Proclaim Christ by witnessing to the Church’s unity this Advent

Deacon Nick Adam

Seminarian Reflection
By Deacon Nick Adam
As we come to the end of the holy season of Advent, we remember that our third pastoral priority is to “Proclaim Jesus Christ and our Catholic Faith.” This is a vital priority in a place and time where proclaiming faith of any kind can be a source of controversy. Being a Catholic in Mississippi has always meant that we will run into misunderstandings with members of other Christian denominations, but increasingly we experience the rejection of God all together by wider society.
Many Americans would rather we keep our opinions to ourselves and allow each individual to draw their own conclusions about who God is and how God interacts with the world. These realities certainly demand a courageous willingness to share the Good News as much as possible. In order to witness to the faith most effectively, however, I contend that an even more fundamental issue needs to be addressed first.
The way we interact with one another within our own church must come to the forefront. Over the past several months I have been preparing a thesis project as my seminary formation draws to a close. My thesis focuses on the unity of the Catholic Church. We profess a common creed every Sunday, and yet often we struggle to find common ground. We can quibble about issues ranging from liturgy to Church personnel. We can place labels on one another like conservative, traditional, liberal and progressive. My thesis basically states that these labels are not helpful in unifying us as Church. These labels make the Church out to be just another social club that can be broken up into different groups who share common values. This is not what the Church is. The Church is our very life; it nurtures us, teaches us, sanctifies us and saves us.
In my five and half years of seminary formation, I have seen my own opinions on these externals move and shift. I have been inspired by the example of men and women whose expression of faith is different than mine. I have also had to allow my own expectations and opinions to be challenged and sometimes reformed when faced with the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. This is the essence of living in the Church. The Church should not be a place where our own preconceived notions are always affirmed. The Lord wants us to become better people, not stay in the same old place doing the same old things the same old way.
I am certainly not a finished product in this regard. The bottom line is that we like what we like. We are comfortable with the familiar, and when we run up against something that is different, we sometimes can feel tempted to push it away. But this is not what the Church is. Our Church is guided and unified by the Holy Spirit, not by one opinion or one perspective. As we seek to implement the pastoral plan and Proclaim Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith, we have to start in our own parishes. Our message will not be as credible to non-Catholics if they hear us speaking about parishioners and priests who share our creed as if they were in rival camps!
During Advent we prepare our parishes, our homes, our families, and our hearts for the coming of Jesus on the great feast of Christmas. You can start to unify yourself with your parish during this time of preparation, and you can do this in many ways. There will be Advent penance services offered throughout the diocese so we can receive the gift of reconciliation as a community. Sin is not just a personal failing, it has an effect on the whole body of believers. When we confess our sins as a community, this is a beautiful sign of the healing that is offered to us as members of the mystical Body of Christ.
Sharing in the sacrament of penance also prepares us for the fruitful reception of the gift of the Eucharist, remembering that Christ did not only come in the flesh 2,000 years ago, but he seeks to be united with us each time we receive communion. Christ not only unites us to him in the Eucharist, but we are truly united as Church when we celebrate this sacrament. Remember that unity the next time you see something that bothers you in the Church. Instead of bickering with, or about, that person, pray for that person, ask the Lord to bring a spirit of unity to the Church of Jackson as we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who came to save all of us.

(Deacon Nick Adam is set to be ordained to the priesthood in May of 2018.)

Pastoral Plan in practice – Embracing Diversity

Seminarians speak

By Deacon Nick Adam

Nick Adam

The goals of the pastoral plan for the diocese are everywhere: embrace diversity, serve others, inspire disciples. They were formulated at more than a dozen listening sessions as Bishop Kopacz darted across dozens of counties on hundreds of Mississippi roads. Now they will be printed in bulletins, on prayer cards, in Mississippi Catholic, heck, they are even posted on bishop’s Twitter profile picture.

The best thing about the high profile reach of these goals is that the words start to sink into us and we begin to reflect on how we are doing with them without really having to think about it. The most challenging thing about these goals is that we now are called to put them into practice! I would like to take some time engaging each of these goals and offer reflections on pastoral situations that have shed light on these goals in my own ministry.

I had a wonderful, life-giving conversation recently with a friend about a very sensitive issue which led me to think about how we can embrace diversity in our diocese. The transgender movement is becoming more and more prevalent in our country and that means that priests, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers and parishioners will be confronted with this reality sooner or later.

The question has naturally arisen: how are we as a Church to deal with a person who believes that they were meant to be another sex? The answer, at one level, comes easily. We are Christians, and we were taught from an early age that we should accept and love everyone, always following Christ’s command to love one another as ourselves, and we should! We are also Catholic, however, and this means that we must affirm the inherit dignity of men and women as created in the image and likeness of God, and we cannot accept that God would be responsible for a case of “mistaken identity.”

In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II provides a beautiful and extensive reflection on the fact that our bodies literally tell a story about us. Man is literally made for woman and woman is literally made for man. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve committed the original sin of trying to be like God. They did not realize that their destiny was not personally fulfilling all of their goals and all their desires, but the fulfillment of God’s design for them. God is the only being that is pure Love and pure Goodness, and so we always want to act in a way that is in accordance with God’s will for us.

Of course, this can mean that we run into difficulties, pain and suffering. Christ’s passion is proof that doing God’s will is not without hardship. But in this truth lies the beauty of our faith. Catholicism makes sense to me because it is the only faith that does not seek to mask or dull the pain that we all encounter in our lives, but it allows us to bring that pain to the cross and unite it to Jesus Christ.

So back to the conversation I had a few months ago about the transgender movement. My friend pleaded with me that every person deserves to be heard in the Church. They should not be skirted ‘round or whispered about just because they live their life in a different way, in short they deserve to be brought into the life of the parish. After all, these people would not show up at the Church if they did not want to be a part of it. Here my friend is right on! This is the heart of our Pastoral Plan. This is the essence of not only embracing diversity, but embracing a diverse diversity.

But we also disagreed on a few things. There are multiple studies that claim that reassignment surgery for those people who experience gender dysphoria is actually more psychologically harmful than helpful, but many times these arguments fall flat because they deny the very real feelings that men and women have regarding their own identity. I didn’t go that route with my friend, but where I really disagreed with him was when he denied the objective truth of our identity in God. God made us man and woman for a reason, and while it is true that in our broken world those identities can get skewed, this does not give us free reign to make ourselves our own god.

I would argue that a true embrace of diversity must be rooted in the Truth we affirm each and every Sunday. God is the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, and we are not. This issue should not be something that we shy away from. We should embrace the diversity of our culture and enter into real conversations with people of varying opinions and welcome them into our faith communities. It is incontrovertible; however, that as baptized Catholics we do believe that there is objective truth out there, with a big-T! That Truth comes from God, and even if believing it causes us some suffering in this life, we know that there is a much greater goal than this life out there…Heaven!

(Deacon Nick Adam will serve a year at Jackson St. Richard Parish as he prepares for priestly ordination in 2018)