Fourth and Glory! St. Joseph continues dynasty with victory over Tri-County in state title game

By David W. Healy/Delta Democrat-Times
JACKSON – It takes more than one player to make a dynasty.

These were the words from St. Joseph Catholic School coach John Baker just minutes after his Fighting Irish defeated Tri-County Academy 26-14 to win the MAIS Class 4A State Championship Thursday at Jackson Academy. It was the Irish’s fourth state championship in school history and fourth in six years.

As they have done in their previous three state championships, the biggest stars on this year’s St. Joseph (11-1) team shined the brightest. But it was not just one star. The night and the glory belonged to the entire St. Joseph team who avenged a loss last season to Tri-County in last year’s state semifinal game.

Senior running back Kye Nelson, who played as a 5-foot-9 wrecking ball the entire game, carried the ball for crucial yardage time after time again. In the second half, Nelson’s determination came to a crescendo when his 34-yard touchdown score put the Irish in the lead for good at 20-14 with 1:56 to play in the third quarter. Nelson finished the night with 144 yards rushing on 16 carries.

“I was just thinking after every carry to keep going and keep fighting,” Nelson said. “This game was revenge for us because Tri-County beat us in the semifinals last season.”

JACKSON – The Fighting Irish of St. Joe Greenville toppled Tri-County Academy for the MAIS Class 4A State Championship on Thursday, Nov. 17 at Jackson Academy. (Photos by Joanna Puddister King)

Said Baker, “Kye and the offensive line, they put the whole team on their backs and they got us in the endzone. We made the decision to run the ball in the second half because we felt like we were more physical team and at halftime we thought if we ran the ball we could win.”

Nelson missed last year’s state semifinal with an injury.

Senior quarterback CJ Moore was another Irish player who helped cement the Irish dynasty Thursday night.

Moore is the brother of the first two Irish quarterbacks, Brice Johnson and Dillon Johnson, who helped lead the Irish to their first three state championships in 2017, 2018 and 2019. During Thursday’s contest, Moore looked much like his older two brothers when they were leading the Irish to state glory. As he had all season, Moore extended offensive plays with his speed and escapability.

After Tri-County opened the scoring when QB Bryce Warriner connected with Ty Milner on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 2:59 left in the first quarter, Moore found a wide-open Christian Foster in the back of the endzone for 24-yard touchdown reception to give St. Joseph a 7-6 lead.

Later in the second quarter, Moore made his biggest play of the game when he raced down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown run to put the Irish up 14-6 with 2:57 left in the second quarter. The Irish finished with 264 rushing yards.

“CJ pulls a rabbit out of his hat every time,” Coach Baker said. “He is the best athlete on our team. He doesn’t let things get to him. He threw an early pick, but he came back and reset and ran that long touchdown for us.”

Moore ended the game 14 of 29 with 163 yards passing. He had 114 yards rushing. St. Joseph’s Stank King led the Irish with 55 yards receiving on five catches. Chris Mayfield had 53 yards receiving for the Irish on three catches.

While the St. Joseph offensive players did their part for the victory, the Irish defense also stood tall when it mattered the most, holding the Rebels scoreless in the second half.

On Tri-County’s first offensive possession of the game, defensive end Donnie Smith recovered a Rebel fumble at the Tri-County 38-yard line. In the second quarter, defensive back Stank King made an interception and returned it 15 yards to the Irish 37-yard line.

In the third quarter, St. Joseph defensive lineman Alex Foster helped to end a Rebel drive with a 15-yard sack for a loss.

Later in the third, King deflected a Tri-County pass in the back of the endzone that looked at first like it was a sure touchdown.

The Rebels managed just 49 rushing yards in the game.

Tri-County head coach Phillip Wasson, a Greenville native who once coached at St. Joseph and Washington School, praised the Irish on their state championship.

“St. Joe is a really good team,” Coach Wasson said. “Most of their best players are all back from last year. Coach Baker has done a good job with them. They have only lost one game this year. I am proud of that group because I know a lot of those kids over there at St. Joe.”

(David Healy is sports editor for the Delta Democrat-Times. He can be reached at dhealy@ddtonline.com. Re-printed with permission.)

Youth

Activities around the diocese

MADISON – St. Joseph students (l-r) Jarret Hall (Ralphie) and Turner Brown (Ralph Parker – the older-wiser narrator of the story) at the production of “A Christmas Story” on Saturday, Nov. 12. (Photo by Tereza Ma)
JACKSON – The mascot and cheerleaders for St. Joe Greenville celebrate after a big play at the MAIS 4A state championship game on Thursday, Nov. 17. (Photo by Joanna Puddister King)
JACKSON – On Thursday, Nov. 17, Sister Thea Bowman students faced off against St. Richard sixth grade girls on the court. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Thank you Veterans!

HERNANDO – On Sunday, Nov. 13, the youth of Holy Spirit Church honored Veteran’s with a reception, cards and a jar of red, white and blue M&M’s. (Photos by Amanda Ready)

Youth life around the diocese

VICKSBURG – Coach Larry Calhoun, the star of the Move To Learn exercise break videos came to Vicksburg Catholic School to introduce administrators, teachers and students to the Move to Learn Initiative! The videos feature Calhoun leading students in simple movement exercises that can be done in a small space. Teachers are noticing that incorporating the fitness breaks in the classroom has increased their students’ ability to learn and to focus on schoolwork. (Photo by Lindsey Bradley)

Gathering around the table for Thanksgiving

FROM THE ARCHIVES
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – Once again, we come to the great feast of Thanksgiving throughout our country. Looking back over the years I would like to share some moments at table in the presence of cherished friends, some of whom have gone on to the Lord where they will partake in the feast of Thanksgiving for all eternity.

When we gather around the table with friends and family, we are sharing in communion with one another. I like to think all of our ancestors and dear ones, who made contributions to our lives great and small, are gathered there with us forming a communion of saints.

The Thanksgiving holiday offers a time for us to reflect on those ancestors and dear ones – to enjoy those present physically and those who are there transcending the moment in our memories. It is a time to be thankful for the moments we have shared and continue to share with those who love us and those whom we love.

Pictured are gatherings around tables around the diocese over the years. The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” so gathering around the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist is the most profound gathering of all gatherings. (Photos courtesy of archives)

And of course, the ultimate table for us to gather around is the altar where we share in the heavenly banquet with the entire communion of saints. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, so gathering around the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist is the most profound gathering of all gatherings.
This Thanksgiving I hope we all are able to ponder the many blessings we have in our lives even if they are small. Take the time to let your friends and family know exactly how much they mean to you and what a blessing they are in your life.

Spend time in prayer for those who do not have family and friends available to them or are in strained family situations. Do not miss an opportunity to heal a rift and mend a heart by showing kindness, patience and love. You do not want to have regrets when that person is gone.

Most of all, give thanks to God for bestowing the grace, mercy and peace upon you that can only come from encountering and surrendering to God’s infinite heart. Take care of one another.

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

‘Blessing is meant to be shared,’ Franciscan priest tells Black men

By Mike Krokos
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) – It was a time of Scripture, prayer, music and fellowship.

It also was a night to honor the late co-founder of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference.
But for those teenagers and adults from across the United States in attendance, Franciscan Father Agustino Torres’ message Oct. 13 was simple, yet powerful: “The Lord has sent me to bless you.”

Father Agustino, who ministers for his order in the New York borough of the Bronx and is founder of the Hispanic youth ministry Corazon Puro, was the keynote speaker on the first night of the four-day conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis.

The gathering drew about 300 people. It was the first in-person gathering since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Father Agustino shared how on his drive to the Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey for his flight to Indianapolis earlier that day, his usual route led him into gridlock. Instead of fretting about the unforeseen challenge, the priest said he traveled a different way to the airport, trusting that God had a plan for him.

Franciscan Father Agustino Torres, who ministers for his order in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is founder of the Hispanic youth ministry Corazon Puro, prays before delivering a keynote address at the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis Oct. 13, 2022. (CNS photo/Mike Krokos, The Criterion)

While on the unplanned route, Father Agustino took the time to roll down his window and bless the people he encountered.

“I blessed them all. I blessed them all,” Father Agustino said. “When you share the Lord’s blessings, the Lord blesses you tenfold in return.”

The result? Father Agustino said that when he arrived at the airport, he was notified his ticket was upgraded, which led to laughter and applause from the congregation.

The priest said he ministers to people in the inner city, and the heart of his mission is trying to bring them hope. With that hope he also delivers his blessing, much like the blessing he offered to the attendees.

“This blessing is meant to be shared, this blessing is meant to be given, this blessing brings joy,” he said. “This blessing brings life, this blessing heals. … And I love sharing the blessing because someone has shared the blessing with me.”

Father Agustino reflected on a biblical verse from the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” (Jer 29:11).

Despite the fact God has a plan for each of person, the priest continued, some have not shared his blessings. He encouraged people of faith to seek God’s gifts.

He encouraged the conference attendees to pray: “Lord forgive me for the times I knew not what to do with the blessing you gave me. Father, may I receive these blessings now.”

Like many of the prophets, each person is called to be faithful to God and trust in the Lord’s plans, the priest said.

“You are here because someone spoke life into your soul. You are here because someone woke you up when you were lost and brought you back to life when you were dead,” he said. “We give thanks to God for those people. What would we be without those people?”

Father Agustino offered a blessing over the audience: “The Lord wants us to be anointed men to bring peace in our streets, in our homes, and in our hearts” to share God’s message of hope.

As he brings Jesus to the streets of his neighborhood, he, at times, must offer peace and prayers when he encounters evil, the priest said. “Sometimes, it takes courage to stand up to evil, but the man who is blessed, the man who has been anointed, is equipped to face evil.”

Encountering a recent domestic dispute between a man and woman in his neighborhood, Father Agustino intervened despite the man’s insistence that he should not. “This is my business!” the priest said to the man with his voice raised. “This neighborhood belongs to God!”

When reflecting on his reaction, Father Agustino said, “Anger is the power given to us by God to confront evil. The Lord wants us to be angry to confront the evil that is there. … My brothers, a man who is blessed, a man who is anointed, puts his anger” into his response to those situations.

As the man approached the priest, Father Agustino said, “I’m gonna pray for you!”

As we face life’s challenges, we must remember, a man who is blessed and anointed “does the right thing because it is the right thing,” Father Agustino added.

In living their vocation, a person at times will face evil within, he explained. But in failing, a person must remember “the Lord promises, we do have the strength, we do have the intelligence, we do have the fortitude, we do have the commitment, and these are the truths that need to inform those lies that they no more have a place within us,” he said.

Receiving God’s blessing in an anointing, a person will be filled with joy, and “your life will never be the same,” Father Agustino continued.

“And you will not know for what you are living, unless you know that you are living for God.”

During the conference, organizers announced the event would be renamed in honor of its co-founder, Divine Word Father Chester Smith. He died in April 2020.

The conference was launched in Indianapolis in 2004, with Father Smith playing an integral role in developing the yearly gathering, which helps carry out the mission of the city’s Bowman-Francis Ministry.

The ministry is named for two Society of the Divine Word priests and Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. Sister Bowman is a candidate for sainthood and has the title “Servant of God.”

The ministry’s mission is to “minister to the total Black Catholic: spiritually, physically and intellectually (and) … to offer many gainful avenues to meet the needs of Black people everywhere,” according to its website.

Going forward, the event will be known as the Father Chester P. Smith, S.V.D., National Black Catholic Men’s Conference.

(Krokos is editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

Mission partners pilgrimage

Twenty-five mission partners made a spiritual pilgrimage to the churches and missions of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity in the Diocese of Jackson from Oct. 20-23. Mission partners are lay and religious faithful who serve as advisors and prayer partners of the Missionary Servants who respond to specific needs and encourage mission outreach on a daily basis. The partners visited and met with the faithful at Holy Child Jesus in Canton where they visited the family home of Sister Thea Bowman, Holy Rosary Native American Mission in Tucker, St. Anne Church in Carthage and Sacred Heart Mission in Camden.

Bishop Joseph Kopacz joined the pilgrimage, presiding and preaching at the closing liturgy for the group on Oct. 23 at Sacred Heart Mission in Camden. The Mass was followed by a reception and meal. It was an evening of thanksgiving to the Lord for the collaborative spirit of the diocese, Missionary Servants and lay missionaries.

The pilgrimage was followed by a week of mission volunteers repairing homes and trailers in the Camden and Carthage communities.

(Photos by Father Guy Wilson, ST)

Called by Name

The Friday before Thanksgiving is a day of great rejoicing for many of our seminarians. For one thing, their Thanksgiving break has arrived and they’ll have a week to spend with family and friends and prepare for their final exams. That Friday is also the day of the annual bonfire at St. Joseph Seminary College. This tradition that goes back many decades and so many of our priests have taken part in it (including myself). The students at St. Joseph (which, because it is a Benedictine monastery, we know as St. Ben’s – confusing I know!) spend the early weeks of November gathering and stacking timber that has fallen around the

Father Nick Adam

property and then stuffing it with as much brush as they can. Thankfully there are 1200 acres of trees at St. Ben’s and usually a hurricane will have pushed through earlier in the fall and provided plenty of raw material. The night before the bonfire the students and faculty have a gathering to bless the fire and ask the Lord to make the next evening a time of fraternity and community that will build up the future priests of the church. Then on bonfire day the men from Notre Dame in New Orleans cross Lake Pontchartrain to join their younger brethren for a football game followed by a great dinner and the lighting of the fire.

My favorite bonfire memories were usually from the football game. It’s amazing how pumped up you can get to compete against another team when there is only one other team to compete against and you only play them once a year. I used to always play receiver, not because I was athletic, but because I was a good field spacer because I knew all the routes and I could open up the field for our more athletic teammates to get open. One time, our quarterback threw me a bone and tossed me a touchdown pass on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. I was so honored that he trusted me in that moment, but when we talked about it on the sideline, he said — “that was 4th down? I thought it was 3rd or I would have never thrown that to you!”

Those moments are particularly fun for me to reflect on now that I am walking with our current seminarians. Their great memories will be different from mine, but I know that the Lord will give them the same encouragement from these events that I received. The fraternity experienced in seminary is special, and it has endured long after ordination. We have so much great support for our seminarians throughout the diocese, and that support doesn’t just help them learn about theology and liturgy, it gives them opportunities to build friendships that will help sustain their ministry for decades to come.

Father Nick Adam

Can anything good come from Okarche Oklahoma?

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
It is not enough merely to have saints; we need saints for our times! An insightful comment from Simone Weil. The saints of old have much to offer; but we look at their goodness, faith, and selflessness and find it easier to admire them than to imitate them. Their lives and their circumstances seem so removed from our own that we easily distance ourselves from them.
So, I would like to propose a saint for our times, Stanley Rother (1935-1981), an Oklahoma farm boy who became a missionary with the poor in Atitlan, Guatemala, and eventually died a martyr. His life and his struggles (save perhaps for his extraordinary courage at the end) are something to which we can easily relate.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Who is Stanley Rother? He was a priest from Oklahoma who was shot to death in Guatemala in 1981. He has been beatified as a martyr and is soon to become the first male born in the United States to be canonized. Here, in brief, is his story.
Stanley Rother was born to a farming family in Okarche, Oklahoma, the oldest of four children. He grew up helping work the family farm and for the rest of his life and ministry he remained forever the farmer more than the scholar. Growing up and working with his family, he was more at home tilling the soil, fixing engines and digging wells than he was reading Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. This would serve him well in his work with the poor as a missionary, though it served him less well when he first set out to study for the priesthood.
His initial years in the seminary were a struggle. Trying to study philosophy (in Latin) as a preparation for his theological studies proved a bit too much for him. After a couple of years, the seminary staff advised him to leave, telling him that he lacked the academic abilities to study for the priesthood. Returning to the farm, he sought the advice of his bishop and was eventually sent to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. While he didn’t exactly thrive there academically, he thrived there in other ways, ways that impressed the seminary staff enough that they recommended him for ordination.
Back in his own diocese, he spent the first years of his priesthood mostly doing manual work, redoing an abandoned property that the diocese had inherited and turning it into a functioning renewal center. Then, in 1978, he was invited to join a diocesan mission team that had begun a mission in Guatemala. Everything in his background and personality now served to make him ideal for this type of work and, ironically, he, who once struggled to learn Latin, was now able to learn the difficult language of the people he worked with (Tz’utujil) and become one of the people who helped develop its written alphabet, vocabulary and grammar. He ministered to the people sacramentally, but he also reached out to them personally, helping them farm, finding resources to help them and occasionally giving them money out of his own pocket. Eventually he became their trusted friend and leader.
However, not everything was that idyllic. The political situation in the country was radically deteriorating, violence was everywhere and anyone perceived to be in opposition to the government faced the possibility of intimidation, disappearance, torture and death. Stanley tried to remain apolitical, but simply working with the poor was seen as being political. As well, at a point, a number of his own catechists were tortured and killed and, not surprisingly, he found himself on a death list and was hustled out of the country for his own safety. For three months, back with his family in Oklahoma, he agonized about whether to return to Guatemala, knowing that it meant almost certain death. The decision was especially difficult because, while clearly he felt called to return to Guatemala, he worried about what his death there would mean to his elderly parents.
He made the decision to return to Guatemala, fired by Jesus’ saying that the shepherd doesn’t run when the sheep are in danger. Four months later, he was shot to death in the missionary compound within which he lived, fighting to the end with his attackers not to be taken alive and made “to disappear.” Instantly, he was recognized as a martyr and when his body was flown back to Oklahoma for burial, the community in Atitlan kept his heart and turned the room in which he was martyred into a chapel.
A number of books have been written about him and I highly recommend two of them. For a substantial biographical account, read Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run. For a hagiographical tribute to him read Henri Nouwen, Love in a Fearful Land.
We have patron saints for every cause and occasion. For whom or for what might Stanley Rother be considered a patron saint? For all of us ordinary people of whom circumstance at times asks for an exceptional courage.

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

Live the Gospel by treating others as a brother or sister, pope says

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Treating everyone as a brother or sister is the clearest, most simple way to live the Gospel each day, Pope Francis said.

“It is an invitation without exclusion: brothers and sisters all in humanity and love,” the pope wrote in a message to members of FOCSIV, a federation of mostly Italy-based Catholic volunteer organizations that work internationally.

Representatives of the federation met the pope at the Vatican Nov. 14 as part of their celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary. Twenty organizations founded the group in 1972; today it includes 94 organizations working in 80 countries.

Ivana Borsotto, the group’s president, told Pope Francis, “We seek to be a neighbor in the most abandoned peripheries, in the most remote villages, in the most inhumane prisons, along the cruelest migratory routes, in the most crowded refugee camps and in war-torn countries.”

In his prepared text, Pope Francis said development work, like what FOCSIV members promote in many of the world’s poorest countries, is the only real response to concerns about migration.

After setting aside his prepared text, Pope Francis speaks about the beauty of volunteering to members of FOCSIV, a federation of mostly Italy-based Catholic volunteer organizations that work internationally, during an audience in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Nov. 14, 2022. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Think of how many young people today are forced to leave their land in search of a dignified existence; how many men, women and children face inhumane journeys and violence of all kinds in order to seek a better tomorrow; how many continue to die on the routes of despair, while their fate is discussed or we turn away,” the pope wrote.

“Forced migration – to escape war, hunger, persecution or climate change – is one of the great evils of this age,” he wrote, and “we will only be able to address at its root by ensuring real development in every country.”

At the audience, Pope Francis asked Borsotto to deliver his prepared text to the members, but said he wanted to speak more about what was in his heart.

Volunteering is a characteristic of Italians and something not as common elsewhere, he told them. “It is one of the most beautiful things” because it involves making a free choice to go out and personally help someone in need.

“One has to take action. I can stay at home sitting quietly, watching TV or doing other things – no, I make this effort to go out,” he said. “Volunteering involves effort to go out to help others, that’s how it is. There is no desk volunteering and there is no television volunteering, no. Volunteering is always going out with an open heart, an outstretched hand, the legs ready to go.”

But it also involves meeting someone, listening to them and sharing with them, he said.

“We are living in a civilization of confrontation,” he said, and wars are just one sign of it.

“One clash after another and we never learn – not on a world level and not on a personal level,” Pope Francis said.

People even seem to define themselves by their opposition to someone or some idea, he said. It’s like they say, “’I don’t know who I am, but I am against this and against that.’ Their identity is being-against, clashing.”

But, he said, volunteering is “an ode to fraternity” and to recognizing that no matter the differences of culture or opinion, all people are brothers and sisters.

Remaking ordinary time

ON ORDINARY TIMES
By Lucia A. Silecchia

She was selling her wares at a rural autumn festival – the hand-knitted scarfs, sweaters, baby clothes and blankets that she made to sell to those of us gathered around her table to admire her creations.

I had purchased a few things from her last year – for myself and for loved ones. So, I was glad to see that she was back. Patience is not a strong suit of mine. Hence, my admiration for those who take so much time to make something beautiful by hand is particularly great. This year, I bought a blanket knitted with some favorite colors in a joyful design.

Lucia A. Silecchia

There was a fortunate, brief lull in the activity around the table – interrupted only by a young woman who stopped by to buy a dinosaur hat that, somehow, she managed to wear with style. The chill in the air, perhaps, prompted this otherwise unlikely fashion choice.

In that interlude, I asked how long it took to make a scarf, or a baby blanket, or, yes – a dinosaur hat. The friendly artisan gave me her best estimates. But then she told me that it could take much longer because sometimes she found herself in the midst of a project, would look at it honestly, decide it was not right, unravel it and begin again.

I suppose it should not have surprised me that someone who created such beautiful things would have a bit of the perfectionist in her. Yet, it also struck me that it must be difficult to look at something that had taken so much time and effort to make and be willing to unravel it all and start anew.

I wonder, though, if there is great wisdom in having the strength to do just that. To make a change and to unravel errors, misplaced values and mistaken priorities takes grace and strength. To start afresh without clinging to the false starts of the past is a gloriously difficult challenge.

Perhaps, as the days shorten and another year is winding down, the knitter’s wisdom may have a place. When we start to look back at the year that is drawing to a close and prepare for the excitement of a new year with its fresh starts and resolutions, it is easy to tinker around the edges of things and make some small adjustments to the patterns of everyday life.

Yet, sometimes in life, there can be an invitation to do more and to make more radical new beginnings.
I suppose that I would never have noticed if the blanket I bought had defects in it. “Pretty good” would have been good enough for me. Yet, it would not have been good enough for the talented woman who knitted it together. She knew that sometimes starting over was the best way to move beyond “pretty good.”

Maybe in this season of joyful hope and new plans, a prayer for the grace to unravel the old and begin again is a prayer worth praying.

A blanket, hat or sweater created from the unraveling of imperfect ones are beautiful things. Yet, we have also been promised that “whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” 2 Cor. 5:17. I have to think that a newly created son or daughter of God is far more beautiful.

So, with gratitude for the good example of a knitter willing to unravel the old and reweave the new, I hope she is an inspiration to do the same and remake our ordinary times.

(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 silecchia@cua.edu.)

‘Take care to guard against all greed’

FOR THE JOURNEY
By Effie Caldarola (CNS)

My great-grandfather, a refugee from the devastating famine in Ireland, came to Nebraska to farm. Generations later, I grew up on that farm.

I have roots – literal and figurative – in the land he purchased, a very small acreage of which I still own.
These roots help me to identify with the farming images of the Gospel. Jesus lived in a largely agrarian economy.

Sowing, reaping, noticing weeds along the roadside – this was Jesus’s world. He saw sheep grazing on hillsides, fishing boats plying the waters, full measures of grain being pressed into laps.
He knew the familiar smells of manure, and the fishy odor of a catch being unloaded. Jesus lived in an earthy, messy, tactile world.

Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

So, the other day when the Gospel reading was about the man who was harvesting so much grain that he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, I could identify.

I’m familiar with the language of grain prices, yields (how many bushels did an acre produce), the perennial worries about hail and drought.

And I certainly know people who have built bigger barns. We might call that success or business acumen, and sometimes it is.

But in the reading from Luke 12, Jesus couches his story about the rich man who built bigger barns as a story of greed. Why?

First of all, notice how often Jesus rails against hypocrisy and greed. These are the social sins he cares deeply about.

Jesus lived among the poor, in a society that offered no “safety net.” The rich grew richer without fair taxation, a story familiar in America today.

So what’s the problem with the successful farmer? I don’t think his ample harvest is what Jesus decries.

No, instead it’s his attitude toward wealth and his inability to see the bigger picture of his own life.

In Jesus’ parable, the rich farmer dies and is called to account for his life that very night, after his big barns are built and he’s feeling flush. What good is his wealth to him now? All of us will face that day.

Jesus says, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

He adds, “Take care to guard against all greed, … for one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Stuff. We Americans have an enormous amount of stuff, and yet we always want more. We rent millions of storage units for our possessions, and yet we want more.

It’s a spiritual challenge, especially with the excess and consumerism of an American Christmas approaching.

It’s normal to save and plan for retirement. And yet, how often do we obsess about it?

Like the greedy farmer, we yearn to eat, drink and be merry – when we have “enough.” But what is “enough”?

Our church proclaims a “preferential option for the poor.” This term was first used by Father Pedro Arrupe, leader of the Jesuits, in 1968. St. John Paul II wrote of an “option for the poor” in his 1991 social encyclical “Centesimus Annus.” This concept runs throughout Hebrew and Christian Scripture.

Does it run through our lives? Do we vote with this concept in mind? Do we give, not just from our excess, but sacrificially, to the Lord through his poor, first? Do we feed the hungry? Welcome the refugee, like my great-grandfather? Clothe the naked?

When Jesus tells us to “take care,” I think he wants us to understand how short life is and how much better our lives and world could be if we lived simpler, more generous lives in every way.

(Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service.)