Jesus has a lot to do with every theological, ecclesial or liturgical question, no matter its complexity. Granted, there’s the danger of fundamentalism here; but it’s equally as dangerous to answer theological, ecclesial and liturgical questions without considering what Jesus might do. He’s still, and forever, a non-negotiable criterion.
But while Jesus is a non-negotiable criterion, he’s not a simplistic one. What did Jesus do? Well, the answer isn’t simple. Looking at his life we see that sometimes he did things one way, sometimes another way, and sometimes he started out doing something one way and ended up changing his mind and doing it in a different way, as we see in his interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman. That’s why, I suspect, within Christianity there are so many different denominations, spiritualities and ways of worship, each with its own interpretation of Jesus. Jesus is complex.
Given Jesus’ complexity, it’s no accident then that theologians, preachers and spiritualities often find in his person and his teachings ways that reflect more how they would handle a situation than how he would. We see this in our churches and spiritualities everywhere, and I say this with sympathy, not with judgment. None of us gets Jesus fully right.
So where does this leave us? Do we simply rely on our private interpretation of Jesus? Do we give ourselves over uncritically to some ecclesial or academic authority and trust that it will tell us what Jesus would do in every situation? Is there a “third” way?
Well, there’s a “third” way, the way of most Christian denominations, wherein we submit our private interpretation to the canonical (“dogmatic”) tradition of our particular church and accept, though not in blind, uncritical obedience, the interpretation of that larger community, its longer history, and its wider experience, humbly accepting that it can be naïve (and arrogant) to bracket 2000 years of Christian experience so as to believe that our insight into Jesus is a needed corrective to a vision that has inspired so many millions of people through so many centuries.
Still, we’re not meant to park the dictates of our private conscience, our critical questions, our unease with certain things and the wounds we carry, at our church door either. In the end, we all must be true to our own consciences, faithful to the particular insights that God graces us with, and mindful of the wounds we carry. Both our graces and our wounds are meant to be listened to and they, along with the deepest voices within our conscience, need to be taken into account when ask ourselves: What would Jesus do?
We need to answer that for ourselves by faithfully holding and carrying within us the tension between being obedient to our churches and not betraying the critical voices within our own conscience. If we do that honestly, one thing will eventually constellate inside us as an absolute: God is good! Everything Jesus taught and incarnated was predicated on that truth. Anything that jeopardizes or belies that, be it a church, a theology, a liturgical practice, or a spirituality is wrong. And any voice within dogma or private conscience that betrays that is also wrong.
How we conceive of God colors for good or for bad everything within our religious practice. And above all else, Jesus revealed this about God: God is good. That truth needs to ground everything else, our churches, our theologies, our spiritualities, our liturgies and our understanding of everyone else. Sadly, often it doesn’t. The fear that God is not good disguises itself in subtle ways but is always manifest whenever our religious teachings or practices somehow make God in heaven not as understanding, merciful, and indiscriminate and unconditional in love as Jesus was on earth. It’s also manifest whenever we fear that we’re dispensing grace too cheaply and making God too accessible.
Sadly, the God who is met in our churches today is often too-narrow, too-merciless, too-tribal, too-petty, and too-untrustworthy to be worthy of Jesus … or the surrender of our soul.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com. Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

Reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2020 World Day of Peace message

Making a Difference
By Tony Magliano
This new year, this new decade, begins much like the past year, the past decade: wars between countries, wars within countries, nations around the globe preparing for future wars and astronomical military budgets cemented in place to ensure all this unholy madness continues.

Tony Magliano

As an elixir to this seemingly hopeless trap the world finds itself in, Pope Francis offers us a hopeful path forward away from the blood and tears of war.
In his Jan. 1, 2020 World Day of Peace message “Peace as a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion,” the Holy Father writes “Hope is thus the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable.”
But fully aware that in order for us to move forward we must first honestly look at what is holding us back, and why we foolishly hold onto it, Francis says, “Entire nations find it difficult to break free of the chains of exploitation and corruption that fuel hatred and violence.”
So following the pope’s line of thought here, we must ask ourselves, who are the people being exploited? Where is the corruption coming from? And to what degree is national and individual selfishness, indifference and moral blindness contributing to exploitation and corruption?
Francis explains that “War is fueled by a perversion of relationships, by hegemonic ambitions, by abuses of power, by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle. And these, in turn, are aggravated by the experience of war.”
Reflecting on his recent pastoral visit to Japan, the Holy Father insightfully declares that “ ‘our world is paradoxically marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.’ ”
He adds, “The Hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are among those who currently keep alive the flame of collective conscience, bearing witness to succeeding generations to the horror of what happened in August 1945 and the unspeakable sufferings that have continued to the present time.”
The pope teaches that “Social and economic decisions are being made that lead to tragic situations where human beings and creation itself are discarded rather than protected and preserved.”
He adds, “There can be no true peace unless we show ourselves capable of developing a more just economic system.”
Francis says, “The world does not need empty words but convinced witnesses, peacemakers who are open to a dialogue that rejects exclusion or manipulation. In fact, we cannot truly achieve peace without a convinced dialogue between men and women who seek the truth beyond ideologies and differing opinions.”
He adds, “Listening to one another can lead to mutual understanding and esteem, and even to seeing in an enemy the face of a brother or sister.”
Pope Francis prophetically challenges us to admit our unfaithfulness here: “If a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence, we believers should acknowledge that by so doing we were not faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and preserve”
There is much more in Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message for us to sink our moral teeth into. So, please read and prayerfully reflect on how we can put it into practice in 2020 (see: https://bit.ly/2MpfE73).

(Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net.)

It’s all about love

Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
As the saying goes, “love makes the world go ’round.” Love, the eternal theme, was there at the beginning of time when God made the world and everything in it. But sin entered the Garden and destroyed the intimate relationship humanity enjoyed with the Creator. Ever since Adam’s transgression, religion (from Latin, religare, meaning “to bind again, re-connect”) has offered us the hope of re-establishing the bond of communion that was torn apart by Original Sin.

Melvin Arrington

Despite our tendency to go our own way, our Heavenly Father still cares for us and draws us to Him. And because our hearts were made for unity, we feel pulled toward the source of love like steel to a magnet, as the 17th century Mexican nun-poet Juana Inés de la Cruz put it. We somehow have this notion that man searches for God, but in reality it’s the other way around. The “Hound of Heaven” is constantly in pursuit of us.
From Genesis to Revelation God demonstrates His abiding concern for His children. After Adam sinned he hid from his Creator, but the Lord went looking for him and called out to him (Genesis 3:8-9). In I Samuel 3 He repeatedly summoned the boy Samuel, who would grow up to be a great prophet. The Gospels record how the Apostles, when they heard the Master calling them, left their former ways of life and followed Him. And Revelation 3:20 tells us that Jesus stands at the door knocking, waiting for us to open up so that He can come into our hearts, an image brilliantly captured by William Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World” (c. 1854). Simply put, God wants us to be in communion with Him.
It should come as no surprise that the first of the nine Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is love, that tricky little word with no true synonym that has so frequently been misunderstood. C. S. Lewis, in his classic study The Four Loves (1960), clears up some of the confusion. There are, he explains, three “natural” types: familial affection, friendship, and the well-known romantic variety, the latter reaching its ultimate expression in the conjugal bond between husband and wife. These three dimly reflect the “supernatural” form, charity, often denoted by the Greek term agape and the Latin caritas.
When we think of love, it’s usually something like tender affection for someone. Consider all the songs and movies that celebrate romance. But the real thing, agape, goes far beyond that. It’s sacrifice, giving of self until there is nothing left to give. It’s caring for someone who probably will not love us in return. Narcissism and lust have nothing to do with it; they are not even on the same spectrum.
Some may remember these lines from two popular 1960s songs that ponder the meaning of life: “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?” and “Is that all there is?” In the 1978 movie Superman, Clark Kent’s earthly father admits he doesn’t know why his foster son came to Earth, but he’s certain that he has come for a reason. We were all made for a purpose, and we have a reason for living, but it’s not to make a lot of money or pursue worldly pleasures, as our modern culture would have us believe. That’s not all there is. There’s so much more. In short, it’s all about love.
The Baltimore Catechism says God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him for all eternity in the next. The Father wants us, His adopted children, to enter into a personal relationship with Him, and when we do we’ll soon discover that love manifests itself most noticeably in sacrifice and service.
As Christians, we’ve all been sent on a mission. The last thing Jesus told His followers before His Ascension was to go out and evangelize the world (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s our mission today. At the conclusion of mass we hear: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
For a long time I prayed for some sign that would reveal to me my place of service. As I was making daily visits to a local nursing home where my mother was a resident, I had no idea the Lord was going to send me there as a volunteer. That had never occurred to me, even though the opportunity was right under my nose; I was just too blind to see it. In time I came to realize I’d finally found what I’d prayed for. That was and still is my mission, until I’m sent elsewhere. God works perfectly, but in mysterious ways.
I’d like to imagine one reason He created families was so parents could gain a better understanding of the meaning of John 3:16. The Father gave up His only Son and made Him suffer a cruel and excruciatingly painful death on the Cross in order to redeem us and save us from hell, which means eternal separation from God. Once parents reflect on how they would willingly make any sacrifice for their children, they can begin to comprehend how deeply our Heavenly Father cares for us.
The old cliché still rings true. Love does make the world go ’round. God continues to do His part, but are we doing ours? As the New Year begins, I need to ask myself a couple of questions that you may wish to ask yourself as well: “Do I put the Lord above everything else in my life?” and “Do I show as much concern for the welfare of others as I do for myself?” How we answer will reveal whether we’re helping the world go ’round or hindering it.

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)